It’s central to who we are, yet most people don’t get to choose what they are called.
People get around it by using a middle name or taking a nickname, but whether it’s used depends on others, especially in institutional settings.
East Carolina University last month launched “My Name” last month, which allows students, faculty and staff at the university to register their preferred first name and preferred pronoun for use on certain university documents and databases.
It’s a culmination of two years of work by the Student Government Association and university administrators.
“We heard a lot from students in LGBTQ community, especially transgender students who might use a name that’s different from their legal name,” SGA President Colin Johnson said. “Obviously there are plenty of students, anyone who use a name different from their legal name printed on their birth certificate. It’s especially alienating for transgender students who switch to a name that more closely matches their gender identity. We wanted an option for them to be recognized by that name.”
About 100 individuals have registered their preferred first name since My Name was launched on Nov. 18, said Angela R. Anderson, acting vice provost for academic success and assistant vice chancellor and university registrar.
The university has allowed individuals to use a preferred first name in email for years and thousands have taken advantage of it, Anderson said. She anticipates more students will register as the current semester winds down and the spring semester begins in January.
“It’s about acceptance and recognition and the change is significant,” said Mark Rasdorf, senior associate director for the Dr. Jesse R. Peel LGBTQ Center.
“It may seem minor in the bigger picture of things but it’s very meaningful in the day-to-day life of all of us,” he said. “Whether student, faculty or staff you want to be called by the name you go by. We all want that.”
It can be difficult for students to ask professors and others to address them by a different name, Johnson said.
“This cuts out some of what could be perceived as confrontational to simply be what is already on that piece of paper. You forgo that step,” he said.
Preparing for My Name was intensive, Rasdorf said.
“What I learned in this process is that there is no one system on this campus but lots of systems on this campus,” Rasdorf said.
The development process involved mapping out how the information is submitted through the student information system and then distributed to other systems while following federally mandated privacy rules.
The student information center is accessed through Pirate Port, where students go online to register for classes, check grades and learn about parking and other services.
The use of preferred first names goes beyond members of the LGBTQ community, Johnson said. Many individuals use their middle name or nickname in their daily life and they too can take advantage of this system. International students sometimes select an Americanized first name to make correspondence easier, he said.
The preferred first names information will be given to professors. It also will be used in areas such as the student recreation center, the health center, in the university’s public directory, email and applications that use Office 365.
It will not be used on legal documents or business exchanges that require the use of a legal name, Rasdorf said. This includes, but isn’t limited to, a student’s Pirate ID, financial aid documents and official transcripts, health insurance, cashier and student accounts and payroll, behavior or discipline records or any activities requiring campus police or emergency services.
Use of a preferred first name on diplomas is dependent on the student’s circumstances, Rasdorf said.
A diploma is considered a ceremonial document in the United States, so students may use their preferred first name. In other countries, a diploma is a legal document and must be printed with the individual’s legal first name, Rasdorf said.
“This new system at ECU really impacts the quality of learning experience for everybody,” Rasdorf said. “At the most basic level, when a student looks forward to coming to campus and going to class and feels fully recognized in the fullness of who they are, they want to stay here and graduate and get a degree.
“We are here to serve students and to create an experience that is as rich and fulfilling for each student individually that leads to graduation and hopefully ultimately a lifelong connections to ECU that is positive,” he said.