employee doesn’t want to use a name for themselves

A reader writes:

I manage a team of twelve people within an exponentially larger organization. One of my employees has chosen to longer use a name. Due to past family trauma, they find their old (dead) name painful but have yet to settle on a replacement, preferring to be called nothing at all. While I 100% support this personally, I’m finding that it’s causing issues professionally.

For the most part, the team is supportive. People try their best not to dead name this individual but have some difficulty with communication, especially in group situations. Examples:

We have an open office plan with individual desks as well as task-specific stations. Everyone is within earshot, so typically, if one person needs to speak to someone else, we address them by their name (“Hey, Moira…”) which allows everyone else to tune out. However, with this employee, one now needs to hover over their desk to get their attention, followed by the “prairie dog effect” of everyone else bobbing and swiveling to determine if they’re being spoken to.

Meetings and group discussions aren’t a problem if everyone is in a circle making eye contact, but that’s never going to happen. This is a key employee whose expertise is often sought, but it can be hard to navigate around how to address them and get their attention. Often other team members often slip up and say things like, “DeadName, could you weigh in on this?” Obviously, it hurts this employee’s feelings to be deadnamed, but people find it hard to address them or single them out in a group situation without a name, especially if it’s hard to make eye contact.

There’s also an issue of how to reference them. For example, people from other departments frequently ask me who oversees a project. For another employee, I’d just say, “That would be Twyla,” but that doesn’t work here. Usually, I give their job title but have gotten pushback because our duties are flexible and, technically, they are not the only person with that job title. Also, if it’s a new questioner, they inevitably ask what the employee’s name is, which leads to a discussion I feel out of place having. Or they want to know who they are, which means I must lead them to the employee in question and introduce them. (Pointing or descriptions seem awkward.)

This is true for written communication, too:

Unfortunately, the techs at our home office cannot find a workaround for the company convention of firstname.lastname @ company. com, which means that people (usually from outside the team) who don’t know this employee, will address emails to “Hi, DeadName.” This is upsetting to the employee. Also, we cannot come up with a professional-sounding solution for their email signature without a name.

We do team emails in which people are assigned tasks for a particular project. It usually looks like:
David: Can you please adjust the copy of the attached presentation and pass it to Stevie to proofread?
Stevie: After proofreading, please pass to Alexis for publication…

The only acceptable workaround I’ve found for this is a blank space underline like: “____: Please check the numbers on the presentation and add your analysis.”

We order weekly coffee and pastries from the cafe downstairs, and there’s been drama over names on the cups. If I’m the one ordering, I ask the barista to just put a happy face or star on the employee’s order, but often it’s not me and other team members forgets. Or sometimes the barista insists on following their corporate policy of a name on every cup. (Fictional character names work for that. Congrats, you’re “Hagrid.”)

Here’s the crux: my grandboss feels strongly that, for office purposes, this employee needs to “just pick a name and stick with it.” While this feels morally/interpersonally wrong to me, I’m not sure how I can push back. HR seems flummoxed by the situation but suggested we be “as accommodating as possible within reason.” Do you have any advice as to how to best navigate these issues or deal with the grandboss’s ruling?

Yeah, they need to have a way to be referenced at work. I don’t agree with your boss that they have to permanently stick with whatever they select, but they do need to pick something so that other people can function efficiently, even if they change it down the road.

It’s not reasonable to expect a business to function without a way to refer to individual employees.

They can use an initial or other letter, a nickname, or a placeholder name, but they need to designate some way for other people to refer to them while they’re settling on a more permanent replacement.

Read an update to this letter here

{ 956 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Since there’s some confusion on this below: I believe the employee has dropped their first, middle, and last names (so using middle or last is not an option).

    And a request: Serious suggestions only, please.

  2. Lumos*

    Would referring to them as their surname be helpful? If that’s not also triggering for them, that is. My husband often goes by his surname because he has a very common first name and it avoid confusion.

    1. fposte*

      Oh, good thought. I was also thinking that the job title might help. Ordinarily I’d cringe at that kind of usage (“Assistant, come here!”) but here it’s one of the few workarounds for a challenging situation.

        1. BDUnknown*

          Yeah but they’d be the only person called “Assistant” so it would be clear who was being referred to. Or use the department name, or a combo. This is also a very easy fix for the email, and it can also be permanent. Something like CommsAssistant@work.com.

          1. Antilles*

            I wonder how well that would work.
            When an outsider sends an email to CommsAssistant, the natural assumption will be that it’s a generic group email address – similar to when I’m sending an email to “IT” or “Support” or whatever. And when I get an email from CommsAssistant with no name attached, I’m going to be immediately asking for your name because I generally want to follow up with you in particular rather than any random CommsAssistant.

            1. MsM*

              I think it depends how much sensitive email this person gets. If it’s going to be a lot, then maybe the title needs tweaking in some way so it’s clearly unique to them, or they should just go with some kind of temporary personal designation. If not…does it really matter if they have to use the departmental inbox until they’ve settled on something?

            2. FINRA*

              It may not be legally allowed. Some regulatory bodies require emails to be firstname.lastname @company.com so that in the event of an investigation, key perpetrators and witnesses can be identified. Imagine a bank engaging in redlining. Knowing that all instances of redlining involved one particular loan officer would be a different situation from knowing that it was a departmental policy every loan officer participated in. If one loan officer is using the email LoanOfficer @bank.com, that could make it appear that anyone and everyone was participating or give plausible deniability to the one who was doing it alone.

          2. Amaranth*

            The only thing I can come up with that doesn’t sound depersonalizing is if the employee’s title is abbreviated to initials, so its a pseudo-name but doesn’t have any triggering associations. For instance, Admin Clerk becomes A.C. Or they can pick a physical attribute like eye color and go by “B.E.” or “Blue” etc. I’m all for not dead naming, but the employee needs to work with them a little bit — clients and IT need something to know how to direct information. Maybe they could just use their extension number “457 you have a phone call” — but I expect if someone is put through then they will spend a lot of time fielding “oh, can I have your name for my notes?” kinds of inquiries.

    2. Charlie*

      I’d guess they no longer use the surname either based upon the letter saying it’s due to “family trauma.”

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think “has chosen to longer use a name” means no last name either. If that’s wrong, last name is definitely the way to go. But it sounds very likely that at the moment the person has no first OR last name.

      1. supertoasty*

        I think this is the case, especially given OP’s phrasing of “has chosen to longer use a name” without clarifications of “first” or “last,” as well as the context of family trauma which would support, at the very least, not using their surname.

      2. Carrots4All*

        Given the context of trauma, this person *may* on some level feel they don’t deserve a name. Rather than approach this from the “you have to have a name” perhaps approaching it from “can you help us find a way for all of us to refer to you in a way that is clear for our team, the outside team, and vendors. we do not want to deadname you. We value you and want you to be included. It is not feasible to not refer to you at all, which is what happens when there is no name.”

        My friend who has a placeholder name stuggles with feeling valid as a person due to some mental issues they are open and honest about. They have the placeholder that they do not particularly like because as they say, they don’t “feel” like any of the current suggestions on their maybe list. Of the ones they did like, someone else they knew “took” the name and they don’t feel like they want to identify with the person who has the other name.

        1. Momma Bear*

          This is what I was thinking if surname was not available. Or a nickname from some fandom they like, or a work-appropriate version of an online username. But I do think also that management needs to understand that this is a process and Employee may adjust their name down the road. Maybe ask Manager to see it like a woman getting married or divorced and using a new name. IT can adjust that, so IT can work with a new name/profile later.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            You’d think IT could adjust that, but I used to work for a major multinational tech company where no one’s name ever got changed if they married/divorced/changed names because IT *couldn’t* work with it. People just had email aliases that reflected the wrong name, forever. It was coming to a head around the time I left the company because trans people were rightfully bringing up that 1. that was fucked up in a way that impacted primarily people who were already marginalized and 2. this was a *major tech company* and you’re telling us no one can figure out how to change an email alias???

            The university I went to was the same way — someone in my grad student cohort got divorced and changed her name and it took IT over a year to figure out how to change her alias. A friend got a permanent job in university admin and didn’t want to keep using the cheeky email alias she picked at age 19, and they acted like she’d asked them to part the red sea.

