3 reasons I won’t use the term ‘dead name’

A term has popped up on my radar. The use of “dead name” instead of “birth name” when someone is referring to their name before transition. Initially, I was unsettled by the usage within the community. It felt like an erasure of the self, it felt unkind to who they were. I read some accounts about how using the term symbolized the grieving felt during transition. I can relate to grieving a piece of the self that feels gone during transition. I’m not suggesting anyone stop using “dead name” because I believe in supporting my fellow gender fluid friends and I don’t believe in prescribing my way to anyone. We are all on this course in our unique fashion. However, I would like to address why I won’t be using it. And I can because hey, it’s my blog.

  1. The continuity of self is important to my identity.
    There are moments when a breeze is blowing through the open windows and I’m laying in bed and a certain song comes on and I feel all the versions of me in that instance. I love those moments. I long for those moments when the self stretches into the future and past.
    And there are times when I feel a piece of myself has been lost in transition. In the beginning I viewed transition as losing and gaining – losing the hips and gaining the facial hair. But transitioning, no matter the kind, isn’t a matter of losing and gaining. It’s a matter of changing. Taking what is present and turning it into something new. For that reason, using the term “death name” implies that a piece of self is dead. That it didn’t transform with me, through me. I need the continuity of the yesterdays creating the todays.
  2. My dead name is Leo.
    When I die, Leo Caldwell will die. Natasha never died, she became Leo. Leo was created out of Natasha. She will not appear in a Google search with my face. She will remain invisible but she will remain. And she will die when Leo’s body turns to ash.
  3. I honor my past and through it, heal my shame.
    My past built my future. I’m kind to the person I was because it wasn’t often they experienced kindness. Natasha is not a name I’m ashamed of, because Natasha often felt ashamed. I’m reclaiming who she was with pride. Natasha needs me to remember her and love her. Maybe I’m able to do this because I’m nearly a decade into my transition. Maybe time has worn me kind.

I ask this from you, before you take up a term just because it’s a part of the trans vernacular, please think. Does this term truly apply to me? Do this with all things related to transitioning. Meditate. Find a place inside yourself that you can follow your own path. Be kind to yourself – past and present. This process of transformation is truly incredible. Not everyone gets to take this journey. Take a moment and breathe it in and get to know it for yourself.

We are here by fire. Let’s show them, let them see it still burning in our eyes.

You are who you say you are,

Photo from


  1. This is exceptionally beautiful, and articulated so thoughtfully. I really love this idea of “the continuity of self” as opposed to a piece of yourself being considered ‘dead’ or left behind. I think this idea of continuity is one that would strike a chord with any reader, cis or trans. As humans we are all transitioning in a variety of ways at any given time, wondering how we might forgive or embrace or better integrate our past selves with our present selves. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    • Leo Caldwell

      Yes. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. That’s it – we are all continually transition (even cisgender folks). Life is an evolution, right?

      • Melinda Ballou

        This is a kind piece, a forgiving piece –Thanks for the gift of insight that embraces Natasha, Leo, and the legacy that is you as you move forward and reminds me (and us all) of the pentimento, the overlay of selves and becoming. As parent of a non-binary trans kid, this piece also touched me. with appreciation and love embracing us all and who we are yet to be

    • Hay I am the sum of all my parts! Was nick and now nicola to other people. But I would never of had the same amazing children if nick had not existed. Old friends call me by what ever they feel alright with! Let’s all not be radical too much, why “throw the baby out with the bathwater” great post and food for thought. Xx nikki

  2. Hi Leo,this is new for me as so many things are this year.
    I thought I would comment and say `Thanks`.
    I get this.
    The `continuity of self` is a wonderful expression` bringing to my mind the sense of growth,developing, being-becoming.
    Wether its the blossoming of a flower or the coalescing to a point of singularity.
    All are equally true.

  3. Gawd I love people who drive their own bus! Loved that article Leo 😃

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