At the UUA, we include personal pronouns in our email signatures for the same reason we list our names—so we know what to call one another. Just as we do not know a stranger’s name until they tell us, we also do not know another person’s pronouns until they let us know what they are.
Many of us were taught as children that we are supposed to assume other people’s pronouns, usually based on additional assumptions about that person’s gender. However, the practice of assuming another person’s pronouns, as well as assuming another person’s gender, does not honor that person’s identity and experience. (And it’s important to note that personal pronouns do not always have to do with someone’s gender or lack thereof at all!)
As part of our work to honor the sacred worth and dignity of every person, we are committed to referring to all people using the language they themselves determine to be most appropriate. This includes using pronoun series we may not be familiar with yet.
Many of us regularly use she/her or he/him pronouns when referring to someone in the third person. “She is talking to her friend.” “He brought his bike.” Singular they/them pronouns are also becoming more widely used to refer to a single individual (though the use of singular they goes back hundreds of years in English). “Their dress is cute. Ask them where they got it.” Another pronoun series we might encounter is ze/hir. “Ze built that chair all by hirself.” A different variation is ze/zir. “Ze played zir best today. I’m so inspired by zir.” There are more pronoun series than these, such as per/pers, xe/xem, and more. If you encounter a pronoun set you are unfamiliar with, do research on how to use them properly. Additionally, some people are referred to by no pronouns, only their name. For a person named Niki who has no pronouns, you would say, “Niki invited us over to Niki’s house.”
For more information on personal pronouns, we recommend visiting Shige Sakurai’s website MyPronouns.org, which includes excellent, in-depth resources and examples on how to engage with personal pronouns in intentional and welcoming ways.