            1. Tech nerd*

              Can change names just fine, but the fields “first name” and “last name” can’t both be blank, and email system automatically provisions an account for “firstname”.”lastname”@”domain.com”

      3. turquoisecow*

        Yeah if it’s a family trauma I could see them not wanting to use a name that the rest of their family does. I’ve seen this before where people legally change their last name because they don’t want to be associated with their parents or other family members who abused them or whatever.

    4. Names are hard*

      Yeah, I like this! Or if they’re planning to change their surname as well, what about JD? It can internally be thought of as an abbreviation for John/Jane Doe – just a placeholder until they choose a name- but still sounds enough like a typical name that it wouldn’t create confusion with clients

      1. Person from the Resume*

        Good idea.

        I was thinking Joe/Jo from from John/Jane Doe but since often a name change is gender related Joe/Jo can be either gender or gender perhaps gender neutral.

        Or “X” perhaps as again marking unknown/undecided.

        But the business absolutely needs a way to reference their employee for the reasons the LW describes.

      2. lemon*

        Good suggestion.

        Or maybe “NN” or “Double N” for “No Name.”

        I respect where the employee is coming from but…. people gotta be able to call you *something*.

        1. Katurah B*

          What about a set of numbers?
          “Hey 1914,did u want coffee?”
          To a new hire: “Here’s the break room. Oh, and this is Sharon, Betty, and 1914.”

          1. ex-barista*

            I used to be a barista and I had a regular customer who would only use the name “23.” I never found out what it was for– only that it *wasn’t* because he was a Michael Jordan fan.

          2. Tired Cat*

            I’m wondering what it says on this person’s paycheck and tax forms, because those will have to have names. But I like the idea of using numbers.

        2. High School Teacher*

          When we couldn’t pick a name for our newborn right away we joked about calling him “Noname” pronounced non-a-may. And as an English teacher who frequently teaches The Odyssey, I want to suggest Nohbdy, but that might as confusing for everyone else as it was for the Cyclopes.

          I do think “JD” is a pretty good placeholder suggestion!

          1. Another ADDer*

            “Noname” pronounced non-a-may is what a friend of a friend named his cat, because that was what its placard at the shelter he got it from said.

            1. Sasha*

              We spent a long time in Thailand wondering what “Noname fritters” were – some kind of Japanese-style fritter? Was “Noname” the Thai word for sweetcorn?

              Nope, turned out they were just normal sweetcorn fritters with “no name”.

              (“Tonight! Tic! Tac! Nic!” turned out to be a typo for the movie Titanic being played on tv over dinner. Also way less thrilling than it sounded).

              1. Noname*

                Love Was “Noname” the Thai word for sweetcorn?
                My husband’s favorite dish is one we call “the dish with no name”

                Also, when I went to post this, I saw :

                Name (Required)

    5. Homebody*

      Honestly I think the kindest action that could be done for an employee that is very obviously going through a lot of trauma is to offer EAP and time off to figure things out.

      1. Hills to Die On*

        Yeah, if you are so traumatized that you are struggling to function in the world with something as basic as Any Unique Identifier…maybe it’s time to go on leave until you can deal with reality. They are obviously struggling. I say that as a person who hated her last name, had plenty of trauma, etc. Sometimes you just need to stop and regroup.

        1. owen*

          If there are financially feasible options for both person and business that make some time off possible, it’s worth making sure they know the options exist, but make sure it’s presented as a choice for them, not anything stronger. Sometimes you need time off to regroup. Sometimes you need something to hold on to like a job routine to give yourself time out from the internal struggling, and you don’t want the person to be feeling… pushed into taking time out if it could be destructive (or even just not helpful) to them.

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        Agreed. If this is for real then this person is clearly going through something on a level where going along with it, as though refusing to have *any name at all* is a workable request, seems… I don’t know. I hope they have access to help outside of the workplace but pointing them towards any resources the company can provide would be the right thing to do here, I think.

      3. Sharikacat*

        There needs to be a line between “we are super-accommodating as your employer” because they care about their employees and the employee needing to get their own life sorted. While this isn’t an ADA case, even that has the limit of “reasonable accommodations.” Even a reasonable accommodation doesn’t necessarily end up being a perfect solution, just something that works, more or less.

        At what point does the problems of having a no-name employee outweigh the team’s need to conduct regular business? The employee is at risk of isolating themselves from colleagues if their coworkers cut down on contact with the employee for not having a clear way to communicate with them.

      4. justabot*

        Agreed. This honestly sounds more like an employee’s mental health issue than a workplace blog issue. Not wanting to be referred to by any name at all feels like a much bigger issue than what to write on a coffee cup. I don’t know if anyone here is qualified to be advising or giving advice.

    6. Tori*

      How are they getting paid / receiving letters. Surely banks etc require some naming information. Cant you use the same system that they are using for that.

      1. missy*

        It sounds like they their legal name is still their dead name, which will probably be the case until they have chosen a new name and go through a name change. So using their legal name would be dead naming them.

        1. MrPotPuffer*

          While that may be the case, without choosing any new name, what other option is there? Its either a nickname chosen by the no-name coworker or someone else, or using the dead name. Maybe I would use “no-name” or something. But me assigning a name to someone feels weird. Not sure if there’s any other solution. Names serve a purpose and we all have to have one to some extent.

    7. SixTigers*

      I’d come up with a nickname for the person. S/he refused to choose something; some sort of identifier is definitely needed; I’m going to pick something.

      “You have lovely red hair; Imma call you Red.”
      “We have to have some way to identify you, so I’m going to call you Scout.”
      AJ. Tige. Tanner. Something that’s non-gender and easily discarded when the person decides on hizzer real name.

  3. ThisIsNotADupliucateComment*

    I think the simple fact that this letter is so long is proof that this isn’t practical. Or sustainable.

    1. Swisa*

      Could they just use the employee’s title? It would be complicated if more than one person has the same title, but if not, may help?

        1. Reeny*

          I still think it could work, though. For example, if this person is one of several Project Managers, the other Project Managers all go by their name, presumably. So, this person could be the only one that people refer to as “Project Manager” as a name. (There are a a few more logistics, involved, I’m sure, but I think using a title could work for the interim.)

          1. Lance*

            For an in-office thing, this may work, but it sounds like the employee deals with outside people on several occasions; I’m having a hard time being certain that it could work for those sorts of scenarios.

            1. Scout*

              Right. If they tell outside people that this person is referred to as Project Manager, that is going to create a lot of attention and questions. No Name Employee likely doesn’t want that, and it’s going to lose them a lot of time.

          2. Mockingjay*

            Unless you’re pooled staff assigned to tasks as each comes in. We have three such pools in the large program I support. I myself work on one particular project most of time, but pick up work from other projects as needed. I have three other teammates with the same title as mine and they rotate assignments and projects all the time. People may ask for a “generic” tech writer or technician for a project, but once assigned, we are referred to by name to follow task progress to completion.

            No name also causes problems with emails, phone calls, and database and server accesses – how do you assign no name to a user group? How would the moderator call on this employee in a Teams meeting? How does HR or Payroll notify this person about sensitive matters?

            This is a case in which the employee’s personal request has a real impact on how a business functions, to the point it may impede or prevent them from doing their job.

            Please follow Alison’s advice: the employee has to pick something to be called.

          3. Analytical Tree Hugger*

            I’m wondering if it would be viable to combine job title and AAM’s idea to use initials. For example, if the title is Project Manager, have the employee go by P.M.

            So, you can still refer to “(generic) Project Manager for this project will be…” while also having a unique identifier for the employee that isn’t a personal commitment

          4. LMB*

            That could work in some situations but not others. I imagine someone from another department calling the manager and asking “whom should I contact with a question about the big teapot project?” “That would be Project Manager.” “Ok, who is the project manager?” “Project Manager.” “Yes but who is the project manager?” And on and on until it’s a full on Abbott and Costello routine.

            1. EventPlannerGal*

              Depending on how frustrated other employees are with the situation, I think that after a few rounds of “but who is the project manager??” “I told you, it’s Project Manager!” eventually someone would just end up using the old name. Eg:

              Client: “I know it’s the project manager, but who is the project manager???”
              Colleague: “Okay, do you remember [deadname]? They don’t want anyone using their name any more so everyone has to call them Project Manager.”

              I feel for the employee but they’re sort of shooting themselves in the foot here – surely the question of But What Is This Person’s Name?? must be a pretty major topic of conversation at their workplace, far more so than if they were like “for now please call me TJ”. Just a really unfortunate situation.

