Is “deadnaming” always an egregious sin?

April 12, 2019 • 11:30 am

“Deadnaming” is the use of the pre-transformation name of someone who has transitioned between genders. So, for example, referring to “Bruce Jenner” in an article about “Caitlyn Jenner” is a case of deadnaming.

My view on this practice is that it’s respectful to use the name a person chooses after they’ve transitioned, but it’s not an egregious sin to use their former name if it’s relevant. In some articles about Caitlyn Jenner it might be, for example when you’re giving biographical details about her. If you’re going to note that Jenner is a trans woman, which is usually fine if it adds information, why is it horrible to say that Jenner was formerly the decathlon champion Bruce Jenner?  In fact, that’s what Wikipedia does. It gives her bio article the title of her present name, but also gives the birth name:

And since being trans is an integral part of the identity of many trans people—something that they themselves mention—I don’t see much wrong with using the former name as an indication of that. What I see as demeaning is referring to the person solely by their former name without any indication that it’s been changed, which denies or mocks their own choice. Yet there are few sins worse than deadnaming in the Authoritarian Left community.

HuffPo (of course), also sees deadnaming as a horrible thing to do under any circumstances, and in this article about Chelsea Manning gives us a little lecture about deadnaming. It doesn’t help that it was Fox News that performed the despiséd act (click on screenshot):

Here’s the sin:

Fox News correspondent Greg Palkot referred to Chelsea Manning twice on Thursday by the name the convicted government leaker and transgender activist used prior to her gender confirmation.

To be fair, the correspondent, referring to Manning in both instances, says “at that time Bradley Manning”, meaning that Chelsea Manning went by another name during the Wikileaks fracas. Indeed, the Wikipedia article on Manning gives her birth name:

It’s not irrelevant to the story that Chelsea Manning was once Bradley Manning, as the news back then used the name, and if you want to find out what Manning did when he identified as male, you have to Google the former name. Also, Manning didn’t announce her gender preference until 2013, several years after she leaked information as an identified-as-male soldier in the U.S. Army. In other words, the crimes for which she was convicted and imprisoned (and now she’s back in jail) were committed when she used another name and served as a male soldier.

HuffPo can’t resist giving us a little lecture at the end of what is supposedly a news piece, mostly about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks:

Deadnaming is problematic because it can feel invalidating and disrespectful to the person it’s being done to, according to Pink News. 

“Essentially, it highlights that they’re not supported in their transition process, whether it’s before, during or after,” says the publication, which stresses that many people don’t realize the “depth of emotion” linked to a trans person’s identity.

Twitter banned deadnaming in 2018.

“We prohibit targeting individuals with repeated slurs, tropes or other content that intends to dehumanize, degrade or reinforce negative or harmful stereotypes about a protected category. This includes targeted misgendering or deadnaming of transgender individuals,” Twitter said in a revised iteration of its hateful conduct policy.

As Parker Molloy wrote in The New York Times, Twitter’s move “represented a recognition that our identity is an accepted fact and that to suggest otherwise is a slur.”

To make sure you never deadname a trans person, ask the person what they would like to be called, refer to them by their new name even when they’re not nearby, and correct others who deadname.

It seems to me that there shouldn’t be a blanket ban on deadnaming so long as you identify the person’s present name along with the past one, and have a good reason for using the former name. It is not “erasing” somebody, as the New York Times article argues, to say that they have transitioned and once went by another name. It’s not erasing Muhammad Ali to say that he once was known as Cassius Clay.

What constitutes “erasure” is to use a person’s pre-transition name alone, or to use the present one in a mocking fashion. And, I suppose, it’s bad form to use a former name if someone has transitioned and wants to keep it a secret. But that isn’t the case for most transsexual people—as far as I know.

50 thoughts on “Is “deadnaming” always an egregious sin?

  1. History is history. If you’re talking about the history of an individual who did something, naming them as they were named when they did it is just logical and informative. This whole “you can never use a trans person’s former name ever again” thing is another one of those silly rules that has recently cropped up.

    1. Exactly. That is, as long as someone discusses a persons past, and it’s relevant for the understanding, then the name (and identity) should be used as it was at the time. If it is irrelevant, then it would be spiteful to use a former name.

