Pronouns | Equity Diversity and Inclusion | UNB

A guide to pronouns

In English, whether we realize it or not, people use pronouns in referring to, or speaking about, us. That's right, all of us. Personal pronouns are words that are used to refer to people, such as he, she or they. Pronouns are an important part of who we are and how we engage with each other.

UNB is committed to fostering an inclusive environment and campus culture that supports everyone in being their most authentic selves. Learning about pronouns can help us:

  • learn about each other
  • acknowledge our differences and similarities
  • help us in keeping respect and kindness at the forefront of all we do

Resources

Equity benefits everyone

You have the power to support and reinforce actions of equity that foster safer, more inclusive spaces at UNB.

By actively engaging with pronouns and being proactive in modeling their use, you can be part of creating more open and transparent learning environments for people who may not have heard of personal pronouns before.

Some common personal pronouns are:

Nominative (subject) Objective (object) Possessive determiner Possessive pronoun Reflexive
She She smiled I called her Her smile shines That is hers She likes herself
He He smiled I called him His smile shines That is his He likes himself
They They smiled I called them Their smile shines That is theirs They like themselves
Ze (z-ee) Ze smiled I called hir/zir Hir/zir smile shines That is hirs/zirs Ze likes hirself/zirself

These are just a few examples of personal pronouns so expect to encounter others that you may not be familiar with and, when you do, remember to approach them with curiosity and respect.

Pronouns and gender

Pronouns are about people. Like people, pronouns can be diverse and completely individual.

Don’t assume what someone’s pronouns are based on how they look or how you perceive their gender. Often, people make assumptions about the gender of another person based on the person’s appearance or name. These assumptions aren’t always correct, and the act of making these quick assumptions (even if they end up being right) sends a potentially harmful message -- that people have to look or perform a certain way, or prove the gender that they are or are not.

To some, pronouns can be incredibly personal and important. Learning about pronouns is an act of respecting someone as a human being.

Please note: Some people do not identify with any gender or align to pronouns at all. If you meet someone who doesn't use pronouns, use their name.

e.g. Instead of “Tamar? She is right over there” Instead, use: “Tamar is right over there.” Never use de-humanizing pronouns such as “it” to refer to a person. This is an example of transphobia.

Learn more about using pronouns and gender identity and pronouns.

Thank you to UBC’s Equity & Inclusion Office for kindly providing their resources as a platform for building our own.

Resources

Common questions

Face-to-face

You can simply ask!

  • “Nice to meet you. What pronouns do you use?”
  • “By the way, I meant to ask, what pronouns do you use?”
  • “What name and pronouns do you go by?”

It’s okay to feel uncomfortable about asking about pronouns. Sometimes it can feel awkward or intrusive but asking is the only way you can know for sure. Asking is always better than assuming.

If asking outright feels strange, try sharing your own name and pronouns first.

  • “Hi, I’m Hayden. I use he/him pronouns. What about you?”

Starting the conversation and sharing your own name and pronouns establishes a space of safety to everyone around you.

In a classroom or meeting

Not everyone is comfortable disclosing pronouns in a public space, so use your discretion. Tip: Consider a notation about pronouns in your class syllabus with an invitation to contact you directly with potential concerns.

In a classroom or meeting you can create space to share pronouns by:

  • offering your own pronouns to the group
  • telling others that they can share their pronouns if they choose to

In taking these steps the onus is then not on students and/or colleagues to ask you to use their pronouns, you are offering to use them and opening space.

It is important to note that not every space will feel safe to everyone and pronouns can feel very personal and vulnerable to some.

If you are meeting someone with a pronoun you have never heard before, approach pronouns with curiosity, not tension. “I’ve never heard that pronoun before, can you tell me about that? I’d like to use it properly.”

Please note: You may have heard the language ‘preferred pronouns’ before. Generally speaking, we discourage using the work ‘preferred’ here. Pronouns are not a preference; they are a reflection of a person’s truth. The same can be said for a person’s name. ‘Chosen name’ is better than ‘preferred name,’ and carries a different connotation.


