What's in a Name?
Giving space to pronouns—and the folks who use them—on International Pronouns Day.
By Renée Mendoza Haran
Just a little over a month ago, Merriam-Webster's dictionary added a new definition to the pronoun “they.” The new definition is used to refer to a person whose gender identity (a person's internal sense of being male, female, some combination of male and female, or neither male nor female) is nonbinary.
Today, on International Pronoun’s Day, we want to create some space and awareness around pronouns, why they matter, and how you as an individual can help create space and awareness in your day-to-day by recognizing—and respecting—each other’s personal pronouns.
You do your pronouns… because you should be able to!
Pronouns are a part of everyday conversations and all of our social interactions. We use pronouns to avoid having to continuously refer to a person (or a group of people) by their formal name.
Saying “Lennon” or “Hollis” over and over again in a sentence gets clunky and tiresome, for both the speaker and the listener, and using pronouns simply makes language flow more cohesively, more naturally.
Since pronouns are essentially substitutions for a person’s name, we should respect personal pronouns in the same way that we respect a person’s name.
That which we call a rose / by any other name…would not be the same.
If you are still not sure about why we need to pay attention to each other’s personal pronoun choices, think about it this way: unless you are in consensual nickname territory with another person, how would they feel if you called them something other than the name that they go by?
In order to respect personal pronoun choices, we need to stop making assumptions that pronouns, which are a reflection of the people and the names and identities that they represent, are necessarily binary. A person’s gender identity doesn’t have to line up with the way they look (their gender expression), and not everyone identifies strictly as male or female.
For us techie people, that means things aren’t always one or zero, black or white, on or off, all or nothing—there’s a spectrum that exists between the two extremes for just about everything, especially gender identity, and that includes the pronouns that we use.
If a person shares their personal pronouns with you, show respect and help to create an inclusive environment by using them.
Want to learn more? Check out mypronouns.org for a deep dive on personal pronouns.