            1. GammaGirl1908*

              Here just to see how long it took for a “formerly known as Prince” comment, because that was all I thought while reading the letter :D

              I have no suggestions, because this is a challenging situation. I agree with those who think perhaps the employee should take some sanctioned and supported time off to try to resolve as much as possible and get to a place where regular life, obviously including things like a name, is more manageable before coming back.

        2. TootsNYC*

          give them the year or month they joined, the way people do with duplicate email addresses?
          CommsAssistant2019

    2. L.H. Puttgrass*

      I think this (and what Alison says) is the answer: the employee doesn’t have to use the name they now hate, and they don’t have to pick a “forever name,” but they need to pick some name for people to call them. It’s just too impractical to go without a name entirely.

      1. Chief Petty Officer Tabby*

        Yeah, that was my first thought: this person needs to pick something to be called in the office. I’m all for exploring new names that better suit you (I’ve done it several times, though I’ve never changed mu legal name), but you CANNOT leave everyone around you confused as to what to call you. It’s rude.

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          I’ve gone by numerous nicknames over the years, many of which bear no resemblance to my legal name. So long as folks know who someone’s talking about when they ask for me, it doesn’t really matter what name I choose to be called.

      2. Lacey*

        Yes, they just need to pick something they can live with for now. Names change, it’s fine, but not having a name at all is clearly not going to work.

        1. Aggresuko*

          Yeah, this is flabbergastingly ridiculous. Call them “Placeholder” at “placeholder@yxzcorp.com” if you have to, but WE HAVE TO HAVE SOME WAY TO REFER TO YOU AND IT’S NOT A BLANK SPACE. That is just beyond ridiculous to have to maintain.

            1. Koalafied*

              It’s very common for people who have changed their names to have to use their old name on legal/financial documents for some amount of time after they stop answering to it/introducing themselves with it – the process of changing your name legally is lengthy and onerous. It’s pretty hostile towards trans individuals to insist on using their legal name socially when they’ve specifically stopped going by it socially… the much less common trouble here is that this person gave up their old name without replacing it with a new one.

              1. Canterlot*

                Yes. I’ve a couple of times learned of the existence of someone’s deadname only when I process their tax documents. They might have a name that they’ve used personally and professionally for many years, long after transitioning, but the legal name change is such a pain that they still file their taxes under deadname. It’s a pretty common situation.

                Weirdly, most states make it SUPER easy to change a last name at marriage. But for anything else, they really have you jump some hoops.

              2. Katurah B*

                Same here. Going through a divorce and I’m changing my 1st name instead of my last name. But since he hasn’t filed yet and won’t until he feels like it… I’m just using my new name already. Its free to change in the divorce settlement but almost $500 if I do it separately. I’ll wait…

              3. Nina*

                > the process of changing your name legally is lengthy and onerous

                We may be in different jurisdictions, but I didn’t find it so. I mailed in the paperwork, got a name change certificate, and played whack-a-mole for a while by sending a copy of the certificate to every institution that sent me mail for the next few months.

                1. Lanlan*

                  You didn’t try to do this during the early days of COVID. My name change went through in November 2019 and I was still changing paperwork clear into 2021. To the point where my first two COVID vaxes are on a card with my deadname (because I didn’t have my health insurance swapped yet!) and my booster is on a card with my new one. The state did change it on my official record of vaccination, though, so my vax passport is all under NewName.

          1. Miss Cathy*

            At last! Someone who wrote what I’m thinking. I can’t believe it’s gone on so long without a manager insisting that they have to pick something, anything. Being accommodating is remembering not to use the name they used to have, and setting up a new email, and allowing them to change their name again in the future.

    3. Gothic Bee*

      Yeah, I can really sympathize with this person. I hate hearing people call me by name and I really do wish I could just be like “do not call me anything” but that is fully impractical for all of the reasons outlined in this letter. Personally I’ve started using my initials and that’s been a bit more tolerable for me, but this person does need to use some sort of personal identifier, even if it’s just initials or a single letter.

      Maybe bringing it up as a “Work Name” (or initials) rather than making it feel like the employee needs to figure out their personal forever name would help. And emphasize that you’re happy to change again at some point in the future if the employee decides on a permanent name they wish to go by everywhere.

      1. Jora Malli*

        I like this. Names are really personal and important, and I can understand why this employee is struggling right now to figure out what’s going to define them for the rest of their life. But by framing it as their Work Name, OP can give them some breathing room to figure out what they want to be called on their own time without the ticking clock of work requirements.

      2. Cait*

        I think maybe even a letter or 2-3 letters would be a good compromise. They don’t even have to be associated with their dead name whatsoever. I’ve always thought the letter M seemed strong but friendly. Q always seemed quirky and fun. C always seemed approachable. So I’d just recommend choosing whatever letter speaks to them and ask they consider that.

      3. Aerin*

        I really like this idea. Think of it like a stage name or a pen name, or like a woman who is fine with “Mrs. MarriedName” socially but goes by “Ms. MaidenName” professionally. (Hell, I’ve gone by Aerin in certain classes before because there was someone else with my real name.) They don’t have to use it outside work at all, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be something they love or even that they’re 100% comfortable with. “Not upsetting” may be the first bar you have to aim for. And really, the current solution isn’t solving anything, because they’re still getting deadnamed, and it’s making the subject of their name an ongoing Thing that could threaten to undermine and overshadow their work. Until they pick *something*, it’s going to be a focal point in a way that cannot be helping them.

        I also don’t think your grandboss is necessarily wrong to point out that having this person changing names over and over would cause problems. But two more name changes (one now and one when they pick a permanent name) should be manageable.

        You’re trying really hard to be accommodating, but it would be totally reasonable to sit this person down and say, “We’re not in any way trying to rush you in this very important decision, but our current attempt at a temporary solution is not actually keeping you from being deadnamed, and it’s causing a lot more problems and confusion besides. We need to come up with *a* name, even just initials, that we can safely call you here at work, even if it doesn’t really feel like it’s *your* name yet and you don’t use it anywhere else. It should also be something you can stick with until you’ve settled on a permanent name, whether that’s in two months or two years. Once you’ve made that choice we’re happy to update all your materials again, we just can’t realistically do that very many times.”

        1. Varthema*

          When having a conversation about it with them, the OP could even refer to it as a “handle” which might feel lower stakes than “name.” “What would you like your handle here at work to be?”

      4. AnotherLibrarian*

        Yes, I think you can have empathy for the employee, but also recognize that this isn’t a sustainable solution. The idea of a “work name” is , I think, a very good compromise.

      5. Not your typical admin*

        I agree with choosing a “work name”. Just simply ask them what they would like to be referred to at work. It can be initials, a name, or anything to distinguish them at work. When they finally choose a new legal name they can continue to go by their work name, or change to their legal name. My father for years went by his middle name socially and his first name professionally.

    4. Anonys*

      Having a name is just so wrapped up in how we identify people – it’s simply not possible not to have a name. It’s the first thing we ask when we meet someone new, you cannot have a birth certificate without one – our personhood begins with being named. This close entanglement between name and identity is exactly why it’s such a terrible and painful thing to deadname someone – it is associating someone with an identity they no feel comfortable with or that is painful to them. But it’s also why it’s simply not possible or practical to go through life without such a verbal and written identifier of oneself, even temporarily.

      As much as I think every effort needs to be made not to deadname anyone who has changed their name for gender/trauma/family or any other reasons, I can understand why many others still think of this employee as “deadname” – making the mental switch from Moira to Alexis is fairly easy, even if it might take some getting used to, but not associating someone with a name at all anymore is pretty impossible (I’m not saying I consider this an excuse to deadname the employee – I am just saying mentally it is hard to remove the association with the deadname without an alternative to take its place).

      1. Anonys*

        In fact, even Ask a Manager tells me a name is required in order to comment so that I can be identified and distinguished from other commenters – it can not be left blank though of course it can be as nonsensical or meaningful or generic as I like.

      2. Aggresuko*

        Yeah, I’m having some similar issues with someone at my volunteer job. Not that they are going nameless but they are being weird about which name they are using where and not informing everyone about one of them, and the guy running the business said to me the other day, “I wish they’d just introduced themselves as NewName from the getgo.”

