Deadname is a word used in the transgender community to reference the given name that a trans person has rejected, because it misrepresented their gender. This is in contrast to a person’s chosen name, which is the name they selected to more accurately reflect who they are.
The word deadname is both a noun and a verb.
To deadname someone means to refer to them by that name instead of their chosen name—which is a form of misgendering. It can happen both accidentally and intentionally.
If you accidentally deadname someone, just correct yourself and move on. If you struggle with regularly deadnaming a trans person in your life, try to deconstruct your thinking, because you may be caught up in perceiving that person as someone they never really were.
Intentionally deadnaming someone, which sometimes seems to be considered a joke by cisgender people, is a form of transphobic hate speech. It’s not funny in the way that the people doing it think it is—it’s just bigotry.
A deadname isn’t someone’s “real name”
A common issue transgender people face is their chosen names not being recognized as their real names—even when they go through the frustrating process of getting their names legally changed. It’s not uncommon for folks to refuse to use a transgender person’s chosen name, because they only see their given name as their “real name.”
This comes out of a flawed understanding of transgender people. Refusing to call a trans person by their chosen name is a refusal to acknowledge who they are in favor of the incorrect label that was assigned to them at birth.
It’s a challenging process overcoming that incorrect label, especially when other people in your life are continually trying to enforce it. The process of choosing a name can be difficult and nerve-wracking.
If you know someone who’s in the process of shifting from their given name, you can be supportive by giving them space to find a name that really clicks for them without clinging to the old name they know isn’t right. Help them try out names they like. You might even get to be part of the process of finding their name.
Deadnaming effects people differently
For some trans people, being deadnamed is a horrifying experience that causes major gender dysphoria.
For others, like me for example, it’s just a little awkward. It just feels like someone is calling me the wrong name.
Not all trans people even have a deadname, because they feel comfortable with the name that was given to them.
A trans person’s reaction to being deadnamed depends on their relationship with their given name, and how coerced they felt into using it or how off it felt. Those relationships can vary drastically.
But there’s a pretty easy way to make sure you’re respecting everyone no matter how or if deadnaming effects them:
Just call them the name they ask you to call them.