It is common for people who are transgender or non-binary to change their name as a way of cementing their new identity – both for themselves and those around them. Therefore, following a name change, referring to someone by their former name without prior consent is known as deadnaming, regardless of whether it is intentional or not.
Ultimately, deadnaming is not only disrespectful, but invalidating. Irrespective of whether the person’s preferred name is their legal name – which appears on documents such as their birth certificate or driving license – or not, ignoring their wishes can have a negative long-term impact on their mental health and self-esteem.
Furthermore, using a trans or non-binary person’s deadname may ‘out’ them to others who are present but do not know how they identify. By doing so, you have forced the hand of somebody who had chosen not to share a part of their past, statistically putting them at higher risk of harm.
In most instances, the terms ‘birth name’ and ‘deadname’ can be used interchangeably. However, not all people who are trans or non-binary will choose to change their name – it’s entirely a personal preference. A 2015 survey revealed that only 11 per cent of transgender people had their preferred name and gender on all forms of ID, and 49 per cent did not have any ID with their preferred name.
Understanding the legalities
For your acquired gender to be legally recognised in the UK, you must apply to the Gender Recognition Panel for a Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC). There are numerous routes which can be taken, but once you have obtained a GRC, your birth certificate will be re-issued confirming your true gender and, if relevant, your new chosen name.
Of course, your name and title can be changed without a GRC, but on legal and government-issued identification documents, your gender would remain unchanged from the one you were assigned at birth.
Key actions for businesses
- Educate yourself and your workforce. Business leaders must actively encourage their staff to become allies and advocates for transgender employees, but also provide broader training on the challenges faced by the LGBT+ community. INvolve, our sister company, provides bespoke, practical courses to tackle biases and build inclusive, future-proof workplaces.
- Take accountability for ensuring transgender and non-binary employees are being referred to by their chosen name – and if they are not, take appropriate action. As part of your hiring and onboarding processes, consider asking staff to state their preferred pronouns, as well as their preferred name. However, it’s important to note that making it mandatory to display pronouns could be challenging, as those who aren’t yet out may feel pressured to use pronouns that they don’t identify with or use their authentic pronouns before they are ready.
- Recognise the significance of small actions, such as stating your pronouns on your email signatures and in the ‘name’ section on Zooms calls. It may feel like a simple change, but it speaks volumes about your organisations’ attitude towards inclusion.
- Own up to mistakes, and never make them twice. There may be times when you slip up, perhaps accidentally referring to someone by the name they went by when you first met them. When you catch yourself or are corrected, don’t brush it aside – admit and apologise for your error to enforce that there was no malicious intent behind the error.
In essence, inclusion isn’t about tolerating others and our differences – it’s about acceptance. Even if a name is inconsequential to you, to others it could be a pivotal part of their identity. Deadnaming rebukes the acceptance of another’s true identity, as well as potentially exposing parts of their past that they would rather remain concealed. There’s no excuse for deadnaming, and employers play a key role in prohibiting it in the workplace.