Short Take: Rose, By Any Other Name

What name is on your diploma? Your contract? Your tax return or your car registration? Does it matter? No longer to the University of California.

The University of California announced today (Nov. 17) that it has adopted systemwide gender identity and lived name options for UC-issued documents and information systems. UC’s new Presidential Policy on Gender Recognition and Lived Names, which acknowledges gender identities other than man and woman, is another milepost in the University’s commitment to equity and inclusion for all.

“The University of California continues to fully embrace diversity in our country,” said UC President Michael V. Drake, M.D. “We believe this policy is a step toward an even more inclusive community and, in turn, will help build a stronger, more vibrant society.”

If you prefer to be called “Al,” that’s cool. At a party, I’ll call you any darn name you want, because it doesn’t really matter to me and if it matters to you, it’s no skin off my nose. Whether it’s a “milepost” in creating a “strong, more vibrant society” is up to you.

Under the new policy, University students, employees, alumni, retirees, vendors, medical center patients and other affiliates completing university-issued documents may choose from man, woman or nonbinary gender identification options. In addition to gender identification, individuals may also state a lived name that differs from their legal name.

Ah, that “legal name.” What about those medical center patients whose past medical files are kept under their legal name instead of their “lived name”? Sure, a patient who comes in with LOC and has a deadly allergy to some common substance might be known as “Betty,” but what are the docs to do about accessing their medical history before administering a substance that will kill them?

A lived name is a self-chosen personal or preferred professional name instead of one’s legal name. The individual’s lived name will be the default, while their legal name — if different from their lived name — will be kept confidential and not published on UC documents or displayed in information systems that do not require a person’s legal name.

How does one determine what requires a person’s legal name? The problem isn’t whether people, whether transgender or just hep to the jive, prefer to be called by a name other than the one mom gave them at birth. Many people do, and most of us understand that people use nicknames or derivatives names in our daily lives. Ain’t no big thing, and doesn’t change who you are. Is your legal name Andrew? Some may call you Andy. Some may even call you Drew. But people will likely understand that your legal name is Andrew.

But what UC is doing here is blurring the lines beyond names that people prefer to be called, and should be called by friends, associates and professors, for no better reason than courtesy. Are you sure you want that name on your diploma, though? What will you do when you go for a job some day and they can’t match up a name with the registrar’s list of graduates and a social security number? What about getting a credit card, an apartment, a car loan? What about getting a job?

It’s one thing if someone has committed to changing the entirety of their life to a new gender, new name, new identify, which California permits under its Gender Recognition Act (SB 179), but the new UC policy reflects no such limitation. If you want to be called “Al” rather than “Betty,” they will do so. And you will suffer the consequences if it turns out that your choice wasn’t quite as cool a commitment to inclusion as you thought in your sophomore year at Berkeley.

This is not to say that you can’t claim to be a space alien named Cthulhu if that’s what cranks you up. Who cares, except the people who avoid you for being . . . odd? But when the shifts that start on campus and ultimately tend to wind their way into real life ignore the problems they generate, who are you going to yell at?

40 thoughts on “Short Take: Rose, By Any Other Name

  1. Turk

    Doesn’t sound any different than performers using stage names. If Richard Starkey wants to be known as Ringo Starr, why not?

    As to medical: When such folks go to hospitals they can also check in under pseudonyms to protect from prying eyes. Cedars-Sinai out in SoCal is probably chock full of such people as are select private hospitals in NYC.

    As long as the legal name is still there (taxes, banking, licensing), this doesn’t look like much of a leap simply by keeping that legal name confidential.

    Reply
    1. jfjoyner3

      Well, sure. Not a problem! California is host to many software companies. Just like they develop apps to help us track our passwords, certainly one of them can help us track our “lived” and “legal” and whatever other names we need to function in this world. Really, why should a portfolio of legal names be IL-legal? What about this … mood rings can be re-tooled to suggest the name I feel like using today. Imagine the possibilities!

      p.s. I heard a rumor that the entire UC administration meets daily for LSD parties to hallucinate themselves into another reality where all people are beautiful and flowers never die.

      Reply
    2. David

      After committing analogy murder with possibly the worst analogy ever, your inclusion of the obvious video at best serves to mitigate, not exculpate, you from culpability.

      Reply
      1. SHG Post author

        On the one hand, it doesn’t appear to have registered with Turk that he knows Ringo’s real name because Ringo was a Beatle. Most of us are not so well known. Even so, does Ringo’s drivers license say Ringo or Richard Starkey? I don’t know, as I’ve never seen it.