      But that’s too much nuance for woke people, who have difficulties with ideas that exceed the content of a slogan.

      1. “But that’s too much nuance for woke people, who have difficulties with ideas that exceed the content of a slogan.”

        Beautifully put! I’m probably going to steal that. 😉


    2. Hey, Beej, I saw a great film from Iceland last night, Woman at War, as part of a “Cinematheque” series of foreign films they’re showing at the local arthouse. It’s luminous, practically jumps off the screen. Way cool, too. You get the chance, you should see it.

      Here’s the trailer, if you wanna take a peek.

      1. Awesome, thanks! By the way, Criterion just launched their own VOD service. Tons of films on there. It’s pretty amazing.

    3. I absolutely agree.

      I’m sympathetic to Chelsea Manning, but I see absolutely nothing wrong with calling her ‘Bradley’ in reference to her ‘crimes’.

      In fact I find the whole PuffHo reference – “referred to Chelsea Manning … by the name the convicted government leaker used” sounds incredibly snarky and prejudicial. They make it sound as if her former name was unmentionable, while getting in a nice piece of snark – “convicted government leaker” – as if we had forgotten it.


  2. Let’s make dead-addressing a sin. If someone sends me email to an old, retired email address of mine, I will consider it severely disrespectful. I probably won’t even answer it but trash the sender’s reputation any way I can. Same with a snail mail letter to any of my former residences. I demand respect! 😉

  3. What should not happen and it just did today, thanks to the disgusting Trump presidency, is to disallow transgender access to serve in the military. It simply does not get more pathetic than this. I suppose all the gays will be next.

  4. As far as I know, it has never been considered wrong to refer to someone’s original name once they have legally changed their name. I would consider it rude to continue to call someone by their birth name (but not the worst social offence). I don’t see that the situation is different for transpeople.

  5. There appears to be no single answer to the deadnaming question. Each person must address this issue for them self. My trans grandson is still conflicted about the use of his previous name for referencing the past. He is very clear about how he is to be referenced now. Reminders of his past name are ubiquitous. Awards, plaques, yearbooks, and social media posts are just the beginning. What do you do with a photo of a birthday cake that has the old name?

    1. It’s also an issue that we don’t always know if someone is being deadnamed anyway.

      Twitter recently banned several feminists for ‘deadnaming’ Ian Huntley, the murderer of two schoolgirls, who had reportedly begun transition in prison. The reports turned out to be bollocks anyway so women who refused to refer to a man under a female name he was rumoured to prefer were banned for sod all.

  6. So, deadnaming joins cultural appropriation, implicit bias, scientism, and inequality in the award of Oscars, in the list of awful oppressions that weigh down on the rising generation. So much more terrifying than the things like slavery, mass-murder, genocide, police-state terror, and unlimited warfare that were said to have occurred yesterday. Of course, individuals who claim those things happened yesterday are mostly dead white historians, whose writings are by definition heteropatriarchal and colonialist.

  7. You could say that “deadnaming” is an insult, and I, for one, have no problems with insulting dirty traitors like Manning. That pile of filth leaked operative names and locations and got good people killed.

    You want to expose corruption and bad behavior, I’m all for that. What Snowden did was patriotic. The information he released was vetted and carefully redacted to prevent any individual from being put in danger. What Manning did was just open up a firehose of classified data with no vetting or redaction. That is treason.

    1. music collection “Switched On Bach” is filed under Walter Carlos while “Switched On Brandenburgs” is found under Wendy Carlos.

      1. My Clockwork Orange soundtrack is still credited to Walter Carlos; my Tron soundtrack is credited to Wendy Carlos.

        Carlos has a Walter and a Wendy phase to her career. Carlos has not, to my knowledge, attempted to rewrite their past.

        1. And to be honest, if you stack your music alphabetically, ‘Carlos, Walter’ and ‘Carlos, Wendy’ are going to be right next to each other anyway (and better still, arranged chronologically*). It’s not a Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam dilemma.

          * If Carlos was ftm instead of mtf my system would break down.

  8. Faux News seems to have recently stirred up disrespect for transgender folks to distract from the failures of the Trump Administration, as Greg Palkot was respectful more than two years ago: Far too many conservatives are stuck in the 1950s when it comes to biology and neuroscience.

