What’s a dead name?
A dead name is a name assigned to someone at birth, usually but not always falling in line with the gender assigned to that individual at birth, and is a name that no longer fits that person.
Using someone’s dead name for them is a shitty thing to do.
So why is this a big deal? For several reasons:
- It’s disrespectful. Your trans friend has put a lot of trust in you by coming out, and sharing their identity. Refusing to use their name because it’s “hard to remember”, or you “know them as [old name]” isn’t helping anyone, and goes back to you defining them by how you see the world, not how they actually are.
- It can be triggering. A lot of trans people (not all, but a lot) have suffered through quite a lot of trauma in coming out and transitioning. They may have had a lot of fightback from their family, been abused by a partner, or just been kicked down by society in this journey to be their authentic self. Many trans people shed their dead name to leave all this behind them, and you bringing it up can drag up a lot of painful shit, which is awful to do in the first place, but is even worse when a person isn’t expecting it. It’s causing your friend harm, and that’s just a shitty thing to do.
- It can be dangerous. As I talked about in this post, some trans people change their name as a way of moving away from harmful people or situations, and to keep themselves safe from those people who want to hurt them finding them. Your casual use of their dead name, especially if it is in front of the wrong person, might put your friend in serious danger. We manage to do this for women who have to move away from dangerous partners, or for children who are taken into care, and this is the exact same situation for some trans people. Think before you speak.
- It is nowhere near as difficult as you make it out to be. Make the effort. If this person wants to be your friend and is trusting you with this information, they deem you worth the effort. Be a decent person and do the same for them in return. We celebrate people changing their name when they get married, and write whole articles about people changing their names to ridiculous things by deed poll (like these people), yet we can’t do trans people the common courtesy of using their correct names? Which, I will also point out, we have to fight with medical professionals to get permission to do, unlike the people in the link above. It’s just not good enough.
As always, think before you speak. The effort it takes you to use your trans friend’s name properly is nothing compared to the effort they’ve had to put into being able to live as their authentic selves. Put that effort in, and don’t go looking for a cookie for it. That’s almost as bad as using the wrong name.