Deadname: What is deadnaming and who is guilty of it?

Transgender rights advocate and former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner, who is often called her deadname

People deadname every day, and most are oblivious to the harm it can cause. We explore the definition of deadnaming, who has been guilty of it and how to avoid it. For those who have been deadnamed themselves, we’ve also detailed what you can do to help others stop.

Many transgender people choose to change their name. Often, this is the first part of the transition as it helps them with their gender identity. Friends and family may take a little while to get used to the new name, but if they’re respectful of the transgender person’s feelings, they will try their very best to avoid calling them by their birth name.

Sadly, many will forget about the change or its importance, and others may refuse to call them by their new name due to their own personal opinions on transgender rights. Indeed, it’s also common for transgender people to be misgendered, which is when someone refers to them by a gender that they don’t identify with. This is equally as harmful to a transgender person’s psyche.

Deadname meaning

A “deadname” is the name of a transgender person prior to their transition. So, the definition of deadnaming is the action of calling a transgender person by their former name instead of their new name. It counts as deadnaming regardless whether it is intentional or not.

“Please don’t deadname me.”

— Chelsea Manning

A trans person will likely experience this throughout their life, from family and personal relationships to education or work environments. The most common location for deadnaming is actually at government institutions in which officials may use your legal name.

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For example, if you haven’t legally changed your name, though you have socially, your birth name will still appear on your identification. In this instance, while the use of the transgender person’s deadname can still be harmful to them, government workers often have to follow certain legalities.

How can deadnaming be harmful to a person who’s transgender?

It can feel invalidating and disrespectful. Essentially, it highlights that they’re not supported in their transition process, whether it’s before, during or after.

Transgender discrimination is all too common, and people don’t quite realise the depth of emotion that is linked to their identity.

A sad man representing what bullying can do
A new study has found that over half of transgender teen boys attempt suidice. (Sander van der Wel/Flickr)

The suicide rate of a trans person is much higher than that of the general population. One study found that female to male adolescents, for example, had the highest rate of attempted suicide at a devastating 50.8 percent, and teens transitioning male to female have an attempted suicide rate of 29.9 percent.

This alone highlights the importance of empathy in these situations.

Who is guilty of deadnaming?

People deadname every day—whether it’s in the media or in a local supermarket—it’s important that you don’t attack the people who are guilty of it as it’s often a mistake. However, it is necessary for those who do it to be more aware.

Peter Greste to Chelsea Manning

During an interview, the journalist called the transgender woman by a name she hadn’t used in five years prior to their transition.

Manning had responded with: “Please don’t deadname me.”

Matt Thompson to Hannah Mouncey

The sports journalist Matt Thompson deadnamed AFL player Hannah Mouncey, calling her by her former name in an article. It had nothing to do with the subject at hand either.

After a public uproar, the article was updated to Mouncey’s affirmed name.

Amir Khan to Caitlyn Jenner

On Snapchat, Amir Khan used Caitlyn Jenner’s deadname when captioning a photo of Jenner running as an Olympian.

Khan apologised on Twitter, calling it a “genuine mistake.”

Ricky Gervais to Caitlyn Jenner

Gervais also used the star’s deadname in his stand-up comedy. However, the comedian argues that comedy can be off-limits as he talks about an array of subjects beyond transitioning.

There are many more cases of deadnaming but remember that this is all fairly new so it will likely be a long while that deadnaming continues to be common.

How can you stop your habit of deadnaming if you do it by accident?

You may be aware you’ve deadnamed just after doing it. Perhaps you had a friend for years who has recently transitioned, and you’re simply used to calling them by their old name. If it’s a habit you want to stop to support the trans community, it can easily be done.

Follow these tips so you never deadname again:

  • Ask the person what they would like to be called
  • Refer to them by their new name even when they’re not around
  • Think of them as their new name.
  • Write their affirmed name in your phone contacts, not their previous name
  • Correct others who deadname them as it’ll get you into the habit, too
  • If it’s someone who you didn’t previously know before the transition, don’t ask them what their deadname is

If you’re transgender, what can you do about your deadname?

Firstly, remember that people should call you by your affirmed name because it’s who you are, and we have a choice as to what to be called.

If you haven’t yet, changing your legal name is a great first step. This can avoid your deadname from being mentioned in various places such as at court, hospitals, airports, police stations and more.

However, stats find that most trans people do not have their affirmed name on their government-issued identifications. This is most likely due to the time and money it comes with, not to mention the fact that they should be referred to as their affirmed name (at least in social settings) regardless of what is on their identification.

On a purely social aspect, if your friend or family member keeps doing it by accident, sit down and explain why it’s so important to you and how they must try harder.

For those who do it on purpose, you can try to educate them. Many are known to do it for a supposed comedic effect, and then apologise when they realise the harm. Do note that many people will not want to listen and in these cases, you may just want to walk away.

It can be an awkward conversation but it is necessary if you want to avoid hearing your deadname.

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