Changing my name at work, Part 2: The Union

So, after work tried to pull their weird appeal-to-authority intimidation tactic to make me put up and shut up on being continually birthnamed, it was clear I couldn’t make any more head-way on my own. I needed backup!

So, this is also the point in the story where I have to acknowledge how incredibly fortunate and privileged I am in a couple of ways, which were what made this entire process doable for me:

  1. I am working in a unionized environment. As a contract worker, I am not actually a union member, and I am not protected by provisions in the collective bargaining agreement. But, the one thing the union can do for me is represent me on human rights issues. Which brings me to my second source of privilege.
  2. I live in Ontario. And the Ontario Human Rights Code contains provisions protecting folk from discrimination based on gender identity and expression. It’s actually even better than that, though.

    The OHRC actually explicitly defines “trans or transgender” as umbrella terms that “includes but is not limited to people who identify as transgender, trans woman (male-to-female), trans man (female-to-male), transsexual, cross-dresser, gender non-conforming, gender variant or gender queer.” The section on gender expression explicitly notes that “A person’s chosen name and pronoun are also common ways of expressing gender.” And finally, we learn that “Discrimination happens when a person experiences negative treatment or impact, intentional or not, because of their gender identity or gender expression.”

    It’s an obvious slam dunk, is what I’m saying.

So, after receiving the final “this issue is now closed” denial from the CEO, I fired off an email to my union representative, with a brief summary of the situation, plus the entire email thread up to the point.

And let me tell you, this person is pretty much my hero now. You don’t even know.

Less than half an hour after I got in touch (at approximately 6:30 on a Tuesday, for the record), he responded. The response started “Thank you for getting in touch with me Kasey”, which in and of itself was an incredible relief after the way my work had been persisting in responding to my emails by calling me by my birthname, even while I signed mine off as Kasey.

He immediately explained the situation regarding the limitations of what the union could help me with, but said this definitely sounded like a human rights issue. He also asked for clarification about the dysphoria I had referenced in my emails both to him and to the employer, and asked whether I had a medical diagnosis.

I confirmed that I was talking about gender-related dysphoria, and told him I am a transgender person of the genderqueer variety. I explained that I don’t have any related medical diagnosis because I don’t consider my gender to be a disorder, and have no interest in having it diagnosed as such.

He responded, *apologized for his ignorance* (which I found inexpressibly charming?), and asked if he could forward me emails to CUPE National. I agreed.

Within two hours, (again, well after office hours on a Tuesday!) the union had agreed to back me on the case.

So, under my union rep’s advice, I made an appointment a few days later to speak to the HR person about their decision in the matter of my name. He went to the meeting with me, and it was honestly awesome.

We walked into the room, and as I was sitting down the HR person, looked at me union rep and said “I wasn’t informed you would be here.”

Union Rep: “Well, you shouldn’t be surprised. We have a human rights issue here”

HR person, taken aback now: “…I’ll inform [the CEO].”

At this point, the union rep stood up and walked out, so I went with him. In the hallway outside, he said we should give the employer three days to respond, and after that we would file the official grievance if necessary, but that he expected they would just capitulate.

He also thanked me for being brave enough to do this. I just about could have cried.

This was Thursday the 25th. Three business days passed without any word. At the end of Tuesday the 30th, I got in touch with the union rep to ask what the next steps. The following day was Canada Day, so nothing was going to happen then, but he said that if we heard nothing from the employer (or if we heard another no) on Thursday, he would file the grievance.

They got in touch with him on Thursday to set up a meeting for me, him, the HR person, and the CEO on Friday morning. They did not contact me at all, and I only heard about it on Thursday from my union rep. The meeting was during my regularly scheduled shift, though, so it was no trouble for me to be there.

Read on to part 3: the meeting!

Changing my name at work, Part 1: The Administration

So, I mentioned a few weeks back that my work’s enforcement of name tags spurred me to actually tell them that I’d changed my name, and to ask them to use my real name from now on. It did not go as smoothly as I had hoped. And so this is the first in a series of posts telling the story of what it took to get my name changed at worked.

Back on June 15th, I sent my HR Person a short email letting her know that I had changed my name, and what my new name was. I also made it clear that this was not a legal name change, but that I assumed that wouldn’t be a problem.

The response in its entirety:

Hi [birthname],

We use whatever name is on the identification supplied to us during your payroll sign-up. If we receive formal notification of a legal name change, we will adjust our records accordingly.

