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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 generally carries a negative connotation, 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.
When trans journalist and University of California professor Theresa Tanenbaum transitioned in 2019, finding herself unable to remove or have her deadname retracted from old publications, she argued that there were broader implications to deadnaming that affected not only the trans community, but other groups in general. Agreeing with journalist Oliver-Ash Kleine of the Trans Journalists Association, Tanenbaum stated, "you might want to change your name on past work to erase from your identity the traces of an abusive former partner, or because you've converted to a different religion, among many other reasons." She suggested that deadnaming could happen to a wide variety of vulnerable groups within and outside of the trans community, and that for herself, it has been frustrating and harmful to have media outlets refuse to remove her deadname from old articles. Jaye Simpson, writing for Briar Patch Magazine, added that Black and Indigenous communities and trans members within these communities are also at risk for deadnaming, recalling Canada's settler-colonial history, the replacing of Indigenous traditional names with Anglican names in Canada's residential school system (an offence that can now be reverted by legal name change under Canadian law, a process typically made free to residential school survivors), and the inability for western culture to grasp non-binary and Two-spirit identities.
While deadnaming most often affects trans people, it can affect a multitude of different groups. For example, as pointed out by Amy Lazet and Brian M. Watson in their editorial piece on retroactive author name changes, "Chinese names are typically structured so that the name listed first is the surname while the second-order name is the given name. South Indians, on the other hand, do not typically have a surname, and are known only by their given name. In order to fulfill the Western-based authorial naming criteria, the father's given name is commonly used, often leading to confusion as to who deserves the credit for the publication - the author or their father. Similarly, women in academia have traditionally faced issues related to assuming a partner's name. If a woman has established a professional reputation under her maiden name, how can she continue to associate that record with herself if she changes her name upon marriage or divorce?" In Theresa Tanenbaum's case, she claimed that it was left up to the individual news platform whether her deadname would be retracted or removed, or just left permanent, with no particular legislation in place to prevent this.
A 2021 survey by The Trevor Project showed that trans and nonbinary youth who changed their name, gender marker, or both on legal documents, including birth certificates and driver's licenses, had lower rates of suicide attempts.
For institutions such as libraries, trans and LGBTQ+ names generally have no distinct cataloguing rules by which to address an individual author. Traditional cataloguing conventions under Anglo-American Cataloging Rules 2 (AACR2) or MARC cataloguing have different ways of handling authors using multiple pseudonyms, maiden names, pen names, or surnames, but no specific rule for deadnames. AACR2 is equipped to handle dead surnames if applied by the cataloguer properly, as "according to the Anglo-American Cataloging Rules (AACR2), one should enter a compound surname under the element by which the person prefers to be entered. Sometimes one can tell this by typography or by searching the person's name in the bibliography of their own book. However, in most cases, a cataloger does not know. If the cataloger cannot determine the author's wishes, the cataloger should look at how their name is listed in reference source in the person's language or country of residence or activity." While dead surnames could still appear under this method, especially for obscure authors whose wishes are not made known, AACR2 would render a deadname hidden while still allowing readers and researchers to find all catalogued works by that author in a specific library. This would be especially applicable to asexual people who face deadnaming after a surname change, but does not address broader name changes for trans or non-binary people. This is especially true for transgender individuals changing their gender-specific given name to a different name; for example, actor Elliot Page may be catalogued by his deadname in library records due to the deadname appearing on old videos he appeared in, while cataloguers unaware of Page's name change or gender identity preferences may use the deadname simply out of ignorance or confusion.
Traditional library cataloguing features fields for an author's given name, surname and gender. As noted by Anne Welsh of Cataloging and Indexing Group in their 2019 editorial, this format can lead to issues with deadnaming and falsely assuming gender identity. Using classic author Vladimir Nabokov as an example, Welsh stated, "obviously Nabokov's identity has been inferred from his work and has defaulted to “male.” Without highlighting specific individuals here, it is clear that the issues of identity and of dead-names (when someone does not want their former, other-gendered name to be associated with them after they have transitioned to the gender with which they identify) is an important one. Movie database IMDb recently responded to demands from actors to remove links between dead-names and names for actors who have transitioned, unless the actor wants the link to be in place. It is worth being aware of the implications of retaining such links in library authority data, and of the similar issue around the 375 field for recording gender. If you ingest authority data it may be simpler to remove the 375 field from all your data at the point of ingestion."
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 almost 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 was ultimately taken up by the site's Arbitration Committee, which imposed sanctions on editors espousing transphobia, but also on 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 in which the actor had played a female character, 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.
In popular culture
The phenomenon of deadnaming, especially towards trans and other LGBTQ+ individuals, has been explored in fictional media.
- Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender features titular character Felix, a Black queer youth, being maliciously deadnamed in public, leading to the character trying to find out who deadnamed him. Pre-transition photos of Felix are also posted, which leads to him being bullied.
- In 2013 film Dallas Buyers Club, the character Rayon, a trans woman, is forced to deadname herself and present as male in order to appease her estranged father when asking for money on her life insurance policy.
- In the 2017 Chilean film A Fantastic Woman, protagonist Marina, a trans woman, is bullied, harassed and deadnamed by police. Marina has not legally changed her name or gender identifier on her identification card, so her deadname and birth sex appear on the card.
- In the 1980 WKRP in Cincinnati episode "Hotel Oceanview", Herb Tarlek flirts with and kisses a beautiful trans woman named Nikki, with whom Herb went to school when she presented as male. After discovering that she used to be a football jock named "Nick", Herb deadnames her and argues that "just because I kissed him, it doesn't make me gay". WKRP had previously discussed trans identity in its third episode, in which Johnny is asked by Jennifer Marlowe to stop Herb from hitting on her, which he does by lying to Herb that she is transgender and "a result of the most cunningly successful sex change operation in medical history."
- On the American crime drama series Cold Case, the 2007 episode "Boy Crazy" depicts a 16-year old tomboy in the 1960s named Sam. Her school principal insists on calling her "Samantha" as "Sam is a boy's name". Her parents later send her to a mental hospital where she is subjected to electroshock treatment as conversion therapy, that leaves her in a vegetative state.[non-primary source needed] Another episode "Daniela" depicts a teenage runaway living on the street in the 1970s, who commits suicide. Daniela is later deadnamed by her mother and by the detectives investigating her case when it is revealed that she is transgender.[non-primary source needed]
- Adam Torres is a transgender boy in the Canadian television drama series Degrassi: The Next Generation. Adam dreads visiting his grandmother, as he will have to use his deadname in front of her. Adam also faces deadnaming and bullying in school, and uses a fake ID to hide his deadname in public places.
- Sinclair-Palm, Julia (May 1, 2017). ""It's Non-Existent": Haunting in Trans Youth Narratives about Naming". Occasional Paper Series. 2017 (37). doi:10.58295/2375-3668.1102. ISSN 2375-3668. S2CID 148637812.
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.
- Stanborough, Rebecca (February 2020). She/He/They/Them: Understanding Gender Identity. Capstone. ISBN 978-0-7565-6561-9.
- "Oh my days! It's the OED June 2021 update". Oxford English Dictionary. June 8, 2021. Retrieved February 23, 2022.
- Glicksman, Eve (April 2013). "Transgender terminology: It's complicated". Monitor on Psychology. American Psychological Association. 44 (4): 39. Archived from the original on September 25, 2013. Retrieved September 17, 2013.
Use whatever name and gender pronoun the person prefers
- "Meeting the Health Care Needs of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) People: The End to LGBT Invisibility" (PowerPoint Presentation). The Fenway Institute. p. 24. Archived from the original on October 20, 2013. Retrieved September 17, 2013.
Use the pronoun that matches the person's gender identity
- "Glossary of Gender and Transgender Terms" (PDF). Preface: Fenway Health. January 2010. p. 2. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 19, 2013. Retrieved September 17, 2013.
listen to your clients – what terms do they use to describe themselves
- Rogers, Baker A. (January 31, 2020). Trans Men in the South: Becoming Men. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-1-7936-0034-9.
- Freeman, Lauren; Stewart, Heather (September 2021). "Toward a Harm-Based Account of Microaggressions". Perspectives on Psychological Science. 16 (5): 1008–1023. doi:10.1177/17456916211017099. ISSN 1745-6916. PMID 34498530. S2CID 237454133. p. 1019:
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.
- "Deadnaming A Trans Person Is Violence – So Why Does The Media Do It Anyway?". HuffPost. March 17, 2017. Retrieved January 2, 2020.
- Reed, Christopher (November 22, 2018). "Axiomatic" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on November 22, 2018. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
- Lavery, Grace (October 29, 2018). "Grad School As Conversion Therapy". BLARB. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
- "Conversion Therapy v. Re-education Camp: Open Letter to Grace Lavery". BLARB. December 11, 2018. Retrieved May 26, 2020.
- Crawford, Lucas (January 2, 2019). "What's Next is the Past". A/B: Auto/Biography Studies. 34 (1): 147–150. doi:10.1080/08989575.2019.1542845. ISSN 0898-9575. S2CID 188098200.
- Johnson, Hannah Lee (Spring 2019). "Rhetorics of trans allyship, toward an ethic of responsible listening and ally labor". University of Iowa. Retrieved August 3, 2020.