If you make a mistake and you notice it:

  • apologize briefly
  • correct yourself
  • move on

It’s important that you don’t make it a big deal, be overly apologetic, or make it about you. People understand that mistakes happen; when they do, acknowledge it, commit yourself to doing better, and move on.

Misgendering (using the wrong pronouns) can be hurtful but dwelling on the mistake is worse. What is important is showing that you are making a sincere effort to use someone’s correct pronouns.

If you did not notice that you made a mistake and are corrected:

  • be receptive
  • thank them for the correction
  • correct yourself
  • move on

Being corrected can sometimes feel uncomfortable but it is important to remember that such moments are opportunities to learn and grow your EDI knowledge.


It’s common to think that once we ask someone what their name and pronouns are, that we won’t have to do it again. But that is not always the case!

Gender is not static and can change over time as people discover who they are and determine how they choose to define themselves. As the use of pronouns on campus increases, you may find yourself in a position where someone discloses to you that their name and/or pronouns are changing.

If someone discloses this to you, consider this as an opportunity to engage in dialogue.

  • Take their cues
  • Ask them what they want you to do with that information
  • Ask them how they want to move forward

Remember: They’re telling you because they trust you. Respect their trust and pay it back. Put the power back in their hands.

Just because they told you, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are ready for everyone to know. Ask clarifying questions.

  • “Thank you for trusting me with that information, Jordan. I appreciate it. Moving forward, what name and pronouns would you like me to use? Is it okay to use your name and pronouns in the classroom?”

Yes!

Some people feel comfortable using only one set of pronouns (for example, she/her/hers) but other people may be comfortable being referred to as he and her or they and he.

Some people may want to indicate that they feel comfortable with all or multiple pronouns as a way to be inclusive but should note that this practice can actually come across as dismissive to people who have had to work very hard to have their identity recognized and respected.

Think critically about what it means for you to indicate that you use certain pronouns. If you would not be OK with people always referring to you as ‘they/them,’ do not say that you use those pronouns.


In most cases, it is okay to gently correct the person without drawing too much attention to the person being misgendered.

“Actually Holly, Min uses they/them pronouns.”
“Oh, okay! Thank you. Sorry, Min!”

If you do not feel comfortable “calling someone out” or explicitly addressing the mistake, follow up with a comment which reminds the person of the correct pronoun.

  • “What about Jian? Is he coming?” “Yes, but they’re going to be a little late.”
  • “Have you ever met Mateo? He’s so fun.” “Oh, you mean Maria. Yeah, she’s the best.”

If someone is consistently using the wrong pronouns for someone, you can have a private conversation with them about the importance of using the correct pronouns.

If someone is intentionally using the wrong pronouns after being taught otherwise, you can speak to a leader about addressing transphobia with their colleague/employee.

If you are being consistently misgendered, you have the right to file a complaint of harassment and discrimination and can do so by contacting humanrights@unb.ca.

Please note: Some people may use different pronouns in different spaces. For example, in male-dominated spaces, some folks may feel unsafe using their pronouns and name and may defer to using others to avoid discrimination. When correcting a case of misgendering, consciously consider whether or not the person you are defending would be uncomfortable with you doing so.


Shifting the culture of our university takes big and small steps. Adding personal pronouns to your email signature is a small step in creating safer spaces.

Today, it is not enough to continue to leave transgender and gender non-conforming people to carry the burden of convincing others that properly using pronouns has value.

Normalizing conversations about gender and the use of pronouns in everyday life creates space to let everyone be their most authentic selves.

Pronouns may not feel important to you, but by adding your pronouns to your email signature, you signal to others that you are someone who respects gender diversity and pronouns and invite others to share their pronouns with you, too.

It also communicates that you are aware that pronouns are an important piece of information.

When we all participate, we foster a workplace culture where pronoun use is usual and expected and it frames the way we talk to each other.

You can add pronouns to your email signature and on Teams and other programs.