So, to be very, very clear, I know for a fact that this is blatantly untrue. I work with many people who go by names other than the one on their id, or who go by versions of their legal name, or their middle name, or whatever. Nevertheless, I didn’t feel like making accusations of bad faith was likely to get me anywhere.

I also noticed that the person I’d emailed didn’t actually have HR in her title, and realized that it was possible I had gotten in touch with the wrong person.

I replied that I understood that they had to keep my legal name on record, and acknowledged that it is what I use for tax purposes and the like, and clarified that I was only seeking a change in informal use, (i.e. how I was referred to at work, and the name on my tag.) I also asked whether I had gotten in touch with the wrong person for handling these informal aspects.

I quickly received a reply (again addressed to my birthname of course) which truly boggles the the mind.

The person I was emailing confirmed that she was, in fact, the HR person, and the correct person for me to be in touch with. She then added:

I discussed your request with the CEO prior to my response to you on June 15. My apologies for not making it clear that I was responding on behalf of the CEO.

We require confirmation of a legal name change in order to adjust our records.

Yeah. Apparently at my workplace right now, HR is not authorized to process name changes without CEO approval. Because that makes total sense, y’all!

And I mean, it’s not like I didn’t know what was going on. The CEO is the person who has been slamming the hammer down hard on making us all wear our name tags, and not to alter them in any way to cover our names, under explicit threats of discipline and veiled threats of firing. I figured she thought I was deliberately kicking up shit, and didn’t want to set a precedent for letting people just say that their name name is something else (although I actually think they should totally be able to do so).

Anyway, I responded with a very long email, explaining my situation in detail. I said that I had changed my name socially over a year ago, that it was what I was called everywhere except for at work. I actually changed my name before starting my current contract, but I applied under my old name in order to have name recognition. I explained that I had originally intended to just ride out this contract under the old name, but that the introduction of name tags in particular had seriously amped up the dysphoria I was experiencing, and that continuing to do so was no longer a reasonable option for me.

I acknowledged that when the name tags were first introduced there had been occasions that I had not worn mine, and that that was because I had trouble getting into the habit. I also acknowledged that I had subsequently covered my name with the word “staff”, as a method of coping with the aforementioned dysphoria. Finally, I pointed out that since the email of the 15th threatening discipline to people who “defaced” their tags in this way, I had been wearing the tag consistently, with my birth name visible, as per the rules.

I also linked them to my facebook, linkedin, and goodreads profiles, as well as my professional development blog, *and* a post introducing me as a new volunteer at the Toronto Multicultural Calendar (dated from before my current contract even started), all under the name Kasey, as evidence that this is actually the name I use and am known by.

I got no response. After two days (i.e. this is Friday the 19th now), I simply sent a little “following up on this” message to make it clear that I was not letting the issue drop.

On Monday, I cracked a little bit and tried to negotiate. I pointed out that in my actual legal name (because they, in fact, only have on file the name I assumed when I got married), my initials are K.C., and asked that since other people go by derivative versions of their real names, could I go by that, or by “Kaycee”.

On Tuesday afternoon, I received a response (which was once again explicitly from the CEO) informing me that my last name was not in question here, and informing me that because, when I was hired, I showed two pieces of id with my birth name, that is what I would be known as at work until such time as I produced a legal name change.

Oh yeah, and also by the way “We now consider this matter to be closed.”

They wish.

Read on with part 2: The Union! Because, believe me, they had an opinion about this, too!

Name Tags, Name Changes, and why is this even an issue?

So at my work, there is this big giant battle between the union and the board underway. Over name tags.


I’m going to try to keep this brief. We are undergoing a major rebranding/public image overall, and everyone is more or less on board with that. And part of that meant we were getting badges to identify us as employees, so people know who can help them with stuff, which is also a good thing and we are all into it.

Those badges also turned out to have our first names on them. Which, I mean, that’s a normal enough thing. I have certainly worn name badges at other jobs in my past. But the normalcy is, to me, fairly irrelevant. Because a bunch of my co-workers really don’t want to wear their names. They are concerned about it from a privacy stand-point, which I think is legitimate and fair enough.

Also, the privacy question directly impacts me more heavily than other people. The name I am using as my first name to work (i.e. my birth name) is extremely uncommon. And it’s also actually me last name, which we’re, y’know not required to give out?

Anyway, people decided they didn’t want to wear name tags, and I found their stance super reasonable. I covered my own name on the badge with “staff”, and other people also took similar steps to comply with badge-wearing, but not the name-revealing. Our union agreed to back us up and have filed a grievance.