    Lest someone doubts that rage is stirred up intentionally: 

  9. I can’t but agree, Ms Clinton (nee Rodham), what’s wrong with that? And, as you point out, Chelsea Manning committed his/her crimes when still a male Bruce. I can’t find possible fault there by mentioning that, when discussing the deeds for which she/he was convicted.

    1. I can’t but agree, Ms Clinton (nee Rodham), what’s wrong with that?

      I’m a fan of this phrasing – it conveys all the pertinent information but is not disrespectful (to me, at least!).

  10. There’s a particularly letigious Canadian who has used the anonymity afforded them by Twitter bans on their ‘deadnaming’ – even when they were still using their ‘deadname’ as a Twitter handle – to launch 16 lawsuits against women beauticians who refuse to wax their testicles.

    The ban on deadnaming has prevented the victims of this person’s frivolous lawsuits from linking these cases together. I suspect many of your readers know who I’m talking about but I can’t mention their name here because WordPress bans deadnaming too.

    1. Yes, but they still allow the “Balldemort” tag on Tw*tter to refer to this person. And if readers want to look up this person, the name is Yankee Alfa November India Victor.

      I will make only three (3) comments on this thread because I when I was drunk a few weeks ago I broke Da Roolz because this is a hot button issue for me.

      BTW, GallusMag is back online if you don’t already know.

    2. “WordPress bans deadnaming too.”

      Does it? Surely not. Bradley Manning. Bruce Jenner. Cassius Clay. Have all been mentioned above in this thread.

      I can’t imagine a more futile policy. Streisand Effect will surely apply if anyone tried to implement it.

      I’ve got a few more from earlier times – William Henry Pratt. Richard Starkey. Marion Morrison. Norma Jean Mortensen.
      Or is it okay to name them because they weren’t transgender? [/sarcasm]

      There wasn’t a lot of point in using their birth names because so few people would know who you were talking about, but I don’t recall it being equated to a crime against humanity.


      1. “so few people would know who you were talking

        Other, of course, than Norma Jean, who Reginald Dwight so famously deadnamed with Candle in the Wind


  11. I think the correct way to refer to the person would be to use the current name formerly known as past name. Or use current name nee past name.
    It us still the same person just going by a different name. And different sex.
    I don’t see his any could object to that or be offended by it. It merely sets out the record for identification purposes.

  12. Like many married women, I use a different last name than that which I was born with. Since I’ve been married for 30 years, I would find it strange if someone I know now resurrected my former last name to address me, but I would think nothing of it if a high school classmate were to refer to me by my former name, the name I was known by at that time of my life.

  13. This reminds me of an article about the recent K/T fossil bed discovery. One of the articles had quotes from science writer Brian Switek, a name I was familiar from his blog posts and his book _Written in Stone_.

    However, I hadn’t noticed until then that Switek now goes by the name Riley Black (and they/their):

    So I guess that the Australian site (and I) are deadnaming?

  14. BTW, I’ve read before that deadnaming is “violence”, because words can be violence now. (The first Google hit for deadnaming violence for me is also from HuffPo.)

  15. One problem with historical revision is that it can do women out of achievements. The first film trioligy directed by women WAS the Bridget Jones trioligy; now it is The Matrix Trilogy since the Wachowski’s transitioned. However Lana and Lilly Wachowski never had to fight their way up in a male dominated industry the way that Sharon Maguire and Beebon Kidron did.

  16. Surely the record books will always show that Cassius Clay beat Sonny Liston to become World Heavyweight Champion in February 1964, regardless of what happened afterwards?

    1. Wow, and a ‘deadbeat’ fight that was. Personally I think ‘Cassius Clay’ is a much more evocative name for a boxer than the unimaginative and deadbeat ‘Muhammad Ali’, but I can sympathize with the idea that he didn’t like the ‘Clay’ name, since that allegedly was the slave owner’s name his grandfather got stuck with.
      I really think Mr Ali (formerly Clay) deserves some respect for his willingness to do jail time for refusing to fight in Vietnam, a war he considered (and who can fault him there) wrong. No bone spurs there.

  17. Wow. Okay. But…

    Who and/or what would be offended when I should happen to mention the Battle of Stalingrad (1942-1943)?

