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Explainer: What does 'deadname' mean?

“Deadname,” which can be used as a noun or a verb, is among the words that defined 2023, according to Merriam-Webster.
Photo illustration of a "Hello, my name is" tag with scribbles.
NBC News

A “deadname” is the name a transgender person was given at birth but no longer uses. The word, which can be used as a noun or a verb, is among Merriam-Webster's words that defined 2023, following a notable increase in searches for the term.

The oldest dictionary publisher in the U.S. announced “authentic” as its 2023 Word of the Year on Monday. Other words that stood out in the publisher’s data, along with deadname, include “rizz,” meaning romantic charm or appeal, and “deepfake,” which is an "image or recording that has been convincingly altered and manipulated to misrepresent someone as doing or saying something that was not actually done or said.”

Searches for deadname increased in March, according to the publisher, as a number of states were considering “parental rights” legislation, which restricts the instruction of LGBTQ topics in schools and, in some cases, requires school staff to notify parents if a student asks to use a different name or pronoun than what they were assigned at birth. Merriam-Webster noted that “deadname” doesn’t appear in the legislation but was often used in media coverage of the issue.

In early 2022, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education bill, or what critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law. The measure initially prohibited “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through third grade “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

DeSantis signed an expanded version of the law in May that prohibits such instruction from prekindergarten through eighth grade and restricts health education in sixth through 12th grade. The expanded measure also prohibits employees from sharing their pronouns or titles with students if those pronouns and titles don’t align with their birth sex.

In addition to Florida, nine other states have passed laws in 2023 that restrict the instruction of LGBTQ topics in schools, restrict school staff and students from using pronouns that don’t align with their assigned sex, or do both, according to an NBC News analysis of data from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Research has found that using trans people’s requested names and pronouns is associated with improved mental health outcomes. For example, transgender and nonbinary youth who reported having pronouns respected by all of the people they lived with attempted suicide at about half the rate (13%) when compared to those who did not have their pronouns respected by anyone with whom they lived (24%), according to a 2021 survey conducted by The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization.

A 2018 study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health similarly found that using transgender youths’ chosen names in more contexts was associated with lower depression, suicidal ideation and suicidal behavior, and that the odds of each were lowest when chosen names were used in more contexts.

Deadnaming and misgendering, which means intentionally using the pronouns associated with a person’s sex assigned at birth as opposed to their gender identity, are often used to harass trans people online. As a result, many social media platforms have banned both deadnaming and misgendering.?

However, in April, Elon Musk, who purchased Twitter last year and renamed it X, removed the site’s previous ban on intentionally misgendering and deadnaming transgender people, arguing in favor of absolute free speech on the platform. “X” was also among Merriam-Webster’s notable words of the year.

In recent years, Merriam-Webster has increasingly highlighted words associated with LGBTQ people as these terms have become more common. The publisher’s 2019 Word of the Year was “they,” which has gained popularity as a singular pronoun used by nonbinary people, who are neither exclusively male nor female.

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