Words to Deadname: naming those who disrespect

It is never acceptable to disclose a transgender person’s birth name–also known as a deadname— when that detail has absolutely no bearing on what you are talking about. Period. Full stop.

Often when seen in print in news articles or in televised media, this detail is callously thrown out as an irrelevant tidbit. However, this tiny detail acts as a huge gotcha, as if the reporter and now the audience have found some amazing secret. Deadnames are used against trans people all the time, to anger us, to silence us, to deny and erase us. Please get over it; people change their names all the time for lots of reasons. Revealing a trans person’s deadname is crass and rude because we are devalued by this act all the time. It may out us and, thus, put us in danger. It is disrespectful. And it makes one a jerk.

GLAAD has an extensive media style guide wherein they suggest:

Disclosing birth names. When a transgender person’s birth name is used in a story, the implication is almost always that this is the person’s “real name.” In fact, a transgender person’s chosen name is their real name – whether they are able to obtain a court-ordered name change or not. Many people use names they’ve chosen for themselves, and the media does not mention their birth name when writing about them, (e.g., Lady Gaga, Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg). Transgender people should be accorded the same respect. When writing about a transgender person’s chosen name, do not say “she wants to be called,” “she calls herself,” “she goes by Susan,” or other phrases that cast doubt on the transgender person’s identity.

Yet this advice is so frequently ignored. GLAAD and others who have the clout, resources, and energy can continue to work productively with offenders. There is also a simultaneous, parallel, and perhaps slightly cathartic approach. It is inspired by Amy Dentata and Black Dahlia Parton’sStart to Hate rating system , defined simply as “rate media based on how long it takes to encounter something bigoted. The longer it takes, the better the media.”

The ideal in this system is to have a Not Applicable score, meaning that no score is the best score. Given that, there is valid question whether it’s useful to even count words. Like any other trans person, I read plenty of news stories about trans people. And I already play this game where I wait for the deadname shoe to drop. This game, then, puts a number on the anticipation and focuses my scrutiny on the writer. Additionally, it affords an arbitrary score to see how awful we think writers are.


Words to Deadname: the number of words in a media piece (news story, article, etc.) from when a transgender person is first introduced by chosen, real name to when their deadname is mentioned. Note this may be negative if they are introduced by deadname first, as if frequently the case when writing about childhood.

I see this same deadname problem over and over. Sometimes I write the author an email but other times I don’t have the wherewithal, or there are other important things to do. This lets us vent and call attention to the issue–yet another dispiriting archives–using a crudely quantitative measure… Because numbers allegedly mean something. (Someday I may attempt to pass this off as some sort of content analysis or discourse analysis or somesuch all academic.)

In the meantime, as I am a librarian, I suppose I should be concerned with citation style and some level of standardization. I will thus use this reporting format:

Words to Deadname : [number] : Author, editor, (Publisher) : [link]


Words to Deadname : 73 : Guilbert, Kieran, eds. Belinda Goldsmith and Alisa Tang (Reuters): http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/20/transgender-murder-idUSL6N0T33S120141120

This entry was posted in No Cisrespect, But and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Words to Deadname: naming those who disrespect

  1. Sheogorath says:

    Words to deadname: N/A: Wikipedians, Various, eds. Wikipedians (Wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amanda_Simpson

    • Thanks. This is good to see on Wikipedia. For a long time, trans women especially were prone to being deadnamed. I have noticed that Wikipedian editors seem to be getting better about this.

  2. Becky says:

    I found this via a Facebook share and was unaware of the stigma behind the deadname or even that there was a term for it. I appreciate the post. I’m always trying to learn and be informed so i can be a useful ally in the cause. Love to you.

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