I don’t even know why that’s necessary though. I am really annoyed that the board won’t just compromise and give us nameless badges, which we are all in favour of, and which accomplish all the basic goals of name tags. Not only that, but they’re easier to re-use, and less of an issue re: turnover if they don’t have names on them, so probably cheaper? Seriously, this is not that big a deal, nor is it difficult to resolve.

And yet.

We have already had one person called to testify before the labour board, and the conclusion is that being forced to provide your first name is not a privacy concern.

And this morning I was greeted with an email from the CEO letting us know that anyone caught not wearing their name tags (even while on break!) or “defacing” them will be disciplined.

We have been advised by the union rep to simply comply with these stated “conditions of employment” (actual phrase from the email) for the time being, while the issue is negotiated, but I feel like the more principled stance for someone refusing to wear a name tag would be to, um, refuse to do so. If it is indeed a privacy concern, is is a concern even while negotiations are underway. I am wearing the tag with my name on it for today, since I was sort of ambushed by this email (because I’m part-time, I haven’t been at work since Thursday afternoon, and the email was sent Thursday evening, so I’m only getting it now). I’ll figure out what my long term plan is after work today, I guess.

I have six weeks left in my contract here. I can barely be bothered. But also I am very much in solidarity with my co-workers. I don’t think that what they’re asking for is even remotely unreasonable and I don’t understand why the board is being so aggressive about this.

One good thing has come of it, though. I sent an email this morning, as soon as I saw the email from our CEO, to our HR person, to let her know that I have changed/am changing my name, and specifically pointed out my concern about wearing my last name. I will actually start on the legal process today too, but hopefully it won’t matter that I haven’t already done that. Maybe I’ll get to file my own union grievance?

It has been a useful kick in my butt at least. But yeah. Such a mess.

Marriage and surnames: All right, I’ll bite

So the topic of name changes associated with marriage is making the rounds, with a bunch of really strongly articulated opinions and perspectives that I feel like I’d like to deconstruct a little bit.

We’ve got Jill Filipovic writing at the Guardian about how most of the reasons that people women give for changing their names when they get married don’t make any sense (to her, anyway – Melissa over at Shakesville takes down Jill’s dismissal of the reasons pretty soundly). Her article is very focused on the idea that one’s name is one’s identity, which I simply don’t buy. Or at least, I don’t buy that as an argument not to change your name.

Jill’s argument on this point is as follows:

…Jill Filipovic is my name and my identity. Jill Smith is a different person.

That is fundamentally why I oppose changing your name (and why I look forward to the wider legalization of same-sex marriage, which in addition to just being good and right, will challenge the idea that there are naturally different roles for men and women within the marital unit). Identities matter, and the words we put on things are part of how we make them real.

There’s a number of issues with this. The most glaring is her opposition to anyone changing their name being justified by her own personal feelings of identity around her own name. Newsflash: we don’t all have the same relationship with our names as you do with yours, Jill. Further, all of her anti-name change arguments are systematically weakened when she makes points about how she’d like to see man changing their names, and how the existence same-sex marriage will ultimately help straight women escape the patriarchal nature of marriage. I’m not going to probe too far into this, but Jill does seem to argue two contradictory positions throughout the article, wherein she points out problematic nature of the prevalence of women changing their names to match their spouses, and the lack of other viable options (which I generally agree with) by giving reasons why no one should ever change their names (to which I say, wait, what now?).

Ok, but she also points out that the way we label things, and what we choose to call ourselves, are important and meaningful ways of constructing identity. Absolutely, this is true. The words we choose to apply to ourselves, and the ones we eschew, are important. But I don’t think that my last name, in particular, is as important as Jill has made it out to be here. The fact is that if I introduce myself to someone new as Firstname Lastname, regardless of which last name I use, they aren’t going to know whether I am married, or whether my last name is the same as my husband’s. Yes, people who already knew me before I changed my name will note the change, but I would hope that the things they actually know about me and my identity are more important to those people than my damn name, which since I didn’t choose it in the first place, never had all that much to say about me, really. It never identified anything about me other than “this is the name my parents chose to give me”. And it doesn’t carry meaning in the way that other labels that I actively identify with (queer, poly, nonbinary, etc.) do.

But this isn’t even my core objection to Jill’s argument that names shouldn’t be changed because they are tied to identity. Even if I accepted that this tie existed, quite frankly, my identity isn’t static. It’s constantly fluctuating in all kinds of ways. My online personae are multitudinous, dependent on the time of my life when I joined various communities, and many other factors – I only use my real name on the facebook. Thus, the fact that I’ve changed my name before, and I’m toying with doing so again, simply doesn’t make me feel like I’m risking losing my identity.