        “The Employee Formerly Known As Deadname” can’t be used, but kind of comes to mind…”BlankSpace” is the best we can do here, I guess?

              1. Tertia*

                Yes, that’s the book. But in the US, at least, the title is now “And Then There Were None.”

      3. Rolly*

        “Having a name is just so wrapped up in how we identify people ”

        Yup, and it’s not just people. It’s any thing that needs to be referred to in a unique way. Rooms have “names.” Computers on networks have names. Specific days have names (the date).

        A name is necessary.

        1. Allornone*

          My organization has been fortunate enough to have acquired a building all to ourselves to provide in-house youth services. Because most of the cost was provided through grant funding, every room, corridor, etc, is named after various foundations, agencies, and VIP donors. Heck, even the hallways are named. The building ITSELF is named- “The [donor foundation name] Center for Excellence.” I have to use that name in grant proposals all the time. I admit, I kind of like it. Makes everything seem more official and important.

        2. Worldwalker*

          Not just names, but distinctive names. If your house has two bedrooms, they have to be something like “the big bedroom” and “the small bedroom”; otherwise “I left it in the bedroom” leads to the question of “which ONE?”. That house has an address on a street in a town, a country, etc. (and in the UK, before street addresses, houses were known by … you guessed it … names) The human equivalent is having three people in the office named Dave, and they have become Dave S., Dave from Accounting, and The Other Dave.

          Every few years, I re-read “Swiss Family Robinson.” Early in the book, the family decides on names for the various places and landmarks for the area around them. They needed to have a way to refer to them.

          We name mountains and rivers, cats and dogs, animate and inanimate objects. We *need* a name to refer to them by — to mean this one and not that other one. Our entire system of communication requires names.

          1. TootsNYC*

            We have a storage closet in the basement of our apartment building. It has three main shelving units.
            I would say “the unit closet to the door,” and somehow my husband just didn’t get it.
            I got annoyed and said, “This set of shelves is Fred.”

            Then we decidded to rearrange everything in the wake of Hurricane Ida (see that name?) flooding, and suddenly we were trying to talk about moving things from one set of shelves to the other, so I found it so much easier to name the second set of shelves–George. Then, I needed to be able to say, “let’s take this off of George, and put it on the shelves opposite, the ones on the wall,” and it was easier to just call them Shirley.

        3. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

          WE have names, on here, so that you can tell Rolly from Elspeth McGillicuddy. We have to, because we need identifiers.

          Species have names, diseases have names, cities and brands and stars have names. If a human wants to tell one thing from another, it gets a name.

      4. AnotherLibrarian*

        Yes, it places the intellectual labor of coming up with a solution on all the people around the employee. If I can’t call them Moira (the name I’ve been calling them for years potentially) and I don’t have another name to call them, the work of what to do falls on the person trying to communicate. It’s not okay to Deadname people, but it also isn’t okay to expect people to work around this situation without giving them some sort of solution. We have names for places and people for a reason.

    5. Alice's Rabbit*

      Agreed. Also, I am very concerned by an employee who is so deeply traumatized by their own name that they’d rather go by nothing at all than either their legal name or a new moniker of their own choosing. If this company offers counseling or if that’s covered under medical benefits, this employee definitely needs to take advantage of that service. Not because there’s anything wrong with wanting to change your name if it helps you move past something. But because if the concept of your own name is so traumatizing you can’t even pick something else to go by, then this person has a lot of hurt inside and needs help working through it. You can’t really function in society without people having something to call you.

  4. Crazybooklady*

    While this might be a bit formal, what is wrong with referring to the employee as Ms/Mr/Mx last name? It would be correct, and a lot less awkward than what is going on now.

    1. Takki*

      If they’re transitioning and dropped the name entirely, a gendered title on a deadname would probably be a bit insulting.

      I’m thinking this person needs to be pulled aside and informed that if they don’t choose something to be called, they’re going to start using ‘one who is unnamed’ because they need to call this person something. Or if this person has some very close co-workers, maybe a work-naming ceremony (something silly and lighthearted done over drinks at happy hour) would solve the problem – but that wold depend entirely on the relationships this person has with their co-workers.

      1. Momma Bear*

        Isn’t Mx. gender neutral? It was one of Crazybooklady’s suggestions.

        Maybe Mx. and a nickname in place of a surname?

        I do like the idea above about a work name. I have a coworker whose legal name is very long and they shortened it for professional purposes. That is not unheard of. HR needs to know the legal name but they can otherwise have an alias for clients and coworkers.

        1. Lexi Lynn*

          If the office is one where all the cubicals have numbers, maybe using that would work for now. Back in the office days, we used to have maintenance people refer to us by our cube number ‘B92, I need to change out the light bulb.”

    2. Kate*

      My first thought was just referring to this individual as “Mx” for the time being. It’s a gender neutral title without a name.

      It would likely have to be temporary since it is likely that there are other nonbinary people in the office, but for awhile it could work, assuming this person will be choosing a new name for themselves.

    1. Aphra*

      Fantastic! This is the best suggestion I’ve seen and it’s about as neutral as a name can be. I love it!

  5. Hopeful Ex Librarian*

    I have nothing advice-y to add, but I absolutely love the Schitt’s Creek references throughout this! :D

    1. IrishMN*

      Not sure if this has been suggested, but would the employee be okay with a number? I realize for some people that could be dehumanizing, but I think it doesn’t carry the mental weight of a name. It would also be a good placeholder since it’s unusual and people would probably be able to adjust more quickly once the employee chooses a name. Maybe they have an employee ID? Or it could be super generic like “123”?
      (After writing this I’m starting to think “The Employee” might be a good option too?)

        1. Endorable*

          That’s exactly what I was thinking… but there are 12.. :). Or they could go GOT and be ‘no one’ :). At any rate this person is being ridiculous.

      1. owen*

        i think a problem with numbers could be that (assuming for the moment) this person is okay being known as a number, it might actually be a problem for the other people they interact with. So say the nameless employee is all right with being known as 819 for example, their colleagues could (legitimately) be quite upset about being forced to use what they feel is frequently in our society a dehumanising reference for their colleague.

        A little bit of discomfort would be one thing – push through it to give your nameless colleague some relief. And maybe that’s the way it would be! Or with no discomfort at all for the person’s colleagues and clients.

        But there could be any number of genuinely traumatic reasons this could be bad for people around the nameless one, and I don’t think that potentially pushing that trauma onto other people is a fair solution…. it would need to be handled carefully if this is a route they would like to go.

      2. ASK*

        A number seems gender neutral and hopefully non-triggering for this employee. I love the Umbrella Academy and I would personally go by Five if I was in this situation.

      3. Gimble*

        I think that’s great for internal use, but unfortunately it doesn’t solve the issue of clients, etc.

      4. Run mad; don't faint*

        “I am No. 2”
        “Who is No. 1?”
        “You are No. 6.”

        (Ah, the difference the presence of a comma [or not] makes.)

    2. cacwgrl*

      100% I came to the comments for this exact reason. Well done LW. I honestly might have scrolled through it because I don’t feel I can contribute a solution but I wanted to see how many names came in to play.

    1. Maya*

      “Lorem” as in “Lorem ipsum“ might work but I fear people would like it too much to switch to the new name once it has been decided upon.

      1. Pants*

        I think Ipsum sounds kinda cool.

        There has to be a kid out there named Lorem Ipsum, right? I mean, there’s a poor kid named with punctuation marks by their narcissistic loony parents.

      2. L.H. Puttgrass*

        I really like that name. If I were changing mine, I’d give Lorem Ipsum serious consideration.

        Among other things, it would probably make me all but un-googlable.

      3. Ann Onymous*

        I like this idea. I was also going to suggest finding the word for “colleague” or “friend” in another language. It would provide a unique way to refer to this person that is kind and respectful but maybe wouldn’t feel so much like choosing a new name if the person isn’t comfortable doing that yet.

      4. Zephy*

        I feel like people will misread/mishear that as Loren/Lauren. If that’s nowhere close to ___’s deadname and there isn’t a gender thing at play here (most Loren/Laurens are female-presenting), maybe that’s okay? But they should at least try to get ___’s buy-in for whatever solution they come up with.

      5. Jolie*

        That may be too much of a silly pun to work, but I was thinking if they are OK with feminine names they could be Ann Onymous.

