Preferred names in Oregon
January 5, 2021 6:12 AM   Subscribe

I've been using a preferred name for the 6 months I've held my current position. Boss has told me to begin the legal name change process or they're switching my email address over to my legal name. YANML; what are my rights?

My legal name is Janet Funface. Funface is my family name of origin and I have no attachment to it. Janet is also a name that has never suited me. I'm middle age and I've never felt like a Janet, always been sort of embarrassed to introduce myself with a name that doesn't fit, and have been told by a number of people I don't look like a Janet.

In late spring, just 2-3 months into the pandemic, I was so fortunate to find employment that pays the bills and is relatively safe. Those are HUGE selling points, and I do not take it for granted; I cannot lose this job right now. However, it's so toxic of an environment that I am hatching an escape plan because it's reached the point where I feel complicit in harming others by remaining. This is all just background.-- I've used a preferred name this entire time. My colleagues, clients, and external contacts all know me by my gender neutral name-- Dale Smith.

Dale Smith is not my legal name. When you receive an email from me, the sender is listed as Dale Smith. My work email signature is Dale Smith. My paychecks are written out to Janet Funface. The "important" documents I sign generate my signature space to say Dale Smith Funface.

I'm queer AFAB and present androgynous, more masc than femme, but I don't personally identify as trans (IDK maybe I should; these things are confusing sometimes). I don't want to appropriate or abuse trans identity or rights. And... I don't know when I will get around to changing my name legally, or whether I will stick with Dale Smith or perhaps choose Dale Jones or something.

I know a few things:
1) I don't want to be called Janet.
2) I don't necessarily want to draw attention to my name or identity; for ex., I don't want to mass email everyone on my contacts list and say "Hey, please update your contacts. Janet Funface is the same person as Dale Smith and you'll be hearing from Janet Funface now..."
3) The business owner is not consulting a lawyer or ANYTHING in suddenly deciding this needs to happen; they made this choice after I said something in a meeting that made them look bad, accidentally, and in their anger they put me on notice that Dale Smith needs to be legal or needs to go away~

What can I do? This is in Oregon. Thank you!
posted by shocks connery to Work & Money (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Regardless of the actual merits of the case, the thing about enforcing your rights as an employee is that it's often time-consuming - if you need this job right now then a lawsuit or something is probably not going to help - it will take too long. You might be able to get a lawyer to write your boss a letter advising him that this is a bad idea that will get him in legal trouble (if that's true - I don't actually know).

If I were you I'd lie and say:
- that I was starting the formal name change process
- that it was going to take about six months
- since I'm going to have the official name pretty soon, that it would probably be more weird to change my email now
- regardless of whether the boss needed to change my email address I was going to keep using my preferred name (because it's less confusing)

If six months roll around and you're still there (god forbid), keep lying and delaying. If he asks for evidence, print out a form and show it to him. If he asks why six months, say something about offices being closed due to COVID or needing to order a fresh copy of your birth certificate or some nonsense.

But mostly try not to get too distracted by him, focus on getting the hell away from this job because it is bad. Don't worry about staying a year or any of that nonsense, focus on finding another way to pay your bills so you can leave this job.
posted by mskyle at 6:23 AM on January 5, 2021 [58 favorites]

You might have protections regarding your preferred name if you're trans, but I don't think there are any protections for you if you do not identify as trans -- and as mskyle points out, enforcing your rights is time consuming and expensive.

I think the advice to stall and say you were looking into the formal process is a good way to go. Also, agree this is a toxic environment and getting out is the top priority here.

If the employer is determined to punish you in some way for embarrassing them in a meeting, they're likely to find other ways even if you can hold off the name change issue. Good luck - hope you find something quickly.
posted by jzb at 6:30 AM on January 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Is there a reason for not just changing your name? I know someone who hated her name (not for any gender identity reasons, just hated it), and managed to go by her middle name for a long time without issue. But she did eventually need to change it, and it was a fairly easy visit to the local court house + a small fee. That sounds easier than a legal battle with your boss.
posted by coffeecat at 7:04 AM on January 5, 2021 [13 favorites]

Take a step back for a sec. Your boss might just be an idiot. Did you ask why the email address would have to be changed to a legal name? (Do you have any Jims in the office who will be going by James now, or is it just you?)

This could be something as simple as "IT is doing an audit/upgrade of some tools and will be aligning emails with legal names" which could be fixed by going to IT and saying "not for me please."

