By Mary Mullalond, Chair of Faculty Professional Development and Co-Advisor to Out-Space

As a teacher I possess tremendous power to make a [student’s] life miserable or joyous. I can be tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.

–Hiam Ginott

What would happen to you if your instructor read your name wrong or called you by pronouns that you don’t use for yourself? Would you be confused, hurt, angry?

Now imagine that you’re one of our transgender students. If your instructor read your legal name, instead of the name you’ve chosen for yourself to correspond with your gender identity, what would that mean for you?

It would mean that you’ve just been outed as transgender to your entire class, which would mean you’re at an increased risk of violence or physical assault. It could mean that you no longer feel safe attending this class and earning your education. It could mean that you feel so invalidated by your community that you consider suicide.

Any name that shows up in parentheses on your class roster is a student’s Preferred Name. A preferred name could be a nickname a student prefers, a religious name that has recently been taken, or a name that better reflects a student’s gender.


Names are always tricky that first week of class. You have to take attendance and pronunciations can be challenging, but for some of our students, names are more than just a potential source of embarrassment or confusion. For some our students, the correct name used can mean the difference between life and death.

Interested in creating a more inclusive and safe environment for your students? Consider these suggestions:

  • Have students self-disclose their preferred names and pronouns on index cards or pieces of paper. You can then collect those cards to take attendance.
  • Avoid using pronouns with students until you have met with them one-on-one and asked what pronouns they prefer you use.
  • Apologize quickly and correct yourself if you accidentally use the wrong pronoun or name.


One Response to What’s in a Name?

  • Susan

    Thank you, Mary. This was both thoughtful and informative.