Are you by any chance a fan of the television show Billions? There’s a character named Taylor Mason who introduces herself in the second season by following up with their preferred pronouns; they/theirs/them, representing the gender non-binary population. It has become apparent to me that the two younger generations – Millennials and Generation Z – are now embracing the use of pronouns in various ways.
If you are catching up on gender identity, then you’ve come to the right place. I want to provide you with a quick and concise overview that will help you understand how Millennials and Generation Z are shifting gears. And chances are you might come across someone who’ll have a pronoun on their email signature, nametag, and business card; you’ll be better off for knowing what that means.
Wikipedia describes an androgynous person as an individual who has a high degree of feminine and masculine traits. Pro-noun etiquette shows acceptance to a person who displays a balance of these characteristics.
Below is a breakdown of five pro-nouns that are the most recognized:
Ze/Zir/Zirs/Zirself (Sounds like ‘zee,’ ‘zeer,’ ‘zeers’ and ‘zeerself’ and can also be spelled as Xe as seen below)
Xe/Xem/Xyr/Xyrs/Xemself (Sounds like ‘zay,’ 'zem,’ ‘zayr,’ ‘zayrs,’ and ‘zemself’)
Some people do not wish to be referred to in any other way but their name only. I recommend if you are still learning to use someone’s pronoun correctly, to avoid any mishaps, simply say their name only; this will show that person respect.
What if I don't know their preferred pronouns?
If you interact with someone who discloses themself as gender-neutral, ask them politely what pronouns they would prefer to be known by. They will consider this a courteous gesture. Sometimes a person may offer to tell you upfront. Then when you are introducing or making a reference about them to someone else, make sure to insert the correct pronoun. Let’s say you know someone whose name is Shannon, and they use the Ze/Zir/Zirs/Zirself pronouns; here is an example of a basic introduction:
“Hello James, please meet Shannon. Ze is interested in Rotary, and I went with zir to the last meeting.”
How does this look when written on an email signature?
According to American University in Washington DC, pronouns are recommended to be placed under your title. For example:
Head of Research & Development
R&D Co. International
333 Local Drive
Anywhere, USA 22222
Telephone: +1(888) 888-8888 | www.rdinternational.com
What about a business card?
Similarly to an email, make sure to place their gender pronoun underneath their title. See an example below:
(First & Last Name)
(Business Contact Information)
Global Fund Industries
President of the Americas
Global Environmental Impact Division
Is it necessary on LinkedIn and other professional online platforms?
It’s not necessary, although you will see many professionals already adding theirs. If you choose to add this to your profile, simply apply it after your name:
Jay Grey (Zi/Zir)
Are there resources you suggest?
YES! If you'd like your own courtesy quick guide, click here.
I’ve highlighted the main few pronouns that I feel are the most used; however, there are many more that you can explore for yourself here on the Western Oregon University website. Also, read this book by linguist and professor Dennis Barron, What’s Your Pronoun? It’s a well written dive into the world of the ever-changing English language and the historical use of gender pronouns.
It’s a great time to become familiar with this topic; soon, when Generation Alpha enters the workforce, I predict that you will see much more recognition of gender non-binary pronouns.
About the author, Janika LeMaitre
Jan is a certified etiquette advisor, specializing in personal brand strategy. Her mission is to provide life-changing soft skills for business owners and industry trail-blazers to self-manage and evolve their reputation. Jan is certified with the Protocol School of Washington® and The British School of Excellence™. In addition, she is the board president of Women's Business Group Connects, and as a second-generation Rotarian, proudly serves as a board director at the Rotary Club of Weston & Wayland.
Download your complimentary copy of Jan's "Handling Gender-Neutral Pronouns With Style" quick guide here.