      1. Anone*

        How does NoName function in life, outside of the office? Banking? Renting or buying property? Education? Taxes?

        1. ShanShan*

          I mean, they function the same way trans people who haven’t legally changed their name yet function: they use their unpreferred name and feel crappy about it.

          Lots of people use names for legal documents that they have no desire to use at work.

        2. Antilles*

          I’m assuming this is just a temporary thing and for now, NoName just grits their teeth and uses their current name.
          Obviously, there’s no way this would fly with the government or other legal documents. Frankly, in a world where everything is computerized, it’d likely be completely impossible to not have a first and last name because form software is going to see empty FirstName and LastName boxes, assume it’s an error, and refuse to accept the form until the “missing” information is filled out.

          1. MyPoorNerves*

            I was once behind a woman at the pharmacy who legally didn’t have a last name. She said her parents thought rockstars with only one name, such as Cher and Madonna, were cool. She also said it was a nightmare every time she went anywhere because computer systems in the U.S. (where we were) don’t like not having a last name, and every system sorted her differently. Sometimes she was under N for Null. Other times it was U for Unnamed or Unsorted or O for Other or M for Missing. That particular day, they found her under FirstName FirstName.

            1. ecnaseener*

              They almost certainly haven’t changed their legal name yet, so they’re using their deadname when they need a name.

      2. Salad Daisy*

        Which is why my dad decided to add a middle name when he was gratuating from college. Fill out this form, last name, first name, middle name. Before he added a middle name, his name would be something like, Smith, John, NMN. Person in charge calls out, “John Nimin Smith!” And no, he did not choose Nimin for his middle name.

        1. MaryLoo*

          Some friends of my parents knew a guy whose name was R B Jackson. This was his real name. RB had to fill out some government form (I don’t remember the details) and the person he submitted the form to sent it back with a new copy of the form and the instructions “You must use complete names, not initials”. RB filled it out as R (only) B (only) Jackson.

          All subsequent mailings came to him addressed to Ronly Bonly Jackson

            1. Lanlan*

              I could swear I saw the joke in a military humor book dating something like it even earlier, like World War II. :D

      3. fhqwhgads*

        If I worked there I probably would’ve ended up doing that already (calling them No Name) in an attempt to follow their request but also have some semblance of clarity.

    1. Lab Boss*

      Or go with Greek for the shorter and punchier “Nemo,” or “Nobody” (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). Possibly “Outis” or “No man” (The Odyssey).

        1. Alison M*

          In Arabic, Foulan is used as a generic placeholder, I.e. “If Foulan complains about the display, maybe we should move it.” Perhaps that could be a good placeholder?

          1. As per Elaine*

            This has been adopted to Spanish, too — “Fulano de tal” or, for a woman, “Fulana de tal.” It could probably be adapted to Fulane de tal for someone nonbinary.

          2. Lime green Pacer*

            In some parts of Canada, Buddy is used in a similar way, as a placeholder name for someone whose actual name is unknown. “So, while I was waiting, I started talking to Buddy…”

      1. lilsheba*

        I was going to say Nobody would be good, and mine is a reference from the the movie Dead Man, there was a native american who said his name was Nobody.

        1. Aunty Fox*

          Nobody goes back further than that. It was used by Odysseus to escape the cyclops Polythemus.

          1. many bells down*

            That’s where my mind went. I think one would need a very specific sense of humor to pull it off… and while it’s mine, it’s definitely not everyone’s.

          1. kicking_k*

            Gaiman also used Mike Ainsel as an alias in *American Gods*, which derives from a Scottish fairytale in which you avoid telling your name to the fairies by answering “my ain sel'” (my own self) when asked “Who’s there?” Just “Ainsel” could be gender neutral…

    2. Hats Are Great*

      Or if they had a (neutral) characteristic you could attach a nickname to — they could go by “Red” or “Stretch” or “Happy” or something until they settle on a more permanent name.

    3. Siege*

      I guess probably because assigning other people names, and names that point out they don’t have a name seems kind of rude. I get that the employee hasn’t thought this through, by not having a new name picked before dropping the previous one, but calling them “No Name” in any language isn’t something you can do, any more than you can call Jung Chang Sunny because her name is “too hard”.

      1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

        I don’t think that anyone is suggesting that the OP just start calling the person “no name” without talking to them first. I think it would be a great suggestion during a conversation. Say something like “I understand you are working with finding the best name for yourself, and I am sorry that sometimes people accidentally dead name you. I know this is terribly upsetting for you. But we do need a name that we can use as a company. this doesn’t have to be what you change to legally or what you stay with. But there are business reasons why not having a name to call you is causing problems (List a few reasons).
        If you like we could brainstorm together something. (Then give some of the suggestions like Nemo or Otis).

        Regardless of the employees feelings they are going to need a name. This is like a basic requirement for society.

      2. Observer*

        Actually, I disagree with this. On the one hand, the person’s behavior is calling plenty of attention to the fact that they have no name anyway. Also, this is not about someone being *ist (classist, racist, etc.) or lazy. The person has made a choice that is really having a negative impact on others, and gets bent out of shape when people have a hard time with the practicalities of the matter. That changes the dynamics significantly.

        1. Siege*

          I didn’t say the employee doesn’t have an obligation to pick an identifier they can live with. I said outsiders can’t assign them a name. Would you like to be called Stretch, or would you rather be told you need to pick an identifier today that you can live with for a time?

          1. Hats Are Great*

            Sorry, I mean “you” in the general way, not “you” meaning the OP. Of course it should be up to the employee what they want to be called, but it sounds like OP is going to have to be clear that the employee has to choose something, even if it’s a temporary placeholder. I was just contributing to the “what are some sorts of temporary placeholders that OP could suggest” thread, not saying, “Go call this person Stretch.” Particularly since it sounds like choosing a personal name — a namey-sounding name — is part of what’s emotionally difficult for the employee here. So I think there’s some real merit to suggestions in “Innominata” (not a name!) or a nickname that describes something about them as a person (“Happy”) rather than one that builds off their former name or last name. (I also think the “pick an initial” suggestions are good in this vein — you can just be “X” or “J.”) A not-a-name name might feel more comfortably placeholder-y for the employee while they work through the issues around a personal name at their own pace.

            1. Hats Are Great*

              Another very neutral, not-a-name option would be using a number as a name — they could go by “Five” or “Twelve” or whatever.

                1. Venomous Voice*

                  My first though there, too !

                  Or maybe birth month? Born in June, use Six for now. November? Use Eleven temporarily.

            2. Hats Are Great*

              And I actually thought of “Red” etc because the OP says they tried having the barista put a star symbol on the coffee rather than a name — and if the star symbol is okay with the employee, “Star” spelled out is a perfectly cromulent temporary placeholder name that works fine for e-mail, that maybe the employee would be okay with.

              Lots of totally common nouns would be fine, although others would be obviously not work-appropriate.

        2. ShanShan*

          You could literally cut and paste the second half of this paragraph (starting with “this is not about someone being racist”) and be ranting about someone using a Chinese name.

          Take it from a minority: a TON of people think that using a non-English name instead of choosing an English nickname is a selfish choice that needlessly inconveniences coworkers, and that any resistance to changing it means you are getting needlessly bent out of shape.

          That’s exactly why workplaces have rules like ” we call everyone what they want to be called” and don’t get into the business of deciding who deserves that courtesy and who doesn’t.

          1. Observer*

            Take it from a minority: a TON of people think that using a non-English name instead of choosing an English nickname is a selfish choice that needlessly inconveniences coworkers, and that any resistance to changing it means you are getting needlessly bent out of shape.

            I’m well aware of that. And I have yet to meet such a person who is not either bigoted in some way or extremely lazy and entitled.

            It’s just nonsense to claim that people’s issues here are related to bigotry or laziness. Now, if the person had chosen something and people complained about the name they had chosen or refused to use it? I would be 100% on team “shut it down NOW. Call them what they choose to be called.”

          2. Yvette*

            “That’s exactly why workplaces have rules like “we call everyone what they want to be called” ”
            Except this person does not want to be called anything and that is what is causing issues. Not that people find the name “hard” or “unusual”.

            1. Spencer Hastings*

              Yeah, I don’t know why people are making actual suggestions of what the name should be, since that’s not the LW’s problem. The most they can say is something like “I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, but people have to call you *something*, even if it’s just a nickname”.

