“Deadnaming” is when a transgender or non-binary person is referred to by their previous name, which often was their birth name. According to Steph Perkins, who serves as executive director for an LGBTQ advocacy group in St. Louis, “deadnaming” is “when someone uses the old name/birth name of a trans person… Most people don’t know what it means, but it is a widely used term within the trans community.”
So deadnaming is when a dead transgender person is called by their former name?
It can happen to living people. It happens a lot to Caitlyn Jenner, who still gets to referred to by her former name. But the practice of referring to someone by their previous name has been a problem when transgender people have been killed.
It’s referring to a person by a name they do not use. Perkins says there have been times when people intentionally referred to him by his old name. “It feels like an attack in itself,” he said.
Like it’s an invalidation?
Healthline explained what kind of impact this can have on a person:
When you refer to a person who is transgender by their non-affirmed name, it can feel invalidating. It can cause them to feel like you don’t respect their identity, you don’t support their transition, or that you don’t wish to put forth the effort to make this necessary change.
If you do so in front of a friend who doesn’t already know that trans person, it can effectively “out” them, or signal to your friend that they’re transgender. This may or may not be something that they want other people to know.
Not only can being outed cause stress, it can also subject that person to harassment and discrimination.
Why is it a “dead name”?
Not everyone will use that term. A thread on Quora asked, “Why do many transgender people refer to their previous name as a ‘dead name’?” In an answer, user Jae Alexis Lee wrote that she had packed up clothes from her previous life and put them in a box that had her previous name on it. The process took a full weekend, and sometimes was so painful for Jae that she had her wife help her. The weekend, which she said included some sobbing, was marked by grieving:
I could have left the clothes hanging in my closet, but why? They would just take up valuable space and I had a new wardrobe to build. So I packed everything away, as though I had died, and I grieved for what I was leaving behind. I think that the grieving was important. Choosing to transition is a choice to leave some things behind. Filling the box was a time when I could grieve for those things.
I still have the box in the closet with my dead name on it. There are things in the box too precious to part with, and those memories will always be part of me. But I’m not that person any more. I’ve grieved for that person, but now I’ve moved on.
I think ‘dead name’ is an entirely appropriate way to refer to a name and an identity that has passed and been mourned, don’t you?
But not everyone will refer to their former name is their “dead name”?
Correct. Blogger Leo Caldwell wrote a piece for Huffington Post explaining why he won’t use the term, explaining the whole of his journey as a person includes the entirety of his life and the name he used. He said he did not die when he transitioned, but rather he was transformed. Most strikingly, Caldwell wrote, “My dead name is Leo. When I die, Leo Caldwell will die. Natasha never died, she became Leo.”
Regardless of what term transgender people use to describe their previous names, the practice of calling a trans person by their previous name is considered as offensive.
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