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Should I Call a “Transgender” Person by Their Chosen Name?

“Is it acceptable to use a so-called ‘transgender’ person’s self-chosen name when speaking, writing or even thinking about them? Or, is this something of which God disapproves?”


Caitlyn or Bruce? Elliott or Ellen? Which name should I use? Is it acceptable to use a so-called “transgender” person’s self-chosen name when speaking, writing or even thinking about them? Or, is this something of which God disapproves?

These are questions that confront Christians in the West following the sudden rise of transgender ideology.

Is it really a big deal?

Perhaps we could spare ourselves a lot of trouble by just going with the flow.

Indeed, I have seen some Christians argue that the genderedness of names is a cultural thing, and so it does not really matter. They point out that “Meredith” and “Hilary” were once names given to boys. They also point out that there are many unisex names like “Ashleigh”. And so, if a so-called “transgender” boy chooses to identify himself with a female name it isn’t that big a deal.

But this line of argument fails to engage with the issue at a fundamental level. It fails to ask the question: is it valid for somebody to rename themselves mid-way through their lives and then expect or even insist that everyone else refer to them by that new, self-appointed name?

In the first instance, the transgender practice of re-naming oneself is problematic because of the way it re-writes history. See, in transgender ideology, when John re-names himself “Jenny”, he is not saying that he is “Jenny” from this day forward. He is saying that he has always been “Jenny”. The practice of transgender-identifying people changing their birth certificates reflects this sinister aspect of the ideology. It is considered wrong even to say that “Jenny” used to be “John”—according to transgender ideology, this is a serious offence known as “deadnaming”. Prior to Elon Musk’s liberation of Twitter, “deadnaming” was banned on the social media platform, and this was one of the crimes that saw Jordan Peterson’s account suspended.

If I look up “The Matrix” on Google, I am told that the directors of the 1999 film were “Lana” and “Lilly” Wachowski—even though someone who watched the film at the cinema in 1999 would have seen the names “Andy” and “Larry” in the credits.

Similarly, the IMDb page for Juno tells me that the film stars “Elliot Page” even though when I saw the film in 2007, the credits told me that the character was portrayed by an actress named “Ellen”. Wikipedia’s article on “Elliot Page” shows the brazen historical revisionism in action where it says, “in 2007, he had his widespread breakthrough for his leading role as the title character in the coming-of-age comedy-drama film Juno.”

As you can see, we are not only expected to think of Ellen as “Elliot” now. They want us to believe that she was always Elliot and that she was a “he” when she acted in that film, going as far as to re-write history to accommodate this new “truth”.

We have always been at war with Eastasia.

Looking to Scripture

Bad as this is, as Christians we are obliged to go a step further and consider what the Bible might say to this practice of re-naming oneself to fit a cross-gender identity. What does a person’s name signify according to Scripture? Who grants a person their name?

Do names have theological significance in the Bible?

As it turns out, the answer to this question is yes.

At the very beginning of the Bible, God says “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26). The word “man”, spoken by God in Genesis 1, becomes the proper name “Adam” in the following chapter. The human race, and its first member, were named by the Creator himself.

Then a remarkable thing happens: when searching for a companion for Adam, God brought all of the animals to Adam “to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called every living creature, that was its name” (Genesis 2:19). Adam is given authority to name the animals. And then, when the woman is created and brought to him, it is Adam who bestows her name (Genesis 2:23; 3:20).

What is going on here, which has been acknowledged by commentators throughout church history, is that naming another creature is an act of authority. Adam names the animals because he has been given dominion over them (cf. Genesis 1:28) and he names the woman because of his authority over her as her husband (cf. Ephesians 5:23).

Going forward, the pattern we see throughout Scripture is that parents name their children at or shortly after birth (Genesis 4:25, 26; Genesis 29:31ff.). As with Adam and the animals, this is an exercise of authority—the parental authority that is assumed throughout the Bible (Exodus 20:12; Ephesians 6:1-3).