              1. Observer*

                They can actually say something like “You have 3 choices – choose a name in x days, we’ll call you {whatever designator}, or we need to discuss a transition or leave for you.”

                Because it’s either that or “You need to choose a name in x days or we need to discuss a transition or leave for you.”

          3. Worldwalker*

            The problem is not calling someone what they want to be called — it’s not having anything at all to call them. If the company can’t direct ph0ne calls, emails, contacts, whatever, to that specific person instead of someone else, that becomes a problem. It doesn’t matter if they want to be Fred or Touysinthiphonexay (which I’ve probably misspelled; it’s Thai) but everything from business to coffee cups needs *something*.

        1. Siege*

          There is huge difference between “we really do need you to pick an identifier you can live with by X day; is there any way we can help?” and the way a lot of these suggestions are being presented, which is “just call them Stretch or Fatty based on arbitrary physical characteristics!” And the fact Stretch and Red have been suggested but Fatty has not is just as troubling to me as my early comment: you can’t call Jung Chang Sunny, and people know that’s wrong.

          Very, very few of the suggestions being offered are even implying this is being done in cooperation with the employee, which is what bothers me about the whole thing. I doubt that’s actually the intent, but there’s a difference between listing dozens of possible identifiers that range from practical to offensive and addressing the actual issue, which is that they need a name and need to be told they have a deadline to select literally anything by. It’s getting weight-loss tips when you asked whether a chair can hold your weight, not how to find out if the chair can hold you.

          1. hbc*

            I don’t think *anyone* is advocating assigning a name. People are coming up with ideas for what kind of name might work given the context. They’re suggesting them through the OP because the particular person isn’t available to hear these suggestions directly, and because OP might need to prod a little bit if the initial response is “Nope, still not ready to choose My Official Name.”

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              Agreed! I think a placeholder name is the way to go. The OP should suggest this as kindly as possible while emphasizing that the employee needs to be called something in the meantime. And, if the employee is receptive or asks for help, they can work together to brainstorm a temporary name.

          2. Curious*

            What do you suggest be done if the deadline passes and the employee hasn’t chosen a name? I think everyone here would prefer to cooperate with the employee by using a name that the employee chooses. The problem that folks are grappling with is what to do if the employee fails to choose.

            1. Siege*

              I think that depends on how crucial their role is for day-to-day function and what reasonable accommodation is. It might make sense to offer a week of paid leave with the expectation they’ll come back with a name. But I don’t know if that’s a reasonable suggestion or whether they are actively thinking about a name and not finding anything they like or if they’re overloaded with work and feel like they can’t think of one, or a dozen other possiblities. I do know it’s not workable to not have a name, but if setting a deadline fails I don’t know enough to even make a suggestion.

              1. GythaOgden*

                It seems pretty important for the problem to be resolved fairly soon if not immediately. There’s only so long OP can vouch for them to others and only so long this can go on before it starts to impact others both professionally and emotionally.

                I have been in situations like this for years where the trigger was allowed to remain. Ultimately, it was other people no longer willing to bear responsibility for my affairs (I’m talking about something along the lines of banking here) and needing to be able to use a certain method of money transfer that forced me to confront an issue even if I hadn’t yet fully processed why I was triggered by this thing in the first place (and it goes back 20+ years for me).

                It can be useful to have therapy on an ongoing basis, but letting trauma dictate this to the point where an organisation simply cannot function on an adult level while this person remains in this state is not helpful for her, let alone her colleagues. She needs to face up to it and deal with the needs of others. She can definitely retreat back into a safe space, but she can’t take others with her — not OP, not her bosses, not her clients.

                She may find herself out of a job because the organisation can’t handle her approach. They are trying to be accommodating, but it appears some people are reaching the limits of the organisational burden she’s placing on them, and so the timing on this is no longer elastic.

                I know what it’s like but sometimes, treatment for traumas like this one can’t come at other people’s expense.

            2. MrPotPuffer*

              This; even if prodded, this person may still refuse to pick a name, even a nickname. In that case, perhaps OP could respond with, “you either need to pick a name/nickname/identifier by X date, or we will use X/Z/NoName as a placeholder to identify you with in emails and other times where a name is needed”

              Maybe this is harsh for someone going through trauma, but if this person can’t cope with being referred to by any kind of name, then maybe time off would be a better solution.

          3. Batgirl*

            It’s about giving the employee some branches to choose from, or of course decline entirely, but it’s a starting point. Saying that they as an employer/manager are okay with a temporary choice such as a colour, number, random initials, “no name” in another language, using their high school or hobby or street name… This can start a dialogue, or at the very least a thought process. It’s hugely different than piling on the pressure to choose a significant name right now, and it’s also different to ignoring the practical concerns.

            1. Aerin*

              I know if I were in this situation I would probably choose some name that riffs on “no name” or “the nameless one” because I am a smartass. And giving the employee some examples/options to emphasize “This does not have to be a huge momentous decision” might help them to pick something.

            2. Karl Havoc*

              Yeah, I think I would approach this by telling the employee, “I’d be happy to help you brainstorm some options/solutions if you’d like” during the larger conversation Allison recommends. So you aren’t pressuring them with unwanted “help” and it’s clear that any suggestions are truly just that.

          4. Despachito*

            It strikes me as very strange that it wasn’t the employee who came up with a solution, it places an inappropriate chunk of emotional work on the surrounding people (who are otherwise very understanding).

            I can understand that someone does not want to use their “deadname” anymore. But I also think that it is up to them to make it doable for the people around them.

            If someone is transitioning, I’d consider it OK to say at some point “Please, from now on, stop calling me John Doe, call me Jane Smith instead.” If someone wants to change their name because of a family trauma, or even just because they do not like their old name anymore, it is absolutely their right, and I just need them to tell me what they want to be called, and I’ll do my best to oblige (cannot guarantee a 100%, as I sometimes still call my married friends by their maiden names by omission).

            But it seems to me very strange that someone tells me what they do NOT want me to do, but do not tell me what they DO want me to do instead. And to be honest, there is only so much emotional work I am willing to invest in my fellow citizen. I think that No-Name’s coworkers should absolutely ask them to pick a name/nickname/placeholder to go by, but it should have been No-Name’s work.

          5. rubble*

            you’re right that most comments here are not helpful because they’re not addressing the actual problem. and yeah, nicknames based on physical characteristics are a no-no unless the person proactively suggests them because they are comfortable with it.

            but. uh. I do not know who jung chang is, so I don’t understand what you’re trying to say using her as an example. unfortunately not everyone does know that calling her “sunny” is obviously wrong! I skimmed her wikipedia page and can’t see anything about “sunny” there. what is the negative connotation associated with “sunny” in this context? besides that it’s not her name so don’t call her that?

      3. JSPA*

        “No name” is a valid descriptor, and in the absence of a name, you are left with descriptors. It’s more “chosen” and less intrusive than any other descriptor, no?

        Changing the language to something that’s not going to be so obvious to random outsiders makes it less strange for people who don’t know the situation (and strangers should not, obviously, have to be “read in” to the nameless employee’s traumatic past, to function in dealing with them).

      4. kicking_k*

        Oh yes, I think they’d have to be OK with the nickname and pick it themself, on the understanding that this is Not Their Name, just a cognomen for practical purposes.

      5. Worldwalker*

        Um … people *constantly* assign other people names. My late Uncle Tiny didn’t pick his nickname; his friends did because he was really tall. A sculptor I work with goes by a nickname he dislikes (it translates to “chip”, as in “off the old block”) because he lives in an area where a lot of boys were named for the patron saint, him included. It’s a thing people do … either because a name is similar to others (the problem with multiple Daves in the office), or because of a distinctive characteristic, or whatever.

        And when you come right down to it: most of us go by names that were assigned by other people — our parents. Those who change to something they like better are a small fraction of the population. It’s our parents who named us Suzanne, and probably the ones who called us Suzy too, and our younger siblings who named us Susu.

        1. Siege*

          There is a difference between people you know socially giving you a nickname and being assigned one by your workplace, particularly if your role requires interfacing with third parties, and it is enormously obvious that there *is* a difference between those circumstances. My father still calls me pumpkin; my coworkers do not.

    4. Kate, short for Bob*

      I like this idea, though it might be gender dependent.

