Wired: “Trans Researchers Want Google Scholar to Stop Deadnaming Them” (Tess Tanenbaum quoted)

September 5, 2022

Picking her new name led Tess Tanenbaum to ponder many questions. Am I Josie or a Hanna? Should it sound similar to her previous masculine name? What will it look like as a signature? She began to walk around with a shortlist in her pocket. Ultimately she picked Theresa Jean, or Tess, because it made her full name sound like a pulp detective character or a superhero, and is reminiscent of her daughter’s middle name, Tesla. On July 4, 2019, Tess came out as transgender—her own independence day.

But burying her old name wasn’t easy, especially when it came to the research she had published on game design and storytelling. In spring 2020, Tanenbaum gave her class at University of California, Irvine, copies of some of her past work along with an assignment. But one resourceful student used Google Scholar, the company’s service for searching academic literature, to find other publications, some of which contained her former name, or deadname. The class was virtual and students shared their finished work through a Discord server, and her old name was posted in front of the whole class. There was no harmful intent, but Tanenbaum had an intense feeling of needing to hide. “I had this profound trauma response, and it compromised my ability to evaluate the student,” she says.

Tanenbaum is one of many academics that have urged Google in recent years to give people more agency over how their names appear on its service. She and other critics of Google Scholar say it subjects trans academics and researchers to deadnaming, the unwelcome and even traumatic mention of a transgender person’s name from before they transitioned. “Google Scholar remains a source of ongoing and active harm to anybody who changes their name, especially transgender people,” Tanenbaum says.

Read the full story at Wired.