        On the other hand, his assumption about how people register at Cedars is an even more insipid argument. Does this happen or is this a figment of Turk’s fertile imagination? Do people not tell their doc their real name if they register under ‘nyms to conceal their hospitalization from the media? Is that what UC is doing here?

        Reply
        1. Turk

          Many celebrities have been checked into hospitals under aliases. It is neither an argument nor a figment of anyone’s imagination.

          Reply
          1. SHG Post author

            If you say so, does that pass normal scrutiny? Did you prep Rudy’s argument in Philly yesterday?

            I’m sure some do, Turk, though I have no idea how many, how often or how big a star they might be to do so. That said, it’s irrelevant, since they don’t lie to their doc about their identity, and this isn’t a useful analogy.

            Reply
            1. Turk

              People have been using aliases since forever, and they still manage. Their legal names, as you note, are still on record at the University in case they are needed. As you try to look into the future, I think you’re seeing a problem that isn’t likely to occur. /fin

            2. David

              This isn’t just about colleges using nicknames, which seems clear to everyone here but you. Sometimes you’re thick as a brick. Actually, pretty much all the time. I don’t know what Scott sees in you, but all I see is a moron who keeps fighting to prove he is the kind of all morons.

            3. SHG Post author

              He’s a good lawyer. He just has a tendency to say incredibly stupid things in the comments here and can’t seem to let go.

          2. Ron

            This has nothing to do with aliases, but with UC changing all official documentation to reflect whatever name and gender, whether it turns out to be permanent or transitory. That’s why they issued a press release. They made a big deal of it, even you desperately want to trivialize it.

            Reply
    3. Bar Counsel

      Dear Mr. Turk,

      During our review of attorney qualifications, it was ascertained that no such male person as Xavier de Turk ever graduated from Cooley Law School. The closest name we found was the female named Xena da Turkey. We regret to inform you that your bar admission has been rescinded and you are no longer licensed to practice law. Have a nice day.

      Yours, etc.
      State Bar Authority of Your State

      Reply
  2. Erik H

    Well, when are YOU going to return to using Scottius Graenfeldt? Or are you going to keep “living” as Scott Greenfield?

    We know the truth.

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      My mother named me after her maternal great uncle, Hymie Schmuel, and my name in English was H Scott Greenfield because she was too poor to afford a first name. Now you know.

      Reply
  3. delurking

    People who get married or divorced often change their “lived” names as a matter of course. Sometimes they change their legal names, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they switch to a new name in social settings, but maintain their old name in professional settings. Sometimes they switch to a new name in all settings, and then have to deal with the consequences of their birth certificate and diplomas and medical records, etc., not having their current name. Close to half of the population thinks about this at some point in their lives (because of the patriarchy, natch).

    As to the wisdom of the UC administration getting involved in this for the benefit of the tiny percentage of its students who both want to live under a different name and will be made to feel more included because there exists a UC bureaucracy with which they can register that change, well, I have an opinion.

    Reply
    1. Miles

      While the long-held tradition of a spouse officially changing her surname has been accommodated by forms officially developed to accomplish the task, many have come to learn that if they fail to file, or file improperly, and choose instead to just use names with abandon, they have terrible problems later with matters like passports and licenses. We know about these things, because they are sometimes constrained to seek the aid of a lawyer in straightening out the nightmares they created for themselves.

      But you’re not a lawyer, so you spew this nonsense because you have no clue what you’re talking about, yet come to a law blog to conclusively prove you’re the stupidest person in the room. Do you have any impulse control at all or do you feel some compulsion to be the fool?

      Reply
  4. Elpey P.

    Now that gender identity is worthless information for the state to be tracking (and legitimizing), maybe they can add fields for personality type and astrological sign too.

    Reply
  5. Rojas

    As a Richard shortened to Rick I’ll admit that I found it a little unsettling when I sat down at the conference table in China and they all enthusiastically addressed me as Mr. Lick. Like a good corporate citizen I simply accepted my fate. If I ever have another run in with the law I’ll have them add it to my list of aliases.

    Is there a hostage situation at UC? It seems unfathomable that this policy with the bureaucratic and financial cost it entails would be a priority at this particular time. It would appear from the outside an all hands on deck to shore up scholastic support for those affected by the pandemic might be a priority.

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      I have no clue what the financial or bureaucratic cost associated with this measure will be, but I would assume it’s a fairly inexpensive way to compensate for less substantive measures, such as COVID for which they have no answers.

