What's In A Name
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, Juliet tells us in the famous Shakespearian play. But roses aren’t made in the image of God. Names don’t really matter when it comes to plants, and that is why there are some really fun ones. Begonia Darthvadariana was the name given to a dark-leaved begonia. But names given to eternal beings who stand as the pinnacle of God’s creation are a different matter, and in this cultural moment it has become a matter of truth or lie.
Pronouns Verses Names
A lot is happening right now in the pronoun category. Those who never really cared about English grammar have had to catch up quickly on this one point. Pronouns are stand-in words for a person or thing. Instead of saying the name each time, which would become a burden very quickly, pronouns (i.e. he, him, she, her, they, it, this) speed our speech along nicely. For the English language, pronouns are one of the few instances that denote gender when applied to humans. And it is in that gender realm where our culture is waging its war on nature.
But this article won’t be dealing with the issue of pronouns for this reason: pronouns are easier to deal with than names. That doesn’t mean, however, that pronouns are always an easy issue. Gender is getting so confused today that it can be hard to tell if a person is a male or female, and that will make it difficult to know what pronouns to use! But the point is that pronouns are an objective reality; a person is either a male or female. There is no actual transitioning. There is no third category. While it may be difficult to figure out what is true about a person regarding their gender, there is something true about them whether they want to live according to it or not. Biology always tells the facts.
But names are a different animal. Names are conventions. Names are something given by man, not by God, and names can change. This means we are dealing with a far more difficult issue. This is a moving target in some ways and we need to give thought to it. Not only is this a more difficult issue, it is also a more pressing issue. There sometimes are work-arounds for the pronoun issue. Additionally, you normally only use a person’s pronouns when that person is not even around. But names are something you can’t really avoid, and they are an immediate necessity. You have to call them something, so what are you going to do?
The Spectrum of Responsibility
I do believe there is a principle that guides pronoun use as well as name use. That principle is this: the more knowledge you have of a person, the more responsibility you have to speak the truth concerning that person. That means there is a spectrum at play. The lowest end is when we have the least knowledge and therefore the least responsibility. The high end is where we have the most knowledge and most responsibility. In this article we will work our way up that scale.
Least Knowledge and Responsibility
When you have just met someone, it is best to simply believe what they tell you. There is no reason to not trust them. There is no reason to challenge them. Even if you feel something is off, you have to start somewhere in the relationship. At this point you simply should use the name that is given and the corresponding pronoun. What else can you do? Make up a name for them? Refuse to call them anything? Just take what is given and start there. This is certainly true with names, but it also is true for pronouns. Even if you have a large muscular person dressing as a female or a small petite person dressing as a male, how are you going to know what is true about them? Is this large muscular person just a dude pretending to be a girl, or is it a girl that has been doing years of testosterone treatments and heavy weightlifting? You really can’t know initially. So just start with what is given and go from there.
Increasing Knowledge and Responsibility
What if you know a person’s name through limited contact or acquaintances? You still have very little knowledge about him outside of his name, but now he wants to change it. People do change their names. Admittedly, this used to be very uncommon. Therefore, our suspicions are on the rise, and our suspicions are rising like a rocket if this is a name related to a different gender; but it would be the same even if it was a change to a gender-neutral name that could go either way. The problem for us is we still don’t have much knowledge of what is really happening. With such limited knowledge and limited contact what are you going to do? You don’t know the circumstances or the reasons for this change. What if they are de-transitioning and going back to their original name with their natural born gender? The point is that while there is more knowledge, there is still so little knowledge that it is dubious to make a fixed decision about what is happening. If questions can be asked and answered in some way then perhaps you can move the next step up the spectrum. But until there is more knowledge it is worth deferring to the other person.
More knowledge and Responsibility
Here we have a person where more is known. You know that they were one gender and now it has become clear that they are trying to confuse their gender, distance from it or change it altogether. You know this from personal history and/or personal interactions. These things have become reasonably clear. They are changing their name to an opposite gender name, or to a gender-neutral name, in their effort to subvert how God created them. It is at this point that we cannot participate in the lie. We also cannot participate in the confusion. They will call it a “dead name” and take offense if you use it. But that “dead name” is the best way to hold onto the truth of who God made them. Maybe they are trying to keep it all ambiguous with a gender-neutral name. This is also sinful and damaging. Men are to act like men and women are to act like women within the various ranges of what that can be. To confuse genders by blending them or making them ambiguous is to fight against the glory of male and female made in the image of God. There can’t be opposition to the gender God gave them, which includes a confusing or blending of genders, without great harm. We need to call them the name that they have been called in their original gender if it is known. If that name is not known you may have to do something that highlights their true gender like saying “Mr. Jennifer.” This is the concerted effort to not participate in or reinforce the lie. We are reminding them of what is true, of what God is doing, and of where true life is found. You must be the person that they know will tell them the truth, especially if God begins to convict them and draw them to himself.
I anticipate that the name issue will be the point of greatest offense to people. Pronouns will have to be used and they won’t like that either. But you have to use names all the time and every time you use a “dead name” you are asserting that how God made them is still true.
It is also important to remember that this is a case of “how you say it is just as important as what you say.” If you have an attitude of disgust, anger, defiance or smugness that will be carried along on your tone and body/facial language, you are not acting correctly. When you are compelled to do this hard thing you should do it as gently, carefully and understandingly as you can. Most likely it won’t count for much, but at least you won’t add unneeded offense to an already difficult issue.