Supporting Chosen Names and Pronouns

group selfie at the 2018 pride parade

This page is designed to give guidance to anyone with questions about how to respectfully use chosen names and pronouns. A chosen name (sometimes known as a preferred name, a nickname, or a name-in-use) is the use of a name, usually a first name, that is different from a person’s legal name. There are many reasons why someone may use a chosen name. While the most visible may be to reflect gender identity, other reasons why someone might use a preferred name include using a nickname, going by an Americanized name, or distinguishing oneself from someone with a similar name.

For faculty and staff, using appropriate names and pronouns is an important way of establishing norms of respect with the students you work with. For everyone, using appropriate names and pronouns signals your willingness to be inclusive to everyone.

For more about supporting transgender people, read our introduction, download our PDF Document: pronoun usage 101 flyer, and read this article on how to support trans people in the classroom.

Using Chosen Names

  • Wherever possible, use someone’s chosen name. This includes casual conversation, email communication, and formal settings.
  • If you are creating a registration/signup form, allow the use of chosen name only, unless there is some specific reason you need access to someone’s legal name.
  • Depending on which platforms you use, you may have access to a student or colleague’s legal name. Treat this as confidential data and do not employ it unless there is a specific need for it to be used.
  • There may be circumstances (e.g. when conducting a background check, dealing with financial records, or sending postal mail) when a legal name is required. Limit the use of that name to those circumstances.
  • There may be times (e.g. when contacting family members or writing letters of recommendation) when someone may not want the chosen name used. If you are hesitant about a particular context, you can ask privately if there is an exception to using the chosen
  • In most circumstances, someone’s JHED (e.g. jhopkin1) will stay static, so you can reliably use that to identify a record in SIS or other platforms even if the chosen name is not visible/searchable.

Chosen Name Use in Systems

Over the last several years, Johns Hopkins University has committed to, and implemented, policies to support transgender and non-binary individuals, including the use of chosen names and pronouns in many of our information and academic systems.

For detailed information on how to specify your chosen name and obtain a JHU badge, please click here.

Please contact us if you have a question about a particular system, office, or process.

Using Pronouns

Pronouns are how we refer to each other in the third person. You cannot guess someone’s gender or pronouns by their appearance! Here are a few answers to questions related to pronouns.

Also, you can PDF Document: download a PDF with helpful thoughts about pronouns.

Why Care about Pronouns?

Why focus on pronouns?

You can’t always tell someone’s gender by looking at them. Using someone’s correct personal pronouns is respectful and creates an inclusive environment.

Who might use gender neutral pronouns?

People who may not identify as strictly a woman or a man, such as non-binary. It may also be good to use neutral pronouns when you do not know what the person would prefer.

What are some examples of gender neutral pronouns?

There are many, but here are some examples: they, them, theirs; xe, xir, xirs; ze, zir, zirs.

Is singular ‘they’ grammatically correct?

Yes. The Washington Post style guide, The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and the Oxford Dictionary all recognize the singular “they” as a gender-neutral pronoun.

Why are gender neutral/gender inclusive pronouns important?

Using someone’s pronouns accurately shows respect and acceptance.

How to Use Pronouns

Who do I ask about their pronouns?

Ideally everyone. Asking people about their pronouns is an excellent practice that doesn’t single out non gender conforming, trans, genderfluid, or other gender minorities.

How do I ask which pronouns to use when speaking with or about someone?

If possible, introduce yourself first. For example, “Hi, my name is Kat and my pronouns are they, them and their. What would you like me to call you?”

What if I ask someone their pronouns and they ask why?

Give them an example, such as: someone with the name Elizabeth may go by Liz or Beth and I just want to make sure I use the right one to show respect.

How can I use pronouns in my work or academic setting?

Share your own pronouns and ask others to share their pronouns with the group or you individually.

How can I support people who use multiple pronouns?

Some people do use multiple sets of pronouns. Read this article from them. magazine that combines perspectives from 10 different people on their multiple pronoun usage. How To Affirm the People in Your Life Who Use Multiple Sets of Pronouns

How can I use pronouns in healthcare settings?

Relationships in healthcare are unique and require a great deal of trust. Make a point of asking a patient’s pronouns and name they go by, ideally at first introduction, and use the information at each subsequent interaction.

Troubleshooting with Pronouns

What if I accidently use the wrong pronoun for someone?

Apologize briefly, use the correct pronoun and move on. Try not to repeat the mistake again in the future.

What if I witness someone else using the wrong pronouns?

If appropriate, gently correct the speaker using the person’s correct pronouns such as stating “Oh, you mean when SHE went to the store.” Check in with the misgendered person as needed.

What if someone repeatedly uses a person’s incorrect pronouns or name, despite being informed?

Don’t ignore the situation. Elevate the issue to the appropriate leadership in your area.

Why is it important not to refer to someone by their birthname (sometimes referred to as ‘deadname’) or gender if it is not their stated name or gender?

Using a former name or gender assigned at birth denies a person of their true identity. This can be painful and bring about mistrust.

My childhood friend transitioned from male to female. If I am sharing a story about her as a child, which gender should I use.

Generally, use the gender the person identifies with currently. If unsure, use a gender neutral pronoun.

How do I know if I am using discriminatory language?

Avoid using outdated and offensive terms such as tranny, it, or shim. The word “queer” is a generally an acceptable term for younger generations, but may be seen as derogatory to older people.

What if someone is hesitant to share their pronouns?

Introduce yourself with your pronouns: “Hi, I’m J.D. and my pronouns are they/them/theirs.” You’re allowing the other person to share theirs, but not forcing them to. Sometimes people are fearful of disclosing their pronouns due to past response. Provide a safe space for them to do so if possible.

What if cisgender people decline to share their pronouns?

If a cisgender person refuses to share, it implies that pronouns are trivial, since theirs are “obvious”. It does not provide for an inclusive space.

How do I share my pronouns on various computer platforms?

We’re working on this. More to come soon, we hope!

How can I promote proper pronoun usage with colleagues?

When appropriate, start meetings with introductions including names and pronouns. Consider adding your pronouns to your email signature, name plate, business card, or nametag.

Should I add my pronouns to my email signature?

Many people add their pronouns to their email signature. For example:

Helen Dibble

Administrative Coordinator

she/her/hers pronouns

When would it be inappropriate to ask about pronouns?

When singling out or second-guessing the gender pronouns of a person who appears to be non-binary or transgender, or if there is a risk of inadvertently outing someone. This is especially important with children.