I'm in HR at a company that has had a few big changes over the years on the personnel and IT sides, and I've had to have these conversations with IT multiple times. No offense to IT people but you get a lot of rigid thinkers over there. Sometimes you have to kick them in the teeth a bit to remind them that life needs to be creatively interpreted from time to time.
posted by phunniemee at 7:16 AM on January 5, 2021 [7 favorites]

IT guy here, also dad of a trans son... I just recently finished an account lifecycle automation project. This involved interfacing with an HR System. The HR system did not have any method with which to store a preferred name and because of this everybody's email address had to be the users display name also had to be LegalFirstname LegalLastname. This did cause a few issues and unfortunately we were put in the position of being the bad guy. Had the HR system been able to store a preferred name we could have easily used that when creating new accounts. While this new system is much more secure and much more efficient (reduces tons of double and triple data entry) than the old way of doing things it comes at the cost of some flexibility and reliance on factors outside of IT's control. It would be very odd (but not unheard of) that a manger would be allowed to determine what a users email address would be. Perhaps there is an automation project like this happening at your organization that is forcing the change and your boss is just doing a bad job of explaining it.
posted by jmsta at 7:35 AM on January 5, 2021 [7 favorites]

I second that it would be a LOT EASIER to just change your name if you don't like Janet Funface.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:19 AM on January 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

If your question is "What are my rights" in this context, I don't think you have any. An employer can require you to use a company email and if they require you to use company email they must provide it, but there are no legal requirements (that I am aware of) that confer rights to any specific email address. It could be or or or whatever they want it to be.

If there is discrimination going on that you can prove, based on your status as a member of a protected class, then you may have some rights to protect yourself from discrimination. For example, if they are only saying this to you as the only gender-nonconforming employee at your workplace, and others who go by nicknames are not being told this, then I think that's evidence of discrimination, but... it's still not a right to get to use a nickname for your email.

I don't get why corporations do this, it's like they have a boner for control and don't care about the happiness of their employees which makes everyone less effective and less profitable. But since you seem to already know this about your employer...

In your shoes, I would obsequiously thank your boss for alerting you to this issue, and let him know that you have started the process of a legal name change, and thank him for the kick in the pants to "finally get this done." Ask him if he would like regular updates on your progress. He will probably say no, but if he does... you requested your original birth certificate from the hospital, you are awaiting a response, you learned that they required a certified letter and a money order so you made an appointment with a notary, and on and on and on. You could turn this into quite the ordeal. He will haaaaaaaaaate this but he literally asked for it and he can turn that anger on himself.
posted by juniperesque at 8:56 AM on January 5, 2021 [14 favorites]

Recently changed my legal name, just to a spelling that I have been using for most of my life, but it didn't fit with my birth certificate name and presented problems in the Real ID world. It cost me over $2000 in lawyer costs (most of it) and fees. They have to search to see if you are evading debts, for example, and you will probably need to be fingerprinted. I was, in PA.

In your situation I would search around for an LGBT organization in Oregon that has a low or no-cost attorney to advise you. Surely this is a situation they have seen before and will be sympathetic to. Good luck
posted by citygirl at 9:04 AM on January 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

Still. You might point out to your employer that people use pen names, stage names, and so on all the time and it is generally legal to use a pseudonym as long as there is no intent to defraud. You could also point out employees that go by their middle name and have e-mail addresses to match.

You could offer to file a fictitious name certificate with your county or state (sometimes called a DBA form, for Doing Business As). This will have other benefits as well, such as helping to convince your bank to cash checks made out to that name. This paperwork is trivial and inexpensive and they might be willing to accept that.

While there's no law against using a fictitious name, there's no law against your employer requiring you to use your legal name for your e-mail address, either. From a standpoint of running a business, I can see it being something of a pain to put one name on paychecks and tax statements and put a different one in Active Directory. The bigger the company, the harder it is to communicate to everyone that both names refer to the same person, especially if you're making an exception for a single employee. On the other hand, the bigger the company, the more likely it is that they've had to deal with this situation before.
posted by kindall at 9:12 AM on January 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

I agree that changing your name legally is the easiest way to dodge this - if you have no attachment to Janet Funface, why continue to struggle against a legal name you don't want? The nice thing about changing your name is it legally recognizing your decision - while people should be able to just respect that decision, once it is legally completed they don't really have a choice. Embrace Dale Smith (or whatever name you love) and become that person legally! In terms of rights, I don't know if you have a right to require them to recognize a non-legal preferred name, but personally I don't see that as the winning play here. You can "win" this by making it your legal name - at that point they will have to recognize it.

I see no reason why email would be required to use a legal name, maybe other than not seeming deceptive to have official emails coming from a preferred name that wouldn't be traceable to a legal name of an employee by anyone outside of HR. I work in a company of 700+ that deals with multimillion dollar budgets, decisions, and contracts, and preferred names are allowed to be used in email addresses, and our legal team is pretty fussy. That said, we don't have any with a preferred last name; they are all preferred names with legal last name - not sure if that is a factor.

Just from an employer side, it would make me uneasy if an employee was signing contracts with a name other than their legal name. If they ever ended up in litigation over a contract, it would not be a good look for them to have a signed document from the company for a name that doesn't legally exist. I don't know how important the documents you are signing are, but it could be a land mine for legal troubles down the road if someone wanted to exploit it.

Good luck on this, and kudos for standing up for yourself and not rolling over to this type of mismanagement.
posted by _DB_ at 9:16 AM on January 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Do you want to change your name now? I know you're not sure, and I don't know how long it takes, but the name change process in Oregon, I recently learned, is extraordinarily easy. It's the same form for changing your legal sex, fyi (and you can choose non-binary). The form is here. Looks to me like the circuit court fee for this is $124.

