What are ‘preferred names’?
The names used on birth certificates are ‘given’ names while names that people choose to use are ‘preferred’ names. Preferred names could be a shortening of their given name, such as ‘Tom’ instead of ‘Thomas’, the use of middle names instead of first names, nicknames or names that differ completely from their given name, such as ‘Chelsea’ instead of ‘Derek’.
Why might people want to use preferred names?
People may wish to use a preferred name for a variety of reasons: it’s what they have always been called, it may help people align themselves more closely with their gender identity, they dislike their given name, for religious/political reasons, etc.
What does the law say about the use of preferred names?
According to the Education Regulations, educational institutions must provide each student's full name in the admissions register. In accordance with the Department For Education’s 2016 guidance on parental responsibility, this refers to the student's legal name. While given names must be used in specific circumstances, the Equality and Human Rights Commission guidance is clear that not using preferred names is a clear example of gender discrimination. It should be noted that it would be deemed discriminatory and against the Human Rights Commission guidance for individuals’ gender to be questioned in relation to their preferred names.
Why use preferred names?
Interpersonal microaggressions and a loss of belonging at school, including the lack of adherence to preferred name usage, according to Austin, Craig, D'Souza and McInroy’s 2022 study ‘Suicidality Among Transgender Youth: Elucidating the Role of Interpersonal Risk Factors’, are factors in a sustained increase in suicide risk lasting six months or more. Advance HE’s 2022 ‘Trans staff and students in HE and colleges: improving experiences’ guidance provide guidance on how to create an inclusive environment for Trans/intersex/non-binary people and illustrates that using preferred names can reduce mental health inequalities between cis and non-cis people. Additionally, whether cis or non-cis, use of preferred names can improve feelings of belonging within the university. Ultimately, using preferred names can help to creates a more inclusive environment and promote equality.
Challenges faced by using preferred names:
One challenge of using preferred names can be that universities are not incubated spaces – what happens at UCLan doesn’t necessarily stay at UCLan. This means that an accidental involuntary disclosure, commonly known as ‘outing’, could occur. This could happen simply by using their preferred name on their student ID card without their consent. n the 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report published by the Human Rights Campaign, students describe involuntary disclosure as “extremely stressful” and could put students’ safety at risk so are best avoided.
How challenges could be addressed:
When enrolling at UCLan, people are already asked for their preferred name. I suggest that if a preferred name is declared, prospective students could be given a list of options for when they want their preferred name to be used and also informed of when their legal name will be used. Examples of when legal names could be used include financial documentation, payroll and tax forms, DBS checks etc. Preferred name use could be requested to be used on the online directory, Teams display, ID cards etc. By giving the individual the choice of when and how their chosen name is used, it gives students more autonomy over themselves and allows them to express themselves in a way that is safe and comfortable for them. Additionally, by allowing further autonomy over their preferred name, it could help to inform the university about some of the challenges that students may face regarding their name/religion/gender expression and allow the university to tailor support for those students.
Micky Powell (the LGB rep for the student council) can be contacted by email MJPowell@uclan.ac.uk to answer any question regarding any LGB issues during the 22/23 academic year.
The LGBTQ+ Foundation: https://lgbt.foundation/