Several special cases deserve mention. In Genesis chapter 17, God re-names Abram and his wife. In chapter 32, Jacob is given the new name “Israel”. In both instances, God is exercising his prerogative as Creator to bestow a new name upon an individual that reflects the place that they have in his redemptive plans. The same occurs in Matthew 16:18 when Jesus gives the name “Peter” to his disciple Simon.

Something we do not see in Scripture is an individual assuming a new name for him or herself. However, in the story of the Tower of Babel, we read that the wicked peoples of the earth said “let us build ourselves a city and a tower … and let us make a name for ourselves”. In their sinful rebellion, the peoples sought to usurp God’s purpose for them. To “make a name for oneself” is to advance one’s own reputation and glory. In the Bible, one’s name is directly associated with one’s reputation.

So, we find that God is concerned for his name—that is, his reputation—which has been profaned by the Israelites among the nations, and God performs an act of salvation to vindicate his name (Ezekiel 36:20-23). One of the greatest moments in Scripture is recorded in John 12:28, where God the Son implores God the Father, “glorify your name”, to which the Father responds “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again”. How does God glorify his name? By sending Jesus to the cross and raising him up again for the salvation of the world (cf. Philippians 2:9-11).

In the chapter following the Tower of Babel, contrasted against the sinners who sought to magnify their own name, God tells Abram “I will bless you and make your name great” (Genesis 12:2). So on the one hand, at Babel, we have humans seeking to advance their own glory—which the Bible describes as creating a name for themselves—and on the other hand we have God undertaking to make somebody’s name great.

Finally, it is worth noticing a couple of things from the New Testament.

A person’s name is not incidental, and nor is it separable from who each of us is before God. God does not know me as HUMAN #179995245536E. He knows me by the name that my parents gave me, and in fact it is by my name that he elected me to salvation, having written my name in the book of life before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8). Jesus promises “I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels”, of those who are victorious over the devil (Revelation 3:5). “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3).

And furthermore, Jesus promises his followers that we will one day be marked with a new name—the name we will be given is the name of God, and of Jesus Christ himself! “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Revelation 3:12). “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (Revelation 22:4).

How can we summarise the Bible’s teaching about our names?

  1. To name something or someone is an act of authority.
  2. From the beginning, parents have named their children, as part of the God-given ordering of creation where children are subordinate to their parents.
  3. No biblical evidence exists that a person has the authority to change their own name.
  4. To “make a name for oneself” is an act of sinful self-exaltation, that provokes the judgment of God.
  5. God elects us by name, calls us by name, and Jesus confesses the names of the elect before his Father and the angels.
  6. God will imprint his own name, and the name of Jesus, on those whom he saves.

Practical implications

How can we bring the Bible’s teaching to bear on the issue of “transgender” ideology with its practice of not only changing peoples’ names but re-writing history around the new names and demanding that former names no longer be used?

It seems clear that there is no biblical support for the practice of a person choosing a new name for themselves. To reject a name chosen by one’s parents and replace it with a different name is, I would argue, a dishonouring of one’s parents and thus a violation of the fifth commandment.

We need to be careful here. There are a small number of situations apart from transgenderism where a person may adopt a new given name. For example, when people migrate to a new country, it is not uncommon for them to alter their names or even adopt a new name that fits the language and culture of their new home. This is done to avoid the awkwardness of using a birth name which might be very difficult to pronounce, or even write, in a different language.

In this kind of situation, there is no intent to disown a birth name or to re-write history. Birth certificates and other historical records are not subjected to Orwellian revision. There is no snubbing of parents, no deceptive re-fashioning of identity. Old friends will not be accused of “deadnaming”. The same applies when actors adopt a “stage name”, which is usually just a marketing tactic.

But when a so-called “transgender” person chooses a new name, there is much more going on than a mere change of appellation. We need to recognise what the name-change signifies: namely, an attempt to re-create one’s identity in a way that denies biology, and sinfully rebels against divinely ordained categories of gender.