      If the colleague identifies as female, I’d also be tempted to suggest Arya as a temporary girl who has no name signifier

      1. JustaTech*

        Or to suggest another character by the same actress “Me”. That’s the character’s name (because in-story she has lived so long that names don’t really have meaning anymore).

        It is possible to not use someone’s name when talking about them if they have a very specific identifying characteristic (“Beth’s Mom”), but as soon as there are two Beths the whole thing is a lot harder.

        1. Short’n’stout*

          I thought “Me” as well, and it has a geeky appeal, but can you imagine (for example) a patient asking the receptionist “who will do my heart transplant surgery?” and getting the response “Me”, lol.
          (Not devaluing the receptionist’s work, just contrasting the skill sets)

    5. Irish Teacher.*

      I read a book where a character used “Aon Duine,” basically meaning “anybody” as an alias. It was a mystery story so obviously the person had nefarious reasons for doing so, but it seems like the same kind of idea.

    6. Bridget the Elephant*

      My mind went to Odysseus because he tells the Cyclops that he’s “No One”, or Arya because “a girl has no name”.

      1. Anonymouse*

        If male, I would suggest George Kaplan.
        Because who wouldn’t want to be played by Cary Grant.

        1. Constance Lloyd*

          “Everyone wants to be Cary Grant. Even I want to be Cary Grant.” -Archibald Leach

    7. tonn*

      I was about to suggest calling them The Nameless One, or something like that.

      It’s not a great permanent non-name, but it doesn’t need to be. Just some way to refer to this person until they find something they like.

      1. Short’n’stout*

        I thought “The Nameless One” would be cool- it has a kind of sinister mystery to it.

    8. Magnolia Road*

      I absolutely love this. This would be the perfect placeholder or even a permanent name. I hope the LW sees this and suggests it.

      1. chewingle*

        Oh, but then there’s JKR’s transphobia to content with so nevermind.

        Bigots ruin the party again.

  6. AD*

    I’d be interested to hear from others, particularly in the trans community, but my understanding is that “dead name” refers to a specific phenomena. It’s not “I don’t like my old name”. I see family trauma is briefly referenced, but still, I would not refer to this as dead naming.

    1. Viva Varuna*

      Hi, I’m nonbinary. A dead name is literally a name that someone no longer uses. A lot of times it *is* their legal name, as in this case. The employee has stated that they are no longer using it, so it absolutely counts as a deadname, and it is definitely deadnaming them if someone uses it to refer to them.

      1. AD*

        Interesting. My understanding — and from the definitions I see such as https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deadnaming — deadnaming is usually explicitly tied to gender transitioning or non-binary status. My point was that someone just changing their name would not count as such but I’ll take your word on it.

        1. I went to school with only one Jennifer*

          People have been changing their names – and getting pushback from family members – forever. They’ve been having the same trauma that trans folks are having now, but the numbers were smaller and there wasn’t a pre-existing group identity to discuss the issue. It’s just been one family at a time, being rude to someone who changed their name. The *term* deadname comes out of trans communities, yes, and we can thank them for it. And I think that anyone in this situation gets to use “deadname” all they want, because it fits the phenomemon.

          (This is actually a really good modern demonstration of the phrase “The personal is political”. It was born with the second wave of Feminism, back in the 1960’s, as (white) women talked to each other and started to see that each one’s personal situation was actually an individual instance of a systemic issue. Seeing it this way was powerful and allowed them to start to address the political issues that lay behind the personal issues — as a very simple example, a married woman didn’t used to be able to get loans or credit cards without a husband’s approval, even if she was the sole source of income for the family.)

          1. Littorally*

            This.

            I changed my first name for gender reasons and my last name for family trauma reasons. What’s the difference? Do I get to call only my old first name a deadname? Seems stupid to me. And if I can call my last name a deadname for family bullshit reasons, I don’t see why a cis person can’t do the same.

        2. DrunkAtAWedding*

          I changed my name at 16 due to family trauma. No one has ever objected to my referring to it as a dead name. These comments are literally the only time anyone’s so much as batted an eyelid.

      2. Frequent Lurker*

        I’m also trans but wouldn’t consider this to be a place you’d use the phrase deadname, which is specific to the trans community. People change their names for many different reason, but I would never refer to someone’s maiden name as their “deadname” for example. I understand that in this case there is trauma tied to the decision, but that doesn’t change anything for me. It can still be hurtful and wrong to use their former name even if we don’t use the term deadname.

        1. Rainy*

          My sibling and I don’t use our legal names in life (our parents are 0 for 2 on naming people), just because they’re both really awful, and my sibling calls them our “government names”, which always makes me laugh, but is so appropriate that I’ve started using it too.

            1. WindmillArms*

              That’s a common phrase in some communities that tend to not go by their legal names! It’s a good one.

              1. BlueStarGirl*

                I’ve also heard “wallet name” used for people with pseudonyms, which I like a lot!

                1. BubbleTea*

                  I’ve heard Sunday name, but that’s religion-specific. My son goes by his initials (well, he’s an infant, so he doesn’t go by anything) and I refer to his “paper name”.

    2. Abyssal*

      As a trans person: eh. If this person has pain linked to their old name and no longer uses it, I would say it is perfectly appropriate to refer to it as a deadname. I see no reason why that term should be exclusive to names abandoned for gender reasons.

      1. Theo*

        I think anyone can refer to a name they’ve killed off as a deadname, honestly. I’m nonbinary, and while I use a different name than I was born with, I don’t have a deadname — there are no names I’ve killed off entirely, and I don’t much like the term in general. But it’s accurate to this situation: that name is dead. Also, we don’t know if this employee is trans, and should not speculate.

        1. Presea*

          +1. I’m nonbinary and also do not have a deadname. I agree with the assertation that a deadname is any name that is ‘dead’ regardless of the reason.

          1. Mad Harry Crewe*

            +2, ditto to everything Presea said. The person referenced in this letter has a dead name because they want to bury it.

        2. Jacey*

          Please note I am the “token cis” in a 99% trans/NB friend group, but that’s precisely how multiple friends have explained it to me. My best friend, a trans man, calls the name on his birth certificate his “birth name” because he is not harmed by it or trying to bury it. I also know a genderqueer/gnc person who uses “deadname” because of a mix of gender and family-related trauma reasons.

          Of course, my friend group of 15ish people in a very liberal city is not representative of the whole trans/nb community!

        3. Katsy Wheeler*

          Chiming in as another NB person, and while I tend to use the nickname based off my legal name, I only use that for work and although giving strong thought to changing it (my legal name is very much gendered!) to something more neutral, I wouldn’t call it a deadname since I do love it and it has strong meaning for my family.

      2. Generic Name*

        I am divorced, and I reverted to my original name when the decree was signed. I DO mentally think of my old married name as a “deadname” because there is past and ongoing trauma related to that marriage. But I don’t usually couch it in those explicit terms to others, out of sensitivity to the trauma the trans community goes through in general. I used to use my married name for a login I used daily, and it was a bit triggering for me, so I approached HR to ask if we could update my login name to my actual last name, and thank goodness she got it changed with no issues.

        I really feel for this employee, but they’ve gotta choose something, even if it’s temporary.

      3. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Also there’s no reason to assume there’s not a gendered element. The employee does seem to use nonbinary pronouns. I expect the family trauma has more to do with the entire name being dropped than the traditional gender affirmation of just changing the first name.

        1. Dahlia*

          Hey just fyi they/them aren’t “nonbinary pronouns”. They’re neutral pronouns anyone can use, and not all nonbinary people do.

          I got trans vibes myself personally from the letter tho

    3. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      I was thinking that the past trauma may be related to that they have transitioned and/or came out and they no longer want to be associated with their family name and are looking for a new name.

    4. Gerry Kaey*

      Am trans, I think its fine. No need to gatekeep that term. If anything, I think it’s helpful to remember that issues of respecting people by calling them what they prefer extends beyond just trans people.

      1. Siege*

        Yeah, I’m finding it WILD the number of people who think assigning a name is just fine, but wouldn’t think that if we were hearing about how hard it is to pronounce Neepapapon, why can’t the office just call her Susie?

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          (And here I am choosing to go by Susie and thinking “hmm, if I said Neepapon was my deadname, maybe people would actually remember to call me Susie?” — but it still feels like stolen valor)

        2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          I don’t think suggesting a name = suggesting assigning a name. It could just as easily be (and I assumed was) suggesting names to suggest to the employee.