- Metz, Rachel; Flynn, Kerry (June 2021). "'It's just human dignity.' Trans writers and journalists struggle to get old bylines corrected". www.cnn.com. CNN. Retrieved December 20, 2022.
- Simpson, Jaye. "Land Back means protecting Black and Indigenous trans women". briarpatchmagazine.com. Briar Patch Magazine. Retrieved December 20, 2022.
- Lazet, Amy; Watson, Brian M. (2022). "The Case for Retroactive Author Name Changes". College and Research Libraries. 38 (3). Retrieved December 20, 2022.
- "Deadnaming: How Using the Wrong Name Can Affect Mental Health". psychcentral.com. Psych Central. November 16, 2021. Retrieved February 1, 2023.
- "Multiple Surnames". acrl.ala.org. ANSSWeb. Retrieved January 30, 2023.
- Welsh, Anne (September 2019). "How much is too much? Keeping up-to-date in non-RDA setting" (PDF). Catalogue and Index (196). Retrieved January 30, 2023.
- Fortin, Jacey (July 28, 2021). "New Policy Aims to Help Transgender Researchers Update Names on Old Work". The New York Times. Retrieved August 28, 2021.
- "Wikipedia:Arbitration/Requests/Case/Manning naming dispute". English Wikipedia. Arbitration Committee. Retrieved April 10, 2023.
- Hern, Alex (October 24, 2013). "Chelsea Manning name row: Wikipedia editors banned from trans pages". The Guardian. London. Retrieved November 20, 2022.
- Stern, Mark (August 22, 2013). "Wikipedia Beats Major News Organizations, Perfectly Reflects Chelsea Manning's New Gender". Slate. London. Retrieved November 20, 2022.
- Gardner, Sue (September 4, 2013), "How Wikipedia got it wrong on Chelsea Manning, and why", Sue Gardner's Blog, retrieved November 20, 2022
- Shoard, Catherine (August 13, 2019). "IMDb changes names policy after transgender protest". The Guardian. London. Retrieved August 28, 2021.
- Gilcrease, Grayson. "Netflix Is Making a Change For Elliot Page". www.imdb.com. Popsugar. Retrieved August 28, 2021.
- "Going for Broke (TV Movie 2003)". Internet Movie Database. July 14, 2003. Retrieved August 28, 2021.
- Broverman, Neal (March 12, 2021). "North Carolina Ends Deadnaming of Students on Report Cards, Documents". The Advocate. Los Angeles. Archived from the original on March 16, 2021. Retrieved April 2, 2021.
- Whitbrook, James (June 24, 2021). "Fandom Launches New LGBTQIA+ Guidelines for All Its Wikis". io9. Gizmodo. Archived from the original on June 27, 2021. Retrieved June 28, 2021.
- ""Love is the Best Thing Alive": Celebrating LGBTQ+ Voices and Stories". 826national.org. 826 National. June 8, 2022. Retrieved February 1, 2023.
- Friess, Steve (February 28, 2014). "Don't Applaud Jared Leto's Transgender 'Mammy'". time.com. Time. Retrieved January 30, 2023.
- Crawford, Lillian. "Girl, A Fantastic Woman and cinema's difficult period of transition". lwlies.com. Little White Lies. Retrieved January 30, 2023.
- Freeman, William. "REVIEW: A Fantastic Woman (2017) dir. Sebastián Lelio". bostonhassle.com. Boston Hassle. Retrieved January 30, 2023.
- "65: WKRP LGBTQ+". www.gayestepisodeever.com. Gayest Episode Ever. Retrieved January 30, 2023.
- "Hotel Oceanview Episode aired Nov 29, 1980 TV-PG 24m". www.imdb.com. IMDb. Retrieved January 30, 2023.
- "WKRP in Cincinnati: Season 1, Episode 3 script | Subs like Script". subslikescript.com. Retrieved February 5, 2023.
- "Boy Crazy Episode aired Nov 18, 2007 TV-14 44m". www.imdb.com. IMDb. Retrieved January 30, 2023.
- "05x09 - Boy Crazy". transcripts.foreverdreaming.org. Cold Case Transcripts. Retrieved January 30, 2023.
- "Daniela Episode aired Oct 17, 2004 TV-14 44m". www.imdb.com. IMDb. Retrieved February 1, 2023.
- Adams, Nick (August 15, 2013). "Sad turn for Adam on "Degrassi" in last night's episode (Spoiler)". www.glaad.org. GLAAD. Retrieved February 2, 2023.
- Levitt, Barry (January 28, 2022). "The Most Memorable Moments In Degrassi: The Next Generation". www.looper.com. Looper. Retrieved February 2, 2023.