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Deadnaming in the UK

September 19, 2022

What is deadnaming and why is it bad? Is it illegal to deadname someone in the UK? And how can a transgender individual officially change their name? 

This article has the answers to all these questions, alongside a few tips for how to avoid being deadnamed at both home and work.

What is deadnaming?

Deadnaming is calling a transgender person by the original or birth name that they went by before making a transition and changing their name. Deadnaming may happen either intentionally or unintentionally.

For example, an individual who was born as a biological female had the name 'Jane'. Later, the same person underwent a sex change and transitioned to a male, and they started going by the name 'John'.

Here, deadnaming would occur when someone refers to the individual as 'Jane' rather than using their new, post-transition name of 'John'.

Unfortunately, being deadnamed can have a negative psychological impact on transgender people.

How does deadnaming impact transgender people?

Deadnaming can influence a transgender person's state of mind and psychological well being.

More specifically, here are some of the devastating deadnaming mental health effects:

  • A sense of invalidation and rejection of the transgender person's identity.
  • Feeling unwanted.
  • Being chronically stressed out about being socially accepted and safe in public.
  • After being deadnamed, a transgender individual may get uncomfortable with or completely stay away from specific people, places, and/or events.
  • A reduced sense of self worth.
  • Depression.
  • Suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors.

The negative effects above could be felt whether a person was deadnamed on purpose or by error. 

In light of these devastating consequences, a transgender individual and their loved ones should take steps to formally change their name and officially embrace their new identity.

Avoiding Deadnaming on Government ID

To avoid being deadnamed by accident, a transgender individual may want to update their name on their official, government-issued ID as soon as possible.

In the UK, you can change your name by deed poll, which is an official document that proves that a person has a new name and is no longer using their old one. It shows the date on which they started to go by their new name, as well.

In turn, the deed poll allows them to modify their name on their passport, drivers license, employee payroll records, and other documents.

In Steps: How to Apply for a Deed Poll

Follow these steps to get a deed poll in the UK and officially update your name:

  1. Fill out the online application on the UK Deed Poll Office's website and pay the fee of £18.50. If you do this before 3 pm, your application is likely to get processed on the same day.
  2. You will receive your deed poll and two certified copies of it. You can expect to get them in the mail about 2 business days after your online application gets processed.
  3. Sign the deed poll and have a witness add their signature, too. Here, the witness must be with you when you sign the deed poll. They also have to be 18 years of age or older, someone who knows you (but isn't related to or living with you), and mentally capable of making their own decisions.

Once you complete these steps, your next step is to send the deed poll to the following governmental organizations so that they update your name:

  • DVLA (to change your name on your driver's license)
  • HM Passport Office
  • Your employer
  • The banks that you have an account with
  • Your credit card providers
  • Your mortgage company (if you own a house)
  • HM Land Registry (for those who own property)
  • Your pension and retirement account providers
  • HM Customs and Revenue (for tax-related issues)
  • Department of Work and Pensions (to receive your benefits)
  • The local council for taxes and benefits

In addition to updating your official documents, you want to inform your loved ones and others in your life about your new name.

How to Tell People Your New Name

Upon changing your name, you should let your family members, friends, and colleagues/coworkers know in order to avoid getting deadnamed.

Before you discuss this with someone, here are a few things to keep in mind as you approach them:

  • Individual Awareness: How well does the person understand what being transgender entails? Those who are unaware might require you to educate them while you talk to them.
  • Communication Preferences: For some, having a face-to-face chat works best. Others, however, could respond better to phone, text, and/or email discussions. 
  • The Nature of the Relationship: Talking to your parents, siblings, and/or close friends must be handled more delicately than conversations with those who you know casually or distantly.
  • Group vs Individual Settings: Think about whether speaking to the person in a one-on-one setting or as part of a larger group would be best.
  • Obtaining Outside Help: At times, you might have to utilize the services of a third party (a professional family therapist, for instance) to help your loved ones understand your transition and accept your identity.

Apart from that, you need to rely on different strategies when you inform each of your personal and professional associates about your new name.

Telling Parents About Your New Name

Your relationship with your parents (and other family members, too) is incredibly vital. Therefore, if you aren't sure how to talk to your parents about transitioning and your new name, a good place to start would be to do so in a manner that's comfortable for both of you.

