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Calling Transgender Teens by Their Chosen Name Reduces Suicide Risk

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

Recently, Starbucks – yes, the coffee shop – ran an advertising campaign in support of transgender teens. The popular ad, called #WhatsYourName, capitalizes on Starbucks’ well-known custom of personalizing each customer’s coffee cup.

The short clip, which won a Diversity in Advertising Award and aired in the United Kingdom, follows a young teen throughout their day: as they pick up the morning mail, wait in the doctor’s office, answer a phone call, and attend a family party. In each situation, the teen experiences obvious discomfort and angst each time someone calls them called “Jemma.” Finally, the teen gets to Starbucks. There, the barista asks for the teen’s name. Emboldened, the teen replies “James.”

Of course, marketers conceptualized this ad – like any other advertising campaign – in order to increase sales. But its essential message is so vital that it’s worth elaborating on:

Transgender teens need support.

The ad suggests there’s one small way to offer support to a transgender teen. It’s simple: call them by their preferred name. This name is usually different than their birth name. It’s the name they use to refer to themselves.

We agree with this wholeheartedly. We’ll go even further and add that it’s always important to call a teen by their preferred pronouns. And if you’re not sure of their preferred name?

Ask them.

Studies show that calling a transgender teen by their preferred name and pronouns can decrease their risk for suicide. According to a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, being called one’s chosen name is linked to lower rates of depression and suicidal ideation in transgender teens. Participants in the study were 129 transgender and gender nonconforming adolescents in the U.S. The researchers found that when these teens were called by their chosen name at home, school, work, and among friends, severe depression decreased by more than 70 percent. This was compared to teens who were not able to use their preferred name in any of these contexts. Additionally, these teens’ suicidal ideation decreased by 35 percent, with suicidal attempts decreasing by 65 percent.

The authors write:

“For transgender youth who choose a name different from the one given at birth, use of their chosen name in multiple contexts affirms their gender identity and reduces mental health risks known to be high in this group.”

The Importance of Support for Transgender Teens

Teens who are transgender or gender-nonconforming have alarmingly high rates of mental health issues. In fact, the leading cause of death for LGBTQ+ teens is suicide. Here’s a set of statistics about LGBTQI+ teens everyone should know:

  • Roughly 50% of transgender individuals have suicidal thoughts.
  • Teens in the process of questioning their sexual identity are three times more likely to engage in self-harming behaviors and suicidal ideation than teens who are gender-conforming.
  • Depression and anxiety are also common in LGBTQ+ teens. They’re three times more likely to develop depression and/or anxiety than heterosexual teens.
  • Bullies and cyberbullies target LGBTQ+ teens because of their gender nonconformity.
  • LGBTQ+ teens show significantly higher rates of substance use than their heterosexual peers. They often use alcohol or drugs to manage feelings of pain and distress they experience as a result of their gender nonconformity.

If you’re the parent of a transgender teen, it’s critical to do everything you can to support them. We strongly recommend parents of trans teens call them by their chosen name and use the pronoun(s) they prefer. Also, it’s important to validate their emotions and empathize with their struggles. And above all, offer them unconditional love and understanding in all circumstances and situations.

Help for Trans Teens

If you think your trans teen has developed an emotional disorder as a result of their gender nonconformity, treatment can help. Find a therapist or treatment center that specializes in adolescents working through gender-identity issues and schedule a full mental health assessment.


This assessment, if necessary, is not for their gender conformity or nonconformity – being trans is not a disorder. It’s for the emotions related to their gender process, not the fact they’re going through, or have been through, a gender identity transformation.

For transgender teens who experience depression, anxiety, or trauma as a result of their gender nonconformity, attending a residential treatment center, partial hospitalization program (PHP), or intensive outpatient program (IOP) might be a necessary step in their journey through adolescence.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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