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What’s in a name?

Campuses consider allowing students to choose preferred names on IDs

Andrew Hudson   ||   Jul 15, 2015  ||   ,

The name on a campus ID card is vital. It’s a means to link a person to an identity and ensure that the credential is being used by the correct person and for the correct reasons.

But an individual’s name has a deeper meaning that goes beyond simple identification. Our names represent us as individuals. Sometimes, however, our name doesn’t quite fit the identity we claim, be it marital changes, legal changes or as is often the case, for reasons that adhere to gender-related interests.

Now, students on campuses across the country are petitioning their universities to consider enabling preferred names to be printed on campus cards. It’s a practice that has already been set in motion at a series of institutions – dating as far back as a 2009 project at the University of Vermont – and seems likely to expand.

Hi, my name is…

Before we dive in, let’s start by defining what a preferred name is, bearing in mind that this is still a working definition.

Preferred names are monikers chosen by the student that more accurately represents the identity that they claim. This can be as simple as changing a first name to a commonly used nickname – Bill short for William or Joey instead of Joseph – or it can be something more elaborate that reflects marital status or incorporates gender.

Whatever the case may be, a name change presents a unique challenge when it comes to the campus card. It’s a challenge that Indiana University knows all too well, having recently instituted its preferred name program.

The project at Indiana

Central to the initiative at Indiana was a dialogue with the university’s LBGTQ campus organization.

“Public conversation about the needs of the transgender community was the starting point,” says Jeff Vonderschmidt, manager of systems and development at Indiana University. “The initial project created the ability for faculty to see their students by preferred names within the university’s course management software. The scope widened from that initiative to include other departments.”

Today, Indiana is not only allowing preferred names to appear on the campus card but also in the backend systems. “Only preferred names are in the actual card database, unless no preferred name has been designated, in which case systems reflect the legal name,” he explains.

The preferred name program at Indiana isn’t a complete overhaul of the old system as it previously accounted for legal name changes and marital status changes.

“Changes in the legal name aren’t processed any differently than before,” says Vonderschmidt. “For example, if a cardholder gets married or divorced and wants their ID card to reflect their new surname, the procedure remains to change the name with the appropriate owner of name data – either the Registrar or Human Resources – then the change filters to the card system.”

Now however employees and students can use a self-service web portal to change first and middle names. “Such changes are screened by the appropriate authority in each case before they are populated into university systems,” Vonderschmidt adds.

Despite the acknowledgement of preferred names, there will still be scenarios in which a legal name is required. “Legal names are used in university databases where such use is required, for example health records, tax records and so forth,” says Vonderschmidt.

Still, if a preferred name is designated, then most university systems at Indiana will only contain that name.

Using a preferred name is entirely up to the individual. The caveat, however, is that if a preferred name is designated, then that’s how the student will be known, except in instances where legal names are mandatory, Vonderschmidt explains.

“We’ve already seen instances where a preferred name was provided, but the individual did not intend for all the different systems to only recognize that choice. These individuals have subsequently changed the preferred back to their legal name,” he says.

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