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Language, Words and Letters Matter

All my life I’ve been correcting folks on the spelling of my name. Even when there’s a written document in front of folks with the correct spelling (Lynne), people still have a tendency to drop the “e” and go with what is the more common and often (although not always) the masculine version of my name: Lynn. However, that’s not my name. That was my grandfather’s name and I love that we shared variations on our names. For years, we teased each other over which one of us used the “correct” spelling of our name. When Greg and I were dating and getting to know one another, he started calling me “E” because he recognized early on how important that E on the end of my name is to me.

I get, to some degree, how important it is that the language and words and even letters that we use to address others is correct for them. And that’s the key… for them. I don’t get to decide how someone else spells their name and I’ll do my best to make sure I get it right for them out of honor and respect.

Over the last several years, we’ve become aware of the significance of the use of pronouns for folks. The use of she/her/hers, he/him/his and they/them have become more important as we’ve become aware that gender identity is more fluid than we’ve known. Just because someone arrives in this world with a certain set of visible genitalia, doesn’t mean that they necessarily identify with the gender that is typically “attached” to those biological identifiers. Plus, folks may not identify as strictly one or the other but may identify across a spectrum. We’re learning that sticking to a strict binary of gender identity (male or female; feminine or masculine; brother or sister; etc.) can exclude and harm folks.

Although my example of the “e” in my name may simplify the issue, it’s a good place to start. I get to decide how important it is to me. I value when people see that small but significant distinction and make the effort to identify me according to how I see myself. It’s similar with gender identity. If someone identifies as “she” or “he,” we should honor their identity, regardless of what is common or what we think we see on the surface. The same goes for someone who identifies as “they.” Although many of us grew up with the understanding that “they” is a term used as a plural pronoun, it’s now acceptable, and in some cases, preferred to use it as a singular pronoun for a person identifying as gender neutral. Same with its companion “them.” In 2019, Merriam-Webster chose singular “they” as the word of the year because the English language lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun to correspond neatly with pronouns like “he or she.” It turns out this is nothing new. “They” has been used as a singular pronoun for over 600 years.

Many Open and Affirming congregations encourage folks to include their preferred pronouns on things like membership forms and name tags. Feel free to adjust your name tag or let Holly know that you’d like your preferred pronoun included on your name tag at church. Thanks for honoring my name and here’s to honoring everyone in ways that they choose. It’s how we continue to live into the life-giving expression of being an open and affirming church.

Have a blessed week.


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