9

Which is correct, and why?:

If my daughter was born a boy, I would have named her Harry.

Or

If my daughter was born a boy, I would have named him Harry.

I'm sure my reasoning for both is self evident, but just for completeness: "her" makes sense, because it is talking about my female daughter. "him" makes sense, because it is talking about my daughter, who is a male in the hypothetical scenario.

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    "If my daughter had been born a boy...." That's the easy part. As to your real question, I think it should be "....named him Harry", but I don't have the technical explanation. – ab2 Aug 20 '15 at 3:32
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    "If my daughter had been born a boy, I would have named him Harry." Your pronoun should agree with the hypothetical scenario. – ewormuth Aug 20 '15 at 3:38
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    On the other hand, you are talking about your daughter and she remains a she regardless of how you talk about what you might have done. In the sentence the pronoun refers to "my daughter". – Jim Aug 20 '15 at 4:05
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    I believe either him or her can work. But understand that it changes the meaning in a very subtle way. Using him puts the focus on the hypothetical child. Using her puts the focus on the daughter that would not have existed. The bulk of the meaning is the same but it's a different nuance. The rules of grammar certainly won't help you decide. – candied_orange Aug 20 '15 at 5:04
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    The easiest way out would be to use the genderless pronoun them e.g. "If my daughter was born a boy, I would have named them Harry"! – Mari-Lou A Aug 20 '15 at 5:31
5

The easiest way to answer this question is to start by replacing the pronoun him or her with the referent that the pronoun points to. Thus, in the case of

If my daughter [had been] born a boy, I would have named her Harry.

swap out her in favor of my daughter:

If my daughter [had been] born a boy, I would have named my daughter Harry.

and in the case of

If my daughter [had been] born a boy, I would have named him Harry.

swap out him in favor of the boy:

If my daughter [had been] born a boy, I would have named the boy Harry.

Now ask yourself which of the two pronounless sentences expresses the idea that you originally had in mind and were trying to express. Once you've answered that question, swap the appropriate pronoun back in place of "my daughter" or "the boy" (as the case may be). Voilà: you have the right pronoun in place to express your original idea.

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    Wouldn't Harry have been "my son", and not "the boy"? – Mari-Lou A Aug 28 '15 at 6:08
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    @Mari-LouA: If you approach the identification of the referent for her or him (in the alternative sentences) by looking backward for a noun to attach the pronoun to, your choices are "a boy" for him and "my daughter" for her. That's not to say that you couldn't choose a different term as a replacement for him if you were starting fresh, instead of hunting for a referent. But my point is that when you use a pronoun in the second half of the sentence you are pointing at a prior noun—"my daughter" or "a boy" (which changes to "the boy" to scan properly as a replacement for him). – Sven Yargs Aug 28 '15 at 6:44
-1

I like all of the above answers and think you're really fine using either him, her, or "it," which I like better than "them" in this case. "It"s frequent use as the genderless pronoun of choice in, say, the 19th and early 20th centuries, may possibly have appealed to the Victorians precisely because it was gender neutral (these were NOT people comfortable with sexuality, their own included); additionally, an "it" being most often the pronoun for an inanimate object, they thus had the use of a non-threatening, non-offensive genderless subject-word which could be safely used by, and in the presence of, the most delicate and modest of ladies. Thus language can insulate, facilitate, the expression of ideas by freeing them from association with "related issues" we'd rather not talk about right now, thank you.

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-3

I don't think this is nearly as freeform as the comments make it sound. The object of the sentence is the boy that your daughter has now become. The boy is all that exists and he is the person that you are now naming. The object has been established, and he is explicitly described as male. "him" all the way.

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  • The daughter hasn't become a boy. The OP is speaking hypothetically. – Mari-Lou A Aug 28 '15 at 6:05
  • Oh well, I received 2 demerits for essentially the same answer that was flagged correct. – Dex Stakker Sep 25 '15 at 2:00

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