A friend of mine is transsexual. She recently changed her legal name from, let's say, John to Jane.

In the company where she works, when somebody changes either their first or last name, the old name is still displayed in brackets next to their last name. So her name in all emails is displayed as "Jane (John) Smith". It stays like this as long as the person works for this company, it's supposed to make it easy for colleagues to find this person if they are not aware of the change.

She doesn't want everyone including new colleagues and clients to know than she was called John before, for obvious reasons. What would be the best way to explain that to HR in order to convince them to remove the old name?

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    Did she talk to HR? It seems like an easy thing to accommodate, I don't think divorcees are keen to have their ex's name displayed either, so there should be precedent. Is there a reason to suspect a straightforward request would not be sufficient?
    – nvoigt
    Jan 15 '20 at 21:12
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    I would talk to HR if I were her. If HR doesn't listen, I would talk to the legal counsel of the company (if it has one). When it comes to these things, the legal counsel usually has the final word over HR. Jan 16 '20 at 10:12
  • @nvoigt It's could be easy, if it is, in fact, strictly a policy issue. There's some damn complicated and poorly designed issues out there. It's entirely possible that this could be a major (and costly) headache to change
    – Kevin
    Jan 16 '20 at 16:34
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    I don't understand how this policy helps anyone. I'm trying to picture a case where if I couldn't find "Jane Smith" in a directory, I should know somehow to search for "Jane Doe (Smith)".
    – spuck
    Jan 16 '20 at 17:25
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    @spuck Depending on the interface/search function, it could eaisly be the case that searching for "Jane Smith" brings up Jane Doe (Smith)". Jan 17 '20 at 5:58

What would be the best way to explain that to HR in order to convince them to remove the old name?

Precisely the actual reason, which you have also mentioned in the question, i.e.:

She doesn't want everyone including new colleagues and clients to know than she was called John before

However, the company/HR division may have some kind of internal policy in place to handle name change cases. But it doesn't hurt in talking this through with the HR, and requesting them to accommodate the request.

At least your friend could request any form of official external communication to curtail the old name.

  • I find all the answers good, but I'm accepting this one because it got the most votes from the community. Jan 17 '20 at 19:08

You should be able to negotiate an exception to this rule. However you are probably going to have to make some concessions that address the concerns of HR.

The problem from HRs point of view is that people know the name "John Smith", and may know him as a contact with several responsibilities. If those people look in the directory for John Smith and don't find him, then they are going to assume that John Smith left the company, and will have no idea who has taken over his responsibilities. They have no idea that Jane Smith who has recently appeared in the directory is the same person.

The least you are going to expect is that someone will have to contact people who might have had dealings with you to tell them about this name change. Depending on your responsibilities this might include people outside the company. And it might not only be people you know about - if someone has given the name "John Smith" as a useful contact to someone else they may have to be told that their contact is now "Jane Smith".

Exactly how far this email has to go is going to be a matter for negotiation, but expect there to be some pressure to disseminate it widely. Remember they have already had this discussion with people who are changing their names for reasons they would rather people not know about. But at least this will prevent people who are contacting you for the first time knowing about your change.

  • "They have no idea that Jane Smith who has recently appeared in the directory is the same person." - If I have understood anything correctly about transitioning, then this is exactly the point. The old name is called "dead name" for a reason. Yes, it may cause some waves - so what? John is dead. Long live Jane.
    – Fildor
    Jan 17 '20 at 14:24
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    Yes, but you have to balance that with the fact that colleagues know that "John Smith" is responsible for such-and-such account, and now they have to know that person is now called "Jane Smith" and know how to reach them. I think it unrealistic to expect them to be told "Jane Smith" is now responsible for that account without also knowing that Jane Smith and John Smith are the same person. Jan 17 '20 at 14:27
  • People who have dealt with John and now deal with Jane know anyway. It's about new people, who could simply have a look into the names list and tell who's the one transperson out of 100s of employees.
    – Fildor
    Jan 17 '20 at 14:31
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    That's my point, they don't unless you tell them. They know that John Smith used to handle the account, and now John Smith isn't in the directory. So what do you tell them? You have to tell them something. Do you say "Jane Smith is now handling the account" and pretend Jane Smith is unconnected with John Smith? Or do you send an email to the people affected saying that John Smith is now Jane Smith, which is what I am advocating. The solution I propose is exactly that - tell the people who need to know, don't tell the whole company, and don't have something that tells people who haven't joined. Jan 17 '20 at 14:35
  • I do see where you are coming from and you do have a point there. I just think you overcomplicate things here. An email account can be redirected/relayed. A change of responsible persons can be explained by that person who will know best how she wants to explain or if at all. The bigger concern here, however, are all the people who have never dealt with "John". To them - if they even notice - a "John Smith" has been replaced by a "Jane Smith" in the names list. Nothing really to be explained or pretended there. (imho)
    – Fildor
    Jan 17 '20 at 14:46

As a transgender woman, your friend is always in danger of discrimination. A phonebook entry "Jane (John) Smith" tells everyone in the company she is transgender. Totally different from LGB people where the name doesn't give anyone a clue. So everyone in the company who thinks he can prove his manliness or whatever by picking on a transgender woman may now try to do so.

So to me it seems quite obvious that publishing her name like that is a really bad idea. It should be enough if she visits HR and tells them that she doesn't want her new and old name, and this reason. If there is resistance to this, then she should tell them that if there are any attacks, any discrimination against her, she will hold HR responsible for this.

There may be a company policy, but whoever wrote the policy probably had men and women in mind who are getting married and never thought about this situation.

Maybe I didn't make that clear enough. This is not negotiable. The dangers for a transgender woman are real, and HR risks extreme trouble both for the company and personally if they publish her old and new name and something goes wrong. There are no business reasons that would allow HR to put her into danger.

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    That's unnecessarily confrontational IMO, and completely ignoring the business reasons for including both names. You can easily improve this answer explaining how a company can alleviate the confusion when clients, or coworkers, suddenly get emails from Jane instead of John, and are unsure who that person is. Jan 17 '20 at 13:38
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    It might be better to negotiate with HR in peace rather than confrontationally. If anything happens, she actually needs to call HR for help rather than making HR responsible. If HR refuses to take action after actual consequences happen, then HR needs to be held responsible, not before this.
    – Mefitico
    Jan 17 '20 at 18:21
  • Yes, this email totally ignores the realities of business which need to be addressed - like it or not.
    – Alan Dev
    Jan 18 '20 at 20:24

I think that one point not being addressed here, is that current employees need to know that her name has changed, in order for them (and, to some extent, her) to continue to do their jobs effectively.

So, I agree with the other answers that HR should be able to bend the rule in this case, and remove the reference to the previous name in email signatures etc. If she is in a position where people routinely need to contact her, however, then as well as this should probably be a blanket email from either herself or via HR notifying everyone of this change.

I'm speaking here as a colleague of someone who did this exact thing a year ago. She sent out a global email informing people of her new name and gender, stating that she understood that people would take some time to adjust, and would inevitably make mistakes to start with, and that's OK, provided that people at least try to get it right.

This sort of thing goes a long way towards helping everybody else adjust, and helps make those first few interactions just that little bit less awkward.


Additionally, ask IT to make 2 emailaddresses:

  • John Smith, with an autoresponder "this person (has changed their name and) can now be reached at Jane Smith"

  • Jane Smith, the account she uses from now on.

Now the requirement that people can still find the person are satisfied. People who knew her old name/mailaddress get the necessary information and can update their contact info. People who didn't know Jane before her transition, need not know about John.

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