How to Learn a Trans Person’s New Name (and Pronouns)
Posted On May 6, 2021
I’ve never really had a good relationship with my name. There was something about it that never felt right. I’m not really sure what, to be honest.
I think I first noticed in grade 1 when someone in my class had the same name as me. The teacher would call us by our first name and first initial of our last name – something I despised. It was also around that time that I realized no one was ever going to spell my name right.
In fact, when we went to name my oldest daughter my ex wanted to give her my middle name. It’s the same as my mom’s, so it’s kind of a family thing at this point. Since I hated my name I wasn’t super keen on it – but I wasn’t sure what else to use so she ended up with it.
How to Learn a Trans Person’s New Name and Pronouns
Fast forward to middle school and my friends rarely used my first name. I mean, some of them did, but overall I went by nicknames.
One that stuck was “Kiki”, a bastardization of a cute nickname someone started using in my class. I like it, so we used it. It was still a “girly” name but it was not my birth name. So that was cool. (To this day half my gaming handles are “Kikineko” – a combo of that and the Japanese word for “cat”.)
The one exception to this was my very close friends. We had this understanding that I wanted to be a boy (I’m sure I’ll talk more about this sometime, but this is about names!) and that I much preferred boy names. So that’s what they did.
Changing My Name
Anyway, since I was never really attached to my name it wasn’t hard at all for me to change it when I came out. I played with a few name options, and ended up settling on something that I’m not in love with anymore. Oh well.
After detransitioning 2 years ago I went back to my birth name and ditched that one.
A lot of people wondered why I didn’t go back to the other name. It wasn’t a bad name – but it wasn’t for me. Plus I chose it with the help of my ex. So… Yeah.
Cycling back to my story about my oldest – I’m still not sure what to make my new middle name. But I’m super sold on Everett as first name.
How to Learn a Trans Person’s New Name and Pronouns
OK I’m getting to the point here. If you have a trans person in your life (that person might even be me) and they change their name, you’re going to need to get that shit figured out.
Trans people do all kinds of crazy things with name changes. Some pick a variation on their birth name (when I went for top surgery the nurse asked me if I went by Eric… Lol no.) Others another name that they’ve always loved or one that suits them.
Some even pick something totally wild, which I completely support. If you’re changing your name why the fuck not change it something badass like Indiana Jones or Robocop?
Change Their Name in Your Phone
Exposure, exposure, exposure. I have friends who keep changing their names and updating their name in my phone always makes me learn it faster. If you think you’ll get confused, add their new name as a nickname for now so you don’t get confused – but make sure you update it later when you’ve learned the new one.
If you’re forgetting their pronouns you can add those to their contact name too.
Make a Conscious Choice to Use the Right Name and Pronouns
You’re going to need to challenge yourself here. Every time you catch yourself using the wrong name or pronouns in your head take a moment to correct your thoughts. The more you repeat it in your head the easier it will be when you’re with that person.
You could even practice thinking about them with their new name or pronouns in your head.
Accept it Without Question
Who cares if they’ve already changed it before. Who cares if it’s not what you like or understand. This isn’t your name or pronouns, and you don’t get to put that on other people. When a trans person changes their name accept that change without questioning or complaining.
Even the most supportive of people can sometimes put their biases into a situation like this. Make sure you’re also accepting that the name is real and valid, and not just a preference. You wouldn’t like it if someone called you by the wrong name either.
Only Use the New Name and Pronouns
There are going to be times where you have to mention the dead name or birth assigned pronouns of a trans person, but that should be limited to something like “oh, you may know them as x, but they changed their name/pronouns to y.” Beyond those very specific situations that require it, only ever use the person’s new name and pronouns.
This goes for conversations with mutual friends, your spouse, and your family too.
Use Social Media to Help
This is a great thing about social media. If your trans friend is in your feed and has updated their name it will be a lot easier to practice remembering their new name. Every time you see them post take a moment to confirm their new name in and pronouns your head.
The more you associate them as a person with the new name and pronouns, the more natural it will feel.
OK So You Messed Up, Now What?
We all make mistakes. Trans people don’t expect you to be perfect, we only want you to be accepting and make an effort. Here’s some common missteps and what you can do to correct them without making anyone feel awkward or bad.
Forgetting Their New Name or Pronouns
Don’t use the old one! Instead, just ask them nicely. “I know you’ve changed your name but I can’t remember what it was, can you remind me!”
The same goes for pronouns, just asking, “what are your pronouns again?” (in a nice way) is fine.
If they do remind you, though, try not to forget it again. At least that day, anyway.
Deadnaming or Misgendering Them
First of all, don’t make any fucking excuses. There’s nothing more annoying than saying something like “it’s because I’ve always known you a certain way!” to a trans person. It might seem like you’re explaining to apologize, but it really feels like you’re saying that you’ll never see them valid as their true name/gender.
If you notice yourself just correct it. A quick “sorry, z” replacing z with the new name or pronouns. Then continue on with the conversation without making things awkward.
If they correct you you’re going to basically do the same thing as above. Quick acknowledgment, repeat the correct name or pronoun, and continue.
Do the same thing as above when you’re talking about them to someone else and slip up, too.
Outing Them to Someone Else
You are never, ever allowed to disclose someone’s trans status without permission from that person. Period. This is probably the worst sin you can commit as a friend and ally – and it does happen.
And usually when it does, the person doing it doesn’t realize that they’ve done something wrong and/or has good intentions.
First of all, apologize sincerely. If you don’t understand the problem, take some time to educate yourself on why it’s hurtful. And possibly dangerous. Don’t make the apology about you – instead go with an angle like “I didn’t realize what I was doing, but now I do. I’m sorry and it won’t happen again.” Depending on the situation adding, “Is there anything I can do to help make things right?” might help too.
Second, seriously don’t do it again. You’ll lose a lot of trust and it’s not really something people can come back from. I still think about the people who have outed me (even with good intentions) and it hurts.
Resources for Trans Allies
I wanted to share my perspective on this, but there’s a lot out there. Here’s some places to start:
Remember – its new! It’s OK if you don’t get things perfectly immediately, just make sure you’re doing everything you can to accept, learn, and support the trans people in your life.