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Deadnaming is the act of referring to a transgender or non-binary person by a name they used prior to transitioning, such as their birth name. Deadnaming may be unintentional, or a deliberate attempt to deny, mock or invalidate a person's gender identity.
Transgender and non-binary people seeking to avoid deadnaming may face administrative or bureaucratic obstacles to changing their names. Published authors who have later transitioned may be troubled by the appearance of their former name in bibliographic metadata records that are nearly impossible to update. Some social media platforms have implemented policies to avoid deadnaming, such as standardizing the use of preferred names rather than legal names or formally banning the practice of deadnaming.
As part of gender transition, some transgender and non-binary people adopt a new name, often going from a masculine or feminine given name to one which better aligns with their gender identity. In the 2010s, transgender activists popularized the term deadname (i.e. a name that is dead) to refer to such a former name. The Oxford English Dictionary attests the use of deadname on Twitter in 2010, and use as a verb (i.e. deadnaming) in 2013. The term is typically used derisively, with the implication that referring to a transgender person by their former name is unacceptable. Journalistic style guides, health-practitioner manuals, and LGBT advocacy groups advise adopting transgender people's self-identified name and pronouns, even when referring to them in the past, prior to transitioning.
Trans people who wish to avoid being deadnamed can sometimes face significant bureaucratic and administrative obstacles. The legal name change itself requires time, money, and effort. Changing corresponding information such as names, emails, and class schedules in some institutions (such as schools) can be difficult.
Like misgendering, deadnaming can be a form of overt aggression or a microaggression, indicating that the target is not fully accepted as a member of society. Transgender activists consider the deadnaming of homicide victims and high-profile celebrities by news media to be a violation of privacy, and a contributing factor to transphobia.
Deadnaming may also be done accidentally by people who are otherwise supportive of trans individuals, such as supportive family members or friends who have not yet become accustomed to using a trans person's new name. Repeated failures to avoid deadnaming, however, can be considered disrespectful.
Christopher Reed, a professor of history and scholar of queer culture, argued that objecting to deadnaming "inhibits efforts toward self-acceptance and integration". Grace Lavery argued that the freedom to deadname is not covered within the principles of academic freedom. Disputes surrounding the legitimacy of deadnaming have led to disputes within the LGBT community, with some stating that deadnaming itself is a tangible harm, and others arguing that the policing of deadnaming would resemble a "re-education camp".
Queer scholar Lucas Crawford has theorized that some transgender people insist on preventing deadnaming in part as a strategy of prospective self-assertion: "by insisting on the primacy of the present, by seeking to erase the past, or even by emotionally locating their 'real self' in the future, that elusive place where access (to transition, health care, housing, a livable wage, and so on) and social viability tend to appear more abundant." Correcting deadnaming by third parties is cited as a way to support trans people.
Corporate and political responses
Some web platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Gmail allow a certain number of name changes per user profile, allowing for any number of reasons for a name to be changed; having fixed metadata, such as a deadname on a published book with an ISBN, is next to impossible to remedy. Some academic publishers and scientific journal publishers have a deadnaming policy allowing trans authors to fix their metadata, reflecting their preferred name. In the case of publications with a fixed identifier, oftentimes trans authors follow what authors switching from maiden to married surname and vice versa have sometimes done, which is to republish their creative work, or works, as new editions with their preferred name while trying to take old ones with the deadname out of print. Some media metadata web platforms may still portray the deadname as the primary author and edition.
In 2013, the English Wikipedia elicited media coverage over its response to Chelsea Manning's public transition. The article about Manning was initially quickly renamed, but a protracted dispute ensued; the matter war ultimately taken up by the site's Arbitration Committee, which sanctioned editors espousing transphobia, but also those making accusations of transphobia. Wikimedia Foundation executive Sue Gardner expressed disappointment over the handling of Wikipedia's response.
The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) changed its rigid policy on cast names in 2019, allowing actors and actresses to change and remove birth names and deadnames from their official profiles. This move came after trans actress Laverne Cox pointed out deadnaming on Amazon subsidiaries like IMDb as being "the ultimate insult", with GLAAD spokesperson Nick Adams agreeing and calling deadnaming an "invasion of privacy", sparking a protest over the practice of deadnaming in media metadata. IMDb released a statement saying, "IMDb now permits the removal of birth names if the birth name is not broadly publicly known and the person no longer voluntarily uses their birth name. To remove a birth name either the person concerned or their professional industry representative simply needs to contact IMDb's customer support staff to request a birth name removal. Once the IMDb team determines that an individual's birth name should be removed – subject to this updated process – we will review and remove every occurrence of their birth name within their biographical page on IMDb." It is not yet clear whether other Amazon media metadata platforms like Goodreads or the main Amazon shopping website will update policies on deadnaming.
In response to actor Elliot Page coming out as transgender in December 2020, media streaming service Netflix removed Page's deadname from its metadata in the credits of movies the actor had appeared in as a female, including The Tracey Fragments, Juno, Hard Candy, and others. Writer Grayson Gilcrease, who investigated the situation, speculated that Netflix's actions were the result of Page's popularity in the TV series The Umbrella Academy. IMDb changed metadata for Elliot Page in 2020 to reflect his preferred name, even on lesser-known productions; for example, the 2003 Lifetime Movie Network TV movie Going For Broke, about a family affected by a parent's gambling addiction, now features the preferred name "Elliot Page" in the credits list for the role of character Jennifer Bancroft.
On March 12, 2021, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction announced that its student information system would display each student's "preferred name" rather than birth name, which would eliminate deadnaming on state reports, student report cards, and teacher grade books.
- Anti-LGBT rhetoric
- Lavender linguistics
- LGBT rights in the United States
- Naming ceremony
- Naming law — legal norms sometimes diverge from cultural norms
- Sinclair-Palm, Julia (May 1, 2017). ""It's Non-Existent": Haunting in Trans Youth Narratives about Naming". Occasional Paper Series. 2017 (37). ISSN 2375-3668.
Originating in the trans community, the term "deadnaming" describes calling a trans person by their birth name after they have adopted a new name. The act of deadnaming has the effect of "outing," or making public, a trans person's identity. Deadnaming is sometimes accidental, as when a friend or family member is still adjusting to a trans person's new name and unintentionally calls them by their birth name. However, there are also many times when trans people are addressed by their birth name as a way to aggressively dismiss and reject their gender identity and new name.
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Use whatever name and gender pronoun the person prefers
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Use the pronoun that matches the person's gender identity
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listen to your clients – what terms do they use to describe themselves
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Such microaggressions consist in more than simply using the wrong name; rather, they cut to the core of and question the recipient's identity and self-understanding.
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