Addressing People by Their Chosen Names

It’s very likely that the most important word to you is your name. It’s the word with which you identify yourself as an individual. Your unique thoughts, your free will, how you fit into this life — your sense of place, your role in society- and your entire sense of self relates to how you are called. While sitting in a crowded room, “Hey you!” may refer to every person present, whereas, “Hey Daniel!” refers specifically to Daniel (or Daniels) in the room.

When we first meet people, we are introduced by the name we prefer to be called. If Jonathan prefers to exclusively be called “Jonathan”, instead of “John”, “Johnny”, “Jack”, ‘Jacko”, or “Johnnyboy”, we should always respect such. People will almost always refer to themselves as they wish to be addressed. When he introduces himself as “Jonathan”, there is no mistake with what he wishes to be called.

Often times, people choose to be called names other than their given or birth name. For some, they believe the use of such a name is private; reserved only for family or close friends. Other may have birth names that are too difficult to pronounce or that may be confusing to others. There are even those who avoid using their birth name because of what it may mean in a particular culture. For example, “Isis” (the goddess of fertility) was once a common name. However, it now has a connotation that isn’t as beautiful as a blooming tulip or a full womb.

It’s incredibly important to respect the name a person prefers to be called. Many people have given names that are now associated with a different gender or maybe even associated with a traumatic experience. For example, a woman was named “Jackie” by her father, “Jack”, as his namesake. However, she was sexually abused throughout her childhood by her father and no longer wishes to be reminded of him every day. Thus, she has opted to be referred to by her chosen name. Consider also that Leanna is a transgender woman who was assigned the male gender at birth and had a given name of “Seth”. She has never identified with this name, nor the gender she was mistakenly assigned. She has shed any notion that she is male, presents herself to the world as the woman she is and has chosen a name she feels represents her as an individual and as a woman.

Many people adopt chosen names that differ from their birth names for just as many reasons. This can account for the examples already mentioned or it could be for more personal reasons. Maybe someone has turned over a new leaf and is now living their life in a completely different way than before. They may choose not to identify as the person with that old name and have adopted a chosen name they feel represents the person they have become.

Keep in mind, this isn’t typically meant as an insult to the person who gave them them their birth name any more than it is a sign of disrespect when someone changes their surname when they marry. Often times, our old names have become meaningless or may not have the validity as a chosen name. And often times, chosen names represent a cathartic, life-altering change or experience. Regardless of the reason(s), when someone chooses a name other than their birth name, they don’t do so lightly or without great consideration.

If you wish to maintain a healthy relationship with someone, you need to honor them by addressing them with the name they wish to be called. This is a basic sign of respect and it’s not a unreasonable demand. You’re not being asked to memorize the Declaration of Independence. You’re simply being asked to show a person the most basic form of respect and consideration.

Some people may try to convince you this is an exhausting and difficult request — “But I’m so used to your old name! It’s so hard to remember what you wish to be called!”

This simply isn’t true!

Remembering someone’s name and thinking about someone by their chosen name is hardly taxing.

It is almost universal and it’s very reasonable that one of the conditions of your spending time together is that you actually address people in the manner in which they wish to be addressed. The name someone chooses for themselves is their actual name, regardless if this is their birth name or a name they chose on their own.

If you truly care about person and you truly think of them with respect, you cannot “accidentally” forget how they should be addressed.

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