If you don't want to change your name, I don't know if there are any legal requirements for the employer to respect your preferred name. You could poke around the website for Basic Rights Oregon and see what you find.

Do you have an HR department or IT department with someone friendly where you could dig into this?
posted by bluedaisy at 9:34 AM on January 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

You may be out of luck on this one; many companies are now requiring people to have their full names in their emails, to avoid any lawsuits or entanglements about fraud. (Also, because the company is growing a lot and nobody knows anybody anymore.) The company just this year required all of us to display our full legal names in all official emails. So, for 20 years my coworker always had Dan in his displayed name, but was required to change it to Daniel.
posted by Melismata at 9:40 AM on January 5, 2021

Changing your name in Oregon is relatively simple and affordable, so I would just do that.
posted by overglow at 9:46 AM on January 5, 2021

It sounds like changing your email address could create problems and confusion for the company's customers or other people outside the company that you'll be dealing with. Is that an angle you could talk to your boss about? Why foist that confusion on them when it's totally unnecessary?
posted by Winnie the Proust at 10:18 AM on January 5, 2021

> Take a step back for a sec. Your boss might just be an idiot. Did you ask why the email address would have to be changed to a legal name? (Do you have any Jims in the office who will be going by James now, or is it just you?)

In addition to pointing out the absurdity of whether all of the Jims will now be forced to go by James, he'll be checking to make sure that all married people who took their spouse's last name have changed that legally, hmm?

This doesn't need to be all about your gender identity. He's trying to humiliate you, but so many people go by names that are not their legal names that his threat is really short-sighted. And if he says that he's only insisting that you change YOUR email address and that this isn't really a new blanket policy, then it backs up your claim that this is retaliation.

Further, he's going to risk confusing your clients? The ones who...put money in his pocket?
posted by desuetude at 10:26 AM on January 5, 2021 [8 favorites]

Is there some chance you could dodge the Gender Specific name like Janet or Dale and go with your first two initials then last name? Would this satisfy the Boss (idiot or otherwise) and more importantly would it be something that could be acceptable to you?
posted by ashtray elvis at 11:48 AM on January 5, 2021

In one of those inflexible company's like jmsta's that insist that email be and display name be LegalFirstname LegalLastname, what do they do when they have an existing employee William Smith and hire new employee William Smith? Do they not hire the new guy because someone is already using that name? Or do they find that they have to make it work somehow and maybe the system is (or their rules are) more flexible than at first thought?
posted by QuakerMel at 1:44 PM on January 5, 2021 [4 favorites]

what do they do when they have an existing employee William Smith and hire new employee William Smith?

My employer numbers the names in the email address so the new person becomes our Indian practice several people I have tried to find turned out to have very popular names and were ..4 or ...5

The displayed name would be William Smith with the official email signature normally containing enough other identifying information like rank and location to make it clear which William Smith you’re dealing with.

So flexible enough to work within the paradigm of legal names, not flexible enough to use non legal names.
posted by koahiatamadl at 3:53 PM on January 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

So is this for the company directory? Security audit (like Active Directory / LDAP)? Or some sort of paperwork compliance thing?

It sure sounds like the company has no "name policy" and thus is refusing to accommodate people with preferred names. Though singling you out smacks of retaliation.

I don't see any Oregon rights toa preferred name, only in the context of gender identity discrimination. If you prefer to be agender/asexual and thus have an ambiguous name, and your boss insisted on calling you Janet, that could be argued as discrimination and creating a hostile work environment.

(I consulted this official Oregon page: )

Sounds like you need to have a talk with HR, see if they are sympathetic to your situation, and can they get the boss to back off. Or even better, go above your boss (if possible). Else you may have to go to a labor lawyer who specialize in employee rights, esp. LGBTQA2S rights.
posted by kschang at 5:41 PM on January 5, 2021

Unless you're expecting to be found by some long lost family member, I would change it. What are the benefits of keeping it?

Having said that, your boss is a dick on sticks and I would have a word with his superior about it first. Having an emotionally unstable boss who takes revenge because of a misunderstanding is not okay. I'm sensitive as hell but this is not okay in a workplace.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 11:45 PM on January 5, 2021

You can not make business to people or business to business correspondence under a Penname it has legal ramifications from the viewpoint of the corresponded to. There has to be some measure of accountability and security that if the company should need to identify you they can (not by name but yes by name). Unless you have a entertainment career and book yourself gigs and get paid in cash with a 1099 at the end of the year, you are the employee Mx. Fun face. You must get your SSN issued under the name Dale Smith in order to continue making business correspondence under that name
posted by The_imp_inimpossible at 7:04 AM on January 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

You must get your SSN issued under the name Dale Smith in order to continue making business correspondence under that name

I'm not a lawyer but this just feels inaccurate to me, what is your source on this?

I can think of numerous real life situations where that is just not happening.

Mary Catherine Meadows nee Lane, who goes by her middle name and is known by all as Kate, and also prefers to use her maiden name at work, is known at work as Kate Lane, you are telling me that is illegal?
posted by phunniemee at 7:12 AM on January 6, 2021 [6 favorites]

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