Why Pronouns?

2 minute read

This year at NAACL, we are asking for information about your pronouns on the registration form because we think this is an important aspect of being an inclusive community. Since we are one of the first conferences to make pronouns a printed portion of the conference badge, this may feel like a major change, so we are using this blog post to elaborate on our reasoning and explain the importance of using someone’s stated pronouns when talking about them.

example badge with pronouns

The reason for including pronouns on your badge is to ensure that everyone is referred to appropriately. Just as everyone has a name, everyone has pronouns. For me personally, I use the pronouns she/her and I would be hurt if someone used pronouns like he/him to refer to me. Using the wrong pronouns is just like calling someone the wrong name – I would also feel hurt if someone called me “Alex” even though I go by Cassie. The general idea is, it’s unreasonable to expect you to know my name and pronouns if we’ve just met, so they appear on my badge (click to zoom) to help you out.

comic page illustrating pronouns

You can’t necessarily tell from someone’s appearance or name what pronouns they use. A person who appears feminine to you might actually use he/him or they/them pronouns (or something else like xe/xir). You may even meet people at the conference whose pronouns have changed since you met them last year; do your best to use the pronouns they have on their badge even if you remember using other pronouns with them in the past.

All this might seem unfamiliar, but it is important to accept a person’s pronouns as a matter of respect. By making a conscious effort to use the pronouns provided on badges, you can help make the conference more inclusive. Keep in mind that you are not owed an explanation as to why a person uses the pronouns they do. If you’re ever unsure, you can ask the other person, “What pronouns do you use?”

To sum up, please respect others at NAACL by using the pronouns they want you to use when referring to them. By adding pronoun information to badges, we hope to take the guesswork out of pronoun use and ensure that everyone is referred to the way they want to be referred to.

At the registration desk when you pick up your badge, there will be a copy of a wonderful illustrated book by Archie Bongiovanni and Tristan Jimerson that discusses the hows and whys of pronoun use. There is also a wealth of linguistics research on personal pronouns, including work by Kirby Conrod, who helped enormously in the framing of this post.