UCSD Should Respect Students’ Preferred Names

Photo courtesy of UC San Diego News Center.

Last November, The Triton received an email from university officials, requesting that we use their branding guidelines when talking about the school.

“Using UC San Diego in place of the UCSD acronym better identifies our campus both locally and nationally,” the email read, as is also specified on the website of University Communications and Public Affairs. “There’s confusion among San Diego higher education institutions because of similar acronyms—UCSD, USD, and SDSU—which we eliminate by using UC San Diego.”

A school is known to the world by its name, and the university knows how important that is. But as people, our names are how everyone from the closest friend to the most glancing acquaintance refer to us. An individual’s name may represent a person’s identity, their means for ownership, or their connection to their ancestral roots. Our names as individuals should be far more important than the branding of an institution.

Given the importance of names, we believe that the university should allow students to use their preferred name in the university’s system in addition to printing them on student ID cards. Students do not always go by their legal names, and our systems need to reflect that.

UCLA policy recently shifted to allow students to use their preferred name on their ID cards, and has allowed a “preferred name” option in a student’s online paperwork since 2015. UC Berkeley, similarly, allows the designation of a preferred name, which is printed on course rosters, waiting lists, and ID cards. UC Davis, UC Santa Cruz, and UC Riverside, alongside many universities across the nation, have followed suit on this policy, as well.

One could argue that students may abuse the system and put false names on their ID cards, and it happens. One UCLA student, Tyler Roope, changed his name on his ID to “Lightning-Kachow-McQ”. However, this kind of prank isn’t widespread, and abuse of a system is not a solid argument against its proper use. Schools that allow the designation of preferred names, such as UC Berkeley, often implement enforcement mechanisms to prevent its abuse, including the ability to “reserve the right to delete a preferred name if it is used inappropriately, such as misrepresentation or fraud” and the ability to “subject the student to disciplinary action in accordance with University policy.”

Transgender and nonbinary students often go by a name other than the name on their official paperwork, using a chosen name instead of the name given to them at birth. The ability to change your preferred name grants trans and nonbinary students the ability to reflect their identities as they understand them, and as they change. Failing to preserve the ability to change their names could cause these students to feel that their gender identity is perceived as unacceptable or unimportant, causing further gender dysphoria.

Thus, it’s important to recognize that a preferred name isn’t a nickname—it’s as legitimate as someone’s real name. You are not taking the moral high ground by considering someone’s preferred name as something that you can choose to use or not to use depending on your relationship with that individual, or the context of the situation. Rather, you are displacing someone’s potential to determine and define their own identity from their own hands to yours.

We know that people can change their names, and the university knows it too. There are processes for registering a legal name change, and doctors at Student Health Services sign off on court documentation which allows trans students to file for that legal change with the courts. Nevertheless, these month-long legal processes are inaccessible and inconvenient for individuals who cannot afford legal name changes, or maintain undocumented status.

Transgender and nonbinary students aren’t the only people who go by names other than their legal name. Many international students choose to go by another English name, a middle name, or a shortened version of their name when attending UCSD. While this decision may, in part, occur in response to Western mispronunciation of their full names, it is a personal choice that is important to respect. We should not make assumptions about whether or not a person is detached to their culture based on their choice of name; in fact, we should avoid assumptions altogether, because a chosen name is just that: somebody’s choice.

There is no downside to acknowledging any of these names, and this policy change would have nominal costs. Since we’re all categorized by a PID number in the university’s system, our names are ultimately not necessary for keeping track of us. Thus, it’s integral that the UC San Diego administration set the example for their student population to respect a student’s preference in choosing their name, and furthermore, defining their identity. The school knows that chosen names are important when it wants to be referred to as “UC San Diego,” so why won’t UCSD’s administration give students the same respect?

Editorials represent the majority opinion of The Triton Editorial Board. If you’d like for us to publish a response, please do so here. If you’d like to comment on a different issue affecting the UCSD or UC community, you may also so here.