      Reply
    2. Scott Spencer

      Overall this is inexpensive, now at least. Most Student Information Systems have this ability built. Universities have been asking for this for at least 10 years.

      For example the one I use has a preferred name field that kicks that name out to everything including rosters, student ID cards, diplomas and other places. We have had this ability for a couple of year. It does not change things on “legal” documents like transcripts and 1098’s.

      I don’t see this as that big a deal to be honest. If someone wants to be Bill instead of Betty on an ID card then so be it

      Reply
      1. SHG Post author

        If it’s just a matter of the college ID card and class roster, then it is, indeed, no big deal. Are you sure that’s all they’re really talking about?

        Reply
        1. Scott Spencer

          I don’t know HTML formatting so I am not going to try, but paragraph 6 states “that do not require a person’s legal name”. Transcripts, reporting to government agencies, loan companies, they all require the legal name. This, if I read correctly, would not impact those.

          I cannot speak to vendors and patients though, that does seem to be weird to me. Having students choose a preferred name seemed weird to me a few years ago as well though.

          For what its worth, I do have a friend that refuses to use her real name and goes by something else. She has not changed things legally. It’s weird, but she is a weirdo…..

          Reply
          1. SHG Post author

            I saw, and that line troubled me greatly as I read it through a lawyer’s lens rather than a campus admin’s lens. They tend to do quite a bit that defies legal requirements, but that never seems to stop them from arguing they’re right to do so.

            Reply
  6. Anthony Kehoe

    Something similar was available when I was Naturalized in 2007. You can choose a different name on your Certificate of Naturalization if you wish. Another interesting note was that I had to “sign” the certificate with my full name, in cursive, instead of using my regular signature. They said it wouldn’t be valid if I signed it with my normal signature.

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      I still have my original social security card, which I got when I was 5 and started working in the coal mines. I signed it in crayon.

      Reply
  7. Drew Conlin

    I once heard that the great jazz drummer Art Blakey’s booking agent called him once to offer him concert engagements. Blakey had changed his name to Buhaina Buhaina …, When he told his agent his name the agent told him I don’t know that guy but I’ve got work for Art Blakey!! … I don’t know if he changed his name in a legal fashion.

    Reply
  8. Scott Spencer

    Yes, university admins do seem to try to get away with as much as possible.

    In perfect world this would be overseen by my people, registrar’s, who for the most part are so tight about stuff we shit diamonds.

    But California………..

    Reply
  9. Jake

    Cool story bro. But the problems you have described are not real and I know this because I’ve intimate insider’s knowledge regarding how the UC system handles databases and identification. We’re no longer living in a world where strangers rely on the name on our birth certificate to determine exactly who we are.

    Also, I suspect, deep down inside, you know this but feel the need to find some plausible way to express your outrage with the wokeness of it all.

    Reply
    1. SHG Post author

      After that Sentence-o-matic 5000 fiasco, I’m not entirely sure your intimate insider’s knowledge is comforting. That said, I’m not outraged. Who will be outraged is the kid who has problems 25 years from now because of the wokeness of it all. If I hear from them, I’ll tell them to call you.

      Reply
      1. Jake

        Today you suggested it will be more difficult for UC officials of any sort to identify people if we let them pick any name they like for their ID card. I’m telling you that’s not how it works. A UC ID card has a bar code and a printed ID number. They are used to reference a lookup table in a database that provides the person making the query with all the information they need, depending on the level of authority associated with the credentials they use to access the system, including your legal name if warranted.

        Long before they decided to add a chosen name field and allow ID holders the right to put whatever they want in it, this system was used thousands of times a day without a problem. The simple fact is, most people you encounter each day don’t know your name and, therefore, it’s pretty irrelevant to them until they need it.

        Thus, your argument today is both factually incorrect and the risks you suggest are unconvincing. If you care enough for me to change my mind, you’ll need to offer more information.

        Reply
          1. Jake

            “Ah, that “legal name.” What about those medical center patients whose past medical files are kept under their legal name instead of their “lived name”? Sure, a patient who comes in with LOC and has a deadly allergy to some common substance might be known as “Betty,” but what are the docs to do about accessing their medical history before administering a substance that will kill them?”

            This is wrong. This is not how it works in modern society.

            Reply
            1. SHG Post author

              There are all sorts of variations of “how it works” in modern society, computer guy’s beliefs notwithstanding. It may be that my hypo wouldn’t turn out to be a problem. It may be a million other hypos that will. You’re done now, Jake.

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