Ultimately, I think that names are very important to different people for different reasons, and changing your name can be a great way of claiming control over your identity and expressing yourself.

Of course, I don’t really think that it’s valid to say when women change their last name to match their husband’s, it’s a great act of self-expression and control. It’s not, really. It is, in many ways, a great act of acquiescence and conformity to traditions that are inarguably based in fucked up ideas of women as property, of a woman’s identity being truly and entirely contained in first, who her father is, and then later, who her husband is. I mean, that’s pretty not okay, and the degree to which this “tradition” has stayed strong as we’ve managed to change and redefine so many other aspects of how marriage works is baffling and disturbing to me, truly.

Not least because it’s so often men that are so strongly attached to the idea of the women they marry changing their names. Confidential to the dudes out there: if you’re the one who cares so damn much about you and your future wife having the same name, you should fucking well be willing to go through the effort and sacrifice of changing your own damn name. If you’re unwilling to consider this option, either a) it’s not actually that important to you, or b) you think it’s really important to have control over that aspect of your wife’s identity, which is creepy and misogynist, and indicates that you actually don’t see her as your equal.

That said, I have the same last name as my husband (a cis man, no less!), and I’m the one who changed my name to make it so. It’s never been a choice I’ve been 100% comfy with, because, yeah, I know all of the above to be true. I’m also not entirely sure where I fit in this conversation, as a nonbinary person, but for the purposes of this post I’ll have to admit that in general, my husband and I benefit from het cis privilege, even though neither of as are straight, and only one of us is cis. We just do, and even though I carry classic queer guilt about, I’m not going to give up what we have on the basis of that guilt (nor do I think any reasonable people would actually suggest I should).

And knowing all of that, I changed my name. For a lot of reasons, really. But at the heart, it came down to something really prosaic and simple: it happened that I had been wanting to shed my existing last name anyway when we decided to get married (for reasons that aren’t important here, but suffice to say for Jill’s sake, that due to the nature of my name, I’ve always felt my identity was more strongly tied to my fairly unique first name than my surname). And where I live, you can change your name to match your spouse’s really easily (and for free!), while the process of changing your name in any other way, for any other reason is far more laborious, involves a lot of hoop jumping and paying some fees. And I am damn lazy – even taking the easy route, it took a couple of years to get most of my IDs updated, and my passport is still in my old name (and I’m still registered at school under my old name, with no plans to change that. I have reasons!).

Yup, I bought into the tradition because institutional sexism makes it easier to make that choice than to exercise any of the other options Jill presents (all of which I think are valid, I should say. I particularly love the idea of a newly married couple picking their own surname and both changing their names – I’m just saying that these options are not as easily exercised, and generally involve getting your birth certificate altered). And it really is as simple as that.

So my point here is that if we want to change the choices people are making, we need to change the system. We have to make all of the choices equally accessible, and we have to acknowledge that the whole name-change-upon-marriage phenomenon is not just about buying into societal biases, and taking the easy route in terms of not pushing back against societal norms, it’s about taking the easy route institutionally as well.

Despite (and also because of?) all of this, I am still considering a brand new name change – though my existing first name is rare enough that I occasionally get people who don’t immediately assume a gender when it’s the only information they have on me (the fact that it’s technically a surname probably contributes to this), most people who see the name associate it pretty strongly with the gender I was assigned at birth. And in fact, everyone I’ve ever heard of with the name has been of that gender.

That said, as I noted above I’m actually quite attached to my first name as a part of my identity, so if I were to change my first name to something more gender-neutral, I’d also make my current first name into my new surname (I’d be Kasey [current first name], which I kind of like).

The idea of changing my surname in this way really intrigues me, actually. I was given the name I have because the patrilineal surname tradition was going to kill off a branch of our family. There were no male heirs to the name, and since there’s clearly no other way to pass on a surname, (no matter how important it is to the family to keep the name alive, apparently) the name was totally necessarily changed into a first name, and bequeathed to me. To change the name back into a surname, as it should rightfully be, would be a wonderful, mildly subversive, feminist act for me, especially if it were combined with passing the name on to my child/ren. And it would totally make up for the guilt I’ve felt about my prior name change, at least.

But, as I say, I am lazy. So this is a thing I’ll probably be sitting on for a while. We shall see!