This radical act of autonomy, which subverts the created order, parental authority, and our common perception of reality, is akin to the sin of the tower builders who said “Let us make a name for ourselves”. Not content with the identities that they already possess, or their existing place in the world, tower-builders seek to carve out for themselves a false identity and reputation that others are expected to recognise.

A Christian should have no part in such things—we should neither practice them, nor support them, nor validate them. We must accept our place in the world, including the bodies that we were born with and the corresponding names our parents have given us. We must accept ourselves for who we are and not seek to redefine ourselves in irrational and worldly ways. Like Abram, we must look to the Lord to define for us a new identity that stands apart from all the sinful identities that we embrace in Adam.

To hear the Shepherd call us by name, and to receive his name on our foreheads, is far more glorious than any identity that we fashion for ourselves.

What about tricky pastoral situations?

Yes, the world is messy and as our culture embraces transgender ideology more and more, the whole question of “What name should I use for this person” will get more and more complex. I think that pastor John Piper potentially offers some practical wisdom in this article written in 2015, He or She? How Should I Refer to Transgender Friends?

Piper says,

“Calling someone by … [the name] they choose halfway through life may not imply agreement with all that that name was created to signify by the person.

So if I had a neighbour next door to me … who was biologically male, and everybody knew it, and he introduced himself to me as Sally – if I met him for the first time, and I saw him the next day, I might avoid calling him anything, but I would probably default to Sally. I probably would until there was a relationship that would go deeper to see whether I could be of any help.”

I would take some issue with pastor Piper’s argument that names are “culturally arbitrary”—while this is partly true, as I have argued above I consider Scripture to teach quite clearly that our names are not “arbitrary”.

Nevertheless, Piper is right to highlight that dealing with real-life people in inter-personal situations can be extraordinarily tricky. When meeting a “transgender”-identifying person for the first time as a neighbour, or co-worker, or as someone who decides to show up at church, I will not know the name given them by their parents. If the person has lived with their new identity for many years, and changed their birth records accordingly (now allowed in many jurisdictions), it might be impossible to find out their real name even if I were very motivated to do so.

Therefore, in these kinds of situations, there is little choice but to “play the long game”. My aim should be to establish a relationship with the person over time, that enables me to present the Lord Jesus Christ to them and then hopefully, in the light of the gospel, challenge them about the false identity that they have created for themselves. The prayed-for eventual outcome is that the person confesses their true identity, and their true name, along with the name of Jesus.

Outside of interpersonal situations, I think that Christians need to continue being resolute in opposing the incredibly destructive, God-dishonouring ideology of transgenderism. That will include refusing to acknowledge the false identities of “transgender”-identifying high-profile celebrities, along with their self-appointed pronouns[1] and self-appointed names.

When referring to high-profile people who have a “transgender” identity, including (or perhaps especially) in print, we need to consider how our use of pronouns and names will be perceived not only by God but by the watching church and the watching world. We must not use language that contributes to or multiplies the already enormous amount of confusion that exists around this issue. We must not use language that will be perceived as accepting, condoning or celebrating that which is false and sinful.

The Nashville Statement, which is an inter-denominational, non-partisan declaration of biblical, Christian truth contains the following clauses:

“We affirm that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.”

“We affirm our duty to speak the truth in love at all times, including when we speak to or about one another as male or female.”

“We deny any obligation to speak in such ways that dishonour God’s design of his image-bearers as male and female.”

I believe it would be inconsistent with biblical revelation, as articulated in these statements, to consistently, or as a matter of editorial policy, use incorrect, reality-denying pronouns and names when referring to high-profile public figures in public discourse, where it is widely known that such figures are not the gender that they purport to be, and where their true (birth) names are widely known.

And thus, I think it would be “a departure from Christian faithfulness and witness” to write or publish an article that refers to “Caitlyn Jenner, she/her”, or “Elliot Page, he/him”. This is an altogether different context from the inter-personal situations that I described earlier.


[1] In the above-mentioned article, Piper draws a strong line against using a person’s self-appointed pronouns which contradict their true gender.

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