Language, changing names and pronouns

We asked parents and carers of trans and gender diverse children how they learned about the different terms and identities related to gender identity and diversity. We also talked to them about their children changing names and pronouns. In this section, you can read and hear what they said about:
  • Learning about different ways people identify;
  • Their child’s change of name and pronouns and how they got used to it;
  • Technical issues with changing a name within healthcare.

Language diversity

The language around gender diversity is ever changing as people look for terms and ways of describing themselves that better reflect who they are. For some of the parents we spoke to, their child coming out as trans or non-binary was an opportunity to learn about the ‘vast array’ of ways people identify, as one parent put it.
Ali talked about learning about this when her daughter entered the NHS Gender Identity Development Services (GIDS). For VM, her daughter educated her on the importance of using the right pronouns. She felt having a trans daughter has made her more sensitive to how she speaks and what assumptions she makes when talking to others. Oonagh spoke about how she educated herself about the different terms and how she thought it was inclusive to display one’s pronouns.

Ali learned about the many ways people can identify when her daughter started attending the Gender Identity Development Services.

VM’s daughter educated her on pronouns. She feels that she is now more aware of diversity and less quick to make assumptions about others.

Oonagh talks about knowing the term ‘transgender’, but was confused about the LGBTQ umbrella term and how she tried to educate herself about the use of pronouns.

Changing names and pronouns

A trans, or gender diverse person might want to change their name, or use different pronouns that better reflect their gender identity. They might also wish to change their title. Name changes can be informal, or it can be made official when it is done by Deed Poll. For children under the age of 16 the Deed Poll name change needs to be done by parents and everyone with parental responsibility needs to agree. Changing their child’s name by Deed Poll means that parents can get all of their child’s official documents and records changed to their child’s new name, including the child’s passport and school register. Changing name and title does not change a person’s legal gender. This can only be achieved by getting a Gender Recognition Certificate.
For Georgina whose ex-partner and the father of her son was not supportive of her son’s transition, this was a reason for concern. She felt her son’s father might oppose the change of name by Deed Poll. She was also slightly hesitant about it, but said she wanted it done before secondary school.

Georgina worried her son’s father would not support the name change by Deed Poll.

Read more about what happens if only one parent supports transition. Some young people might prefer the use of singular they/them/their instead of the binary ‘he/him’ and ‘she/her’ pronouns. Others are happy to change from feminine to masculine pronouns, or the other way around when they change their name and/or socially transition.
Name and pronouns changes can be an adjustment for the family. Most parents we spoke to supported their child changing name and pronouns, but also talked about a period of getting used to the change.

It took Leigh some time to get used to her foster son’s new name, but now it is hard for her to think of him in any other way.

E and D found the pronoun change to be more difficult than the change of name.

Once an initial period of adjustment was over, parents often said that using their child’s old, or ‘dead name’ and pronouns felt very odd. Richard said he would ‘feel really awkward’ if he used the wrong pronouns for his daughter, but could remember accidentally doing so in the past. His approach was not to draw too much attention to such mistakes.

For Richard the thought of saying the wrong name, or using the wrong pronouns for his daughter felt odd.

The way a young person identifies and wants to be addressed might change over time. Ross’s child preferred to use ‘Mx’ as a title, but started using ‘Mr’ when they began taking hormones. Ross thought that ‘Mx’ was a good option for trans people. He also thought it could be helpful for health professionals, as it would indicate that the person in front of them might for example need a smear test that they would not be likely be offer to someone who used the male title ‘Mr.’ Many trans people who transition will use a title like ‘Mr’ either because they are male, or because they want to avoid being outed when accessing medical treatment. However, it is ultimately a young trans person’s decision what title they use.

Ross talked about how his child’s title preference has changed and how he thought ‘Mx’ might be a good option for trans people.

Whilst most parents and carers we spoke to respected their children’s wishes when it comes to names, titles and pronouns, not everyone did. Elijah was not supportive of his child wanting to use a different name or pronoun and thought going along with it was ‘not the correct approach.’ He described a split in school between teachers who used the new name and those who did not. It is important to note that parental support and acceptance are key to the wellbeing and mental health of young trans and gender diverse people and so is access to timely care. Denial and delaying of care causes harm.*

Elijah spoke about his child’s name change at school and how he and his wife do not support their child’s wish to change their name.

Technical issues with changing a name within healthcare

Name changes can sometimes create difficulties for electronic records and systems. Lisa spoke about how for her son, the change of name caused some technical issues and some of his medical records being lost as a result. This meant that he had to undergo an assessment that Lisa felt was unnecessary.

Lisa talked about some of her son’s medical records being lost because of the name change.

Lisa also talked about how a name change within the healthcare system can lead to other issues. When her son’s name was changed, initially it was still displayed with ‘Miss’ as the title, despite it being a male name. She talked about how her and her son laughed about it. Her take on situations like that was to be understanding. She said: ‘People are gonna get it wrong sometimes and we just have to ask them to put it right and understand that not everybody gets it.’
You might also be interested to read about people’s experiences with GPs and what advice parents and carers had for health professionals.
* See for example:
Puckett, J. A., Matsuno, E., Dyar, C., Mustanski, B., & Newcomb, M. E. (2019). Mental health and resilience in transgender individuals: What type of support makes a difference? Journal of Family Psychology 33(8).
Simons, L., Schrager, S. M., Clark, L. F., Belzer, M., & Olson, J. (2013). Parental support and mental health among transgender adolescents. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53(6).
Priest, M. (2019) Transgender Children and the Right to Transition: Medical Ethics When Parents Mean Well but Cause Harm, The American Journal of Bioethics, 19(2).


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