  18. The New York Times has used the following form (or something close to it) several times in the last few days:

    “…with Ms. Manning, then known as Bradley Manning…”

    If they didn’t do that, you couldn’t find any articles referring to the leak or trial. It seems not just permissible, but necessary, for a news article to use both names.

  19. “Deadnaming” sounds delightfully melodramatic – and it is!

    Let’s punctuate:
    [twitter’s] hateful “conduct policy”

  20. Coincidentally, I had a long talk with my trans child yesterday about this issue.
    I decided from the beginning that I was not going to use new names or pronouns. I believe my exact words were “If you can get other people to buy in and call you that, it is between you and them, but I am not doing it.”

    My position has not changed, and here is why:
    I think in the case of my own child, transgender identification has been and is a terrible mistake. My kid is on a journey that will almost certainly end in terrible disappointment. As a best case. It is very likely that some day we will see a suicide attempt, which terrifies me.
    But the reason I am not participating is that I do not want to be complicit in the slowly unfolding tragedy. No matter what, I will wonder if there are better ways that I could have dealt with this.
    It seems to me that pretending to believe in the transgender ideology would be collaboration
    in the destruction of my own child. And it would be disingenuous. Pretending to believe what is, to me, clearly not true, would be dishonest.
    As far as people who are not my kids, I generally try to be polite, and avoid conflict. I will call you whatever you prefer, but if pressed on the issue, I would have to admit that I am just humoring you. exactly as I would a person who believed they were Napoleon, or a duck. If I accidentally use the wrong pronoun, it is not a hate crime. It just means I forgot for a moment that we were playing make-believe.

    The very moment the hysteria passes, I plan to sue some doctors and therapists for malpractice, or worse.

    1. Have you been to the “4th Wave Now” website? It’s very good support for parents with daughters who exhibit rapid onset gender dysphoria.

      4th Wave’s daughter and some of her friends now have a site of their own. They started this project without even knowing that one of their moms was 4th Wave Now. I won’t link here, but you can find the link on 4th Wave Now on WordPress.

      I wish you the best and you have my deepest sympathies. I hope your daughter can come to understand that there is space in womanhood for someone like her.

      And if I’ve made a mistake and you are talking about your son, please seek other resources. Mostly what I know about is ROGD daughters because of my niece.

      And again, I support you. The 4th Wave community can help you. Hang in there.

      1. Thanks for the referral. I have not participated in such groups so far because I did not want to ally myself with religious-type folks. I will check 4th wave out.
        And yes, I am talking about a boy, who feels he is not one. But who exclusively dates girls who believe they are boys. So we live in an upside down world around here.

        Thanks for the kind words of support. Things are fine right now, but I do not expect that to always be the case.

  21. Rather than rewriting history, the only reasonable attitude is to use the pre-transition name to refer to the pre-transition person. After transition it is courteous to use the name they currently prefer.

    1. Seems also to be the opinion of transgendered author Caitlin R. Kiernan who wrote in 2017

      “I also want to say, as I said yesterday on Facebook, as a transperson, I find “deadnaming” to be an offensive and, simultaneously, laughably melodramatic phrase. My birth name isn’t “dead,” and that person I was then is no less alive and valid than the person I am now. Frankly, I’ve only just heard the term for the first time. It’s idiotic. Wiktionary attests to the term since January 11, 2012, but I’d never heard it. And it’s just sorta precious being told by cisgendered people (excuse me, I mean by non-transgender people) that I genuinely ought not to be offended by the melodramatic neologism “deadnaming” (including “deadname,” “deadnamed,” and, presumably, “deadnamer.”), that the existence of the word is really for my own good, and why can’t I get with the program, please?”

      I think the thing to remember is that this is not being driven by members of the affected communities, but rather people who’ve been taught that it is their duty to be offended on the behalf of those communities.

  22. From what I understand (mainly from listening to Savage Love – I’m not about to ask the trans people I know):

    Trans people aren’t idiots. Deadnaming isn’t an ‘egregious sin’ (not that Jerry would ever exaggerate), but it’s a real assholey thing to do. And what Fox did wasn’t deadnaming.

    Remember, HuffPo’s business model is to pretty much accept any article to generate ad revenue without paying their writers. There’s no editorial voice there.

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