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my company won’t allow any name changes, ever, for anyone — Ask a Manager

Two letters, one theme:

1. My company won’t let me use the name I go by in our directory

I just started a new job. When I applied, I filled in my legal name and my preferred name. I go by a shortened version of my middle name — let’s say “Beth.” I have never gone by my legal first name, “Jane,” and no one would recognize me by it professionally.

On my first day, I immediately noticed that every system at my office referred to me as Jane Watson. I immediately updated the HR system with my preferred name so that people could, for example, find me in Outlook. However, in the company directory, I’m still listed as Jane Watson. If you scroll over, “Beth Watson” is listed as an alternate name. HR told me there is no way to change a legal name in the company directory.

I find this bizarre. I can see requiring use of my legal name for certain systems (e.g., payroll), but why would it be necessary for a system where the point is to be able to find colleagues? Additionally, while this is a relatively small matter for me — I mostly just find the use of Jane annoying — it could be deeply frustrating for others who go by a name other than their legal one but have not officially changed it.

Since I’m very new, I won’t push back on this rule for the time being, but if I have more capital in the future, is it worth escalating?

2. Company won’t allow any name changes, ever, for anyone

My girlfriend works at a very large, multinational corporation. She’s also a trans woman and is known by Trisha LastName everywhere but her work, for this reason:

HR told her, officially, that she cannot change the email address that she was given when she was hired, which for her is [email protected]. They have this policy for everyone, even people who get married and change their last names.

She asked HR if there was any way to change the email address. They responded that she could do that if she were to voluntarily be put into the system as if she were a new hire — no vacation accrual, no 401k vesting, salary reset, everything. She has been at her position for 5+ years.

They said most people simply change their display name in the system and live with their old name being their email address. However, we live in a very conservative area where she’s worried about facing hostility or violence because of the mismatched email/name. This can’t be legal, can it?

Bizarrely, this is a thing in some companies. It should not be a thing — it’s a ridiculous and in some cases deeply upsetting practice — but it is in fact a thing with some particularly foolish employers.

An electronic system that doesn’t “allow” for name changes or preferred names is a terrible system. As evidenced by all the many, many companies that handle name variations just fine — for people marrying or divorcing, for trans people, for people who change their names for myriad reasons — it’s eminently doable. Decent companies that are saddled with computer systems that make it difficult find workarounds; they don’t simply decree that you’ll need to be listed forevermore as a name you don’t actually use.

Systems are supposed to exist to serve people, not the other way around.

Moreover, since we have laws both federally and at the state/city level regarding gender identity, refusing to allow an employee to change their name during their employment could lead to a discrimination claim. And in at least some places, it’s outright illegal: In California, for example, employers are required to identify employees by their preferred names (with an exception for documents where a legal name is legally mandated).

People working at companies in jurisdictions without that protection should point out to their employers that the practice disproportionately impacts marginalized populations — certainly trans people but also women, who are significantly more likely to change their names upon marriage — and that these systems are designed for cisgender male users and ignore a sizable portion of workers.


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