Yes!

Honorifics are words or titles used before a person’s name. They are used to express:

  • Status, accomplishments and expertise
  • Politeness and respect
  • Formality

In English, common honorifics include Mr., Mrs., Ms., Dr., Elder, Chief, Professor, Reverend, Your Honor, etc.

In the workplace and in academia, some honorifics appear after a person’s name as a way of respecting their hard work in a field of study (for example, PhD after someone’s name).

While many honorifics like Elder, Doctor and Reverend are gender-neutral, some honorifics like Mr., Mrs. and Ms. are gendered.

Gendered honorifics can be replaced by others when:

  • the gender of the person you are contacting is unknown
  • the person you are contacting uses gender-neutral pronouns

Common gender-neutral honorifics

These gender-neutral honorifics are easy to adopt and easy to explain to others who may be unfamiliar with them.

Honorific Pronunciation Meaning
Div. / Ind. Pronounced as they appear in ‘Individual’ Short for ‘Individual’

E.g., Div. Chen
Ind. Thompson
M. Pronounced as ‘Em,’ like the letter m Shorthand of Mr., Mrs., Mr., without signaling gender.

E.g., M. Smith
Mir. Pronounced like ‘mer’ in ‘summer’ Blend of honorifics miss/mister and Sir/Madam.

E.g., Mir. Tyson
Mx. There are many ways to pronounce this honorific. Many people use “mix” or “meh-ks” or simply “em ex”. The x acts as a gender-neutral alternative to other letters indicating gender.

E.g., Mx. Ayad

If you know that an individual uses an honorific like Doctor or Elder, it is best practice to use these in place of other gender-neutral honorifics. Many people have worked very hard to earn doctoral titles or have spent their lives becoming knowledge-holders and earning their positions of leadership and authority. When you know that someone has one of these titles, using them is the best way to respect that labour.


If you are not familiar with pronouns other than ‘he’ and ‘she,’ it is a great idea to practice using other pronouns. It will help you to feel more confident speaking with others and it will take away the fear of making mistakes.

Some tips:

  • When you meet someone who uses a different set of pronouns, try using the pronoun in your head with five (5) different sentences.
  • If you’re trying to learn a new or different name, try casually using name repetition exercises. “Hi, Dan. How are you?” … “Dan, my weekend was so good, too!” … “Alright, catch you later, Dan!”
  • Use pronoun repetition when talking about them to others. “I met Dan today. They are so nice. Did you know that they just got a puppy? I’m so glad I got the chance to chat with them.”

You can use online tools to practice on your own.


Historically, “he” has been used as a default pronoun whenever a universal example was needed. In English, this practice is outdated and is now being recognized as sexist.

In most documents, particularly in academia, it is common to use “s/he” or “he/she,” but this does not recognize gender outside of a binary.

Best practice encourages the use of the gender-neutral “they” in sentences where the gender of the person(s) is not known or relevant. People already do this naturally when they do not know the gender of the person they are referring to, as in, “I think someone left their wallet behind.”

Outside of writing, it is also good to use the gender-neutral ‘they’ to refer to someone whose gender is unknown until they tell you otherwise. If you struggle with pronouns, fall back on simply using their name.

If you ever feel frustrated, remember that these practices are focused on respecting people. It is not simply politics.

At the end of the day, everyone deserves to be respected for who they are.

Respecting chosen names creates a culture of inclusion and pride. Learn more about UNB’s chosen-name policy.

Learn more about 2SLGBTQIA+ information and best practices with UNB’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion online modules that are currently in development. (coming soon!)


Deadnaming is when someone intentionally or unintentionally refers to a person who’s transgender by the name they used before they transitioned.


Although we’re pleased to see the progress made to reduce the risk of deadnaming or using incorrect pronouns, our systems and processes are always evolving and people may come across instances where their legal name or sex at birth is being used when it shouldn’t be. Please inform us if there are still areas of concern through the Office of Human Rights & Positive Environment at humanrights@unb.ca.