Dead naming is the moment you call someone who is trans or non-binary (or who has changed their names, in some cases) by the name they had assigned to them, often at birth. It is one of the worst ways of misgendering someone, especially when it is done intentionally.
I never used to think this would be an issue, I figured my main issue would always be pronouns, it made sense. Don’t get me wrong, getting pronouns wrong – especially intentionally – is awful, but when you get someone’s name wrong, that’s something else.
I mean, we all make mistakes, we all slip up and call people by other’s names, but when you then go and call them a name they used to be known by – being aware that they have changed their name – it can just make the floor sink from beneath them.
Now I have been on testosterone for nearly three and a half years, I don’t get misgendered as female a lot and my dead name was quite a feminine one. Therefore, if someone calls me by my dead name I am very confused, as are those around me. However, on occasion it has been known to happen intentionally. I am not talking from family members, but from other people who knew me before.
This can be in very overt or covert ways. For example, someone may say things like “you’ll always be ‘deadname’ to me,” which is horrid, or they may just mess up and say something like “’deadname’, sorry, Kai,” which feels nearly as bad but is easier to cope with (in my personal experience). However, it is said though, it still hurts. Being called by my dead name is an experience I loathe, especially in public spaces. It makes people look at me funny, especially if a big deal is made of it. This was a lot worse though before I passed as much.
I mentioned yesterday that I am in a privileged position to be read as male a lot of the time, which means that if someone calls me my obviously feminine dead name, most people just think it is a slip of the tongue and they called me someone else’s name. But when someone does it to a person who is earlier in transition, or who doesn’t ‘pass’ (intentionally or not), it is often soul crushing.
When I had a more androgynous appearance, I had a lot of people do a double take, especially when I spoke. My name now is an androgynous name, so a lot of people would try to ‘catch me out’ and work out ‘what I was’. The moment my dead name was mentioned, it would switch the ‘female’ switch in their brains and I’d also become she, and her, etcetera. It was not a pleasant experience in the slightest.
A lot of people don’t have the privilege of being read as the gender they are – I am never read as non-binary and that is an effect of the binary society we live in – and while I am mostly comfortable 75% of the time to be read as male, a lot of people don’t have that ability or wish.
The fact is that dead naming doesn’t affect me as much as other’s. A lot of the time the issue is worst for trans feminine people and trans women, particularly those assigned male at birth. It can be hard enough to be validated in such a cisnormative society, when you are out in public and someone messes up a pronoun you can generally skip past it, it affects the person themselves but a lot of people don’t think twice about it, but when you hear someone’s dead name it puts associations into a lot of people’s minds. This is especially true if you dead name someone with a very masculine or feminine name.
What I am trying to say here is that names are powerful, they give a lot of validity to people, please don’t ignore that. If you do mess up, and nobody is perfect, please also bear in mind the way you then correct yourself. Do correct yourself if possible, but please, please, don’t make a big deal of it. There is nothing worse than being misgendered in public, for the person to then correct themselves and make themselves the victim, go over the top, and say how much of a bad person they are. Just stop. Don’t make a drama. Apologise, correct yourself, move on. If they want to talk about it more, then fine, but don’t make a big deal of it when one doesn’t need to be made. Don’t be that person.