First of all, identify when and where your parents are in a good mood and easy to approach. For example, this could be after dinner, at their favorite restaurant, while they're enjoying a glass of wine, or on a Saturday morning. Find the right setting for your parents and have a conversation with them at that time and place.

Secondly, pick the method of communication that allows you to clearly express yourself. For some, this is done via writing an email, letter, or text message. However, certain people may prefer face-to-face discussions over all the other means of communication.

Just as importantly, consider using external resources. Educational ones, such as YouTube videos and articles, can be incredibly helpful. This is especially because they're made or written by experts who are experienced in explaining transgender and transition-related topics to an unaware audience.

For more complex situations, give thought to the idea of hiring a family or group therapist to assist your parents, relatives, and/or siblings with understanding and accepting your new identity and name. This may cost you time and money, but it's definitely worthwhile given that your relationship with your family is among the most significant ones in your life.

Telling Your Employer and Coworkers About Your New Name

The nature of your relationship with each of your family members and professional colleagues is very distinct. In light of this, you will have to rely on different people and strategies for transitioning in the workplace.

Initially, you may want to tell upper management about your new name. Here is how that works to your advantage:

  • The backing of your manager or management team shows everyone in your organization that you're welcomed and supported.
  • It indicates that management will be there for you if you run into any problems or get uncomfortable.
  • They could inform others on your behalf (or help you do so) at organization-wide meetings and/or send out mass emails to employees (or forward one that you wrote).

As far as telling your coworkers that you changed your name goes, you should follow the approach that makes you feel at ease the most. Yet there are a few aspects that you want to weigh up, including how, where, and when to tell them.

  • How (Individuals vs Groups): Would you rather talk to your coworkers in a one-on-one environment, in groups, or in an organization-wide event? It is common for transgender employees to start by telling an individual or group that they trust, up until they become comfortable enough to share their identity and new name with the rest of the workplace.
  • Where (In-person vs Email): Consider whether you prefer an organization-wide event or email for coming out.
  • When (Timing): Make sure that you are relaxed and content with embracing who you are at work before informing others, especially a large team or the entire organization. In addition, unless it's necessary, wait until any potential distractions are out of the way, such as a big project that your department is working on or a large organization-wide New Year's party that everyone is excited for.

Choosing the right setting, place, and time allows you to communicate in a clear and confident manner, and it enables you to attain your colleagues' full attention. This will help your coworkers with understanding your transition, respecting your identity, and remembering your new name.

What to Do if You're Being Called a Deadname

In the unfortunate event that someone accidentally calls you by your deadname, there are a few methods to correct them.

If you already told them that you changed your name, remind them of your new name. At the appropriate time, place, and situation, you could also inform them why referring to you by your new name is important. Similarly, you can educate them about your pronouns.

When this happens at work or school and you feel uncomfortable with directly approaching a colleague or classmate, bring it up to your manager, HR department, teacher/college professor, or another authority figure.

Above all, you need to know what the law says about discrimination and your rights.

Is it illegal to deadname someone in the UK?

Yes. In the UK, it is illegal to discriminate in the workplace against employees because they belong to a protected class. This includes discrimination on the basis of a gender reassignment, the employee's sex, and/or their sexual orientation.

To clarify, the 2010 Equality Act considers 'harassment' to be a form of discrimination, and deadnaming could fall under the category.

The 2010 Equality Act defines 'harassment' as "unwanted behaviour linked to a protected characteristic that violates someone’s dignity or creates an offensive environment for them".

Remember, deadnaming isn't only illegal, but it is also unethical when done intentionally due to the psychological and mental harm that it leads to.

Luckily, the British government has made it easy for transgender people to change their names on official documents, and UK law protects them from being harassed or discriminated against in the workplace.

In the same vein, there are various resources and forms of support that those who underwent a sex change can utilize to talk to their parents, family members, and friends about their transition and new name.

How Do I Change My Name?

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The UK Deed Poll Office is not a government agency. Our function is purely as a document provider for the self-declaration of an unenrolled deed poll. We are here to assist in your name change journey, as we have done for over 100,000 UK residents.

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