          1. WindmillArms*

            I’m certain that’s what LW and Alison both mean when they’re looking for suggestions! Not suggestions of what to call this person, but ways they can respect this person’s choice while keeping work flowing–which means calling them *something*.

            1. Siege*

              Agreed. I find it … amazing … the number of people making suggestions for names. I didn’t do a very good job in my top-level comment that maybe the best choice is to ask the employee to pick an initial, but I feel like all of the suggestions for names are getting out of hand. In the end, I think the person needs to pick SOMETHING, by a pretty short deadline, but I can’t see setting up an email for Stretch LNU or IV Doe, so those are not great short-term solutions.

              But the need to verbally identify them seems most pressing, out of the layers of need. They’re all pressing but that one is on fire. :)

              1. Worldwalker*

                The reason so many people are chiming in with suggestions is simple:

                The actual response to the letter is pretty universally “they have to pick *something*, anything, so email and shouts across the office can go to the right person.” That’s kind of a given.

                But people want to contribute, and since the actual situation has been so well covered that there’s a ten-foot pile of covering over it, we’re all coming up with what we hope are interesting or creative suggestions for names that might work. It’s *something* to post instead of “/agree” over and over again.

          2. pancakes*

            Yes. I would think that went without saying. Of course it would be wildly rude and domineering to pick a name and start using it without the employee’s consent and participation. Assuming that people mean otherwise is odd.

            1. GythaOgden*

              Yeah. That discussion and the ‘how do they cope with XYZ?’ stuff is pretty derailing.

            2. NB Cellist*

              Assigning a name without their buy-in probably won’t help this employee with dealing with their trauma, either. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few years working on mine, and it was always helpful when people (therapists, coworkers, friends, family, etc.) affirmed my agency in how I chose to deal with all of it. And there are comments above that reference giving the employee options as the kind and decent thing to do here. This is just an additional reason why giving them options rather than assigning a name is a good thing to do.

              If I were the OP, I think I would suggest categories of potential work names/handles/identifiers and let the employee choose what seems to speak most to who they feel they are/can be/would like to be at work. (And I second the suggestions above on framing this as both as a “just for work” thing and a way to help this employee avoid being deadnamed.) So rather than suggesting Nemo or Red specifically, I’d probably say something like, “You could choose an identifier that means ‘no name,’ you could also use a color, or a plant, or letters that could pass as initials.” and then see how they respond. I’d also ask if they want suggestions for their chosen category before unloading any onto them.

              Also seconding the recommendations for directing them to the EAP

              (Side note: I think it’s really hard for us to not name people. I deleted a suggestion for a specific identifier right after I wrote about not going any more specific than categories.)

    5. TyphoidMary*

      If somebody said something about having a deadname I would assume that person is trans, so I’m finding myself a bit uncomfortable with the idea of a cis person using it for a name change (like it’s one of the ways I may identify who is safe for me to be out to).

      I can’t go so far as to say that it’s wrong or offensive, though. It may be time for me to just get comfortable with this new usage.

      (i’m nonbinary fwiw)

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        Yeah, I interpreted it as saying that the person had transitioned *and* they additionally had family trauma, but I see how it could be ambiguous.

    6. Kate, short for Bob*

      I’m not Trans, I have a dead name after changing the whole thing to escape a childhood. Don’t call me by that name, don’t take me for that person.

      1. Lady Luck*

        Pretty much the same for me. I’ve never referred to my old name as my dead name and I don’t think I would, just because I’m not trans and it doesn’t seem right. But I still absolutely hate it and don’t want it used or mentioned at all.

        1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          ditto. It’s the name on my birth certificate, and I haven’t used it in thirty years, FOR REASONS.

      2. me*

        My sister and I (both cis) changed our names to cut ties with an abusive childhood. I call mine my birth name while to her it’s her dead name. One notable difference is she’s had 20 years of relatives refusing to recognize the name change, while I distanced myself from anyone who wouldn’t recognize mine, so she definitely has more pain around it.

    7. Edward Cullen*

      My assumption on reading the letter was that the subject of the letter is trans, and the divorcing of their full name was a response to their family being unkind. Of course, we all know what assumptions turn people into; but my point is that even in my cis-brain, I immediately associated the term with transgender identity and evaluated the letter based on that association.

    8. Lanlan*

      so, when I describe the process of changing my name, I often reference the fact that I feel like the part of me that went by the old name died when I was very young and is gone. Forever. Like there was a time when I was that person and then she died and my present self asserted itself. And that’s a lot of why for years I would go by anything but my given name or variants thereon. I think in situations like mine, “deadname” is the word we were looking for that we owe the trans community credit for giving to the world, but we don’t need non-trans individuals policing us for our use of it. If a trans community member doesn’t like that I use it to mean “old name that applies to a human I no longer am” then I will have that conversation with them.

    9. marvin the paranoid android*

      Hmm, I’m trans and don’t use the term “deadname” myself, but it is convenient shorthand to signify that this name is painful and the person doesn’t want to hear it used. I personally wouldn’t consider it inappropriate if I heard it used in non-gender-related contexts (although aren’t all contexts gender related on some level?) but I would say that it’s associated with the trans/NB/gender diverse community to the point where it might cause confusion if you try to use it in a different way.

      In the case of this letter, though, I got a bit of a vibe that this employee may have some gender stuff going on but the letter writer didn’t want to go into too much detail.

  7. Siege*

    I had a coworker who had a difficult-to-pronounce name but disliked her middle name, so went by A, her middle initial. Although I think it’s less common than with initials that can form a name (another friend uses her middle initial which is J so it’s of course pronounced Jay) it’s less awkward than it might sound, so that could be a good option, especially if the employee knows they like a lot of C names and their final name will likely start with C.

          1. Yvette*

            Yes!!! For us folk who are not GOT or Friends or Seinfeld fans I would love to see letters/ comments using M*A*S*H characters. All the letters about inept bosses could be Henry Blake or PITA co-workers Frank Burns and snobs Charles Emerson Winchester III. I would love that.

            1. madge*

              I can’t WAIT for the Hot Lips letters.

              On a serious note, I love the suggestion above to use Lorem Ipsum, either until the employee selects a name, or as a permanent solution.

            2. SunriseRuby*

              I believe that would mean, unfortunately, that every office’s sexual predator would be named Hawkeye.

              1. Insert Clever Name Here*

                Lots of ones to choose from, unfortunately: Hawkeye, Trapper, Henry Blake… Love that show but, eek, so problematic.

                1. L.H. Puttgrass*

                  I suspect that most people who know MASH only from the television show have no idea where the name “Trapper” comes from. That’s probably just as well.

            3. Worldwalker*

              Remember one important thing about Chaaaahs: He was as competent as he thought he was. That really burned Hawkeye and BJ … it would have been a lot better if they could have just written him off as a blowhard.

        1. Hiring Mgr*

          Hmmm, I always thought that was BJ’s excuse to not reveal what it really stood for…but it’s been years since I’ve watched (used to be obsessive)

          1. New Jack Karyn*

            I suspect that if the US Army paperwork did not have actual names to those initials (Hawkeye checked), then there were no actual names to those initials.

    1. kicking_k*

      It’s pretty common. I have friends and family who call me just K. It _is_ my initial, but I think of it as a valid alternative identifier rather than a nickname. Which is why it’s in the screen name I use for everything.

    2. Aggresuko*

      Yeah, same here, had a former coworker with an extreme mouthful of a first name and just went by her first initial.

    3. n.m.*

      I think this might be workable—if they arent comfortable picking a name-related letter, then perhaps using the initial(s) of their job title? There might be several Llama Schedulers, but only one person referred to as L.S. The Llama Scheduler.

  8. CeeBee*

    it has to be asked, what is this employee thinking? how can they function in any group setting this way? are they unaware of the problems caused?

    1. Less Bread More Taxes*

      I am also confused about they function. Is it triggering to get their payslip? Is it triggering to get a bill in the mail? Every single service we use requires a name, and so daily life itself would be traumatizing if the name is causing trauma.

      I’m not dismissing that trauma, quite the opposite – this is a situation in which this person is in a crisis and needs professional help asap. I can speculate as to what is happening with them, but I know this forum isn’t the place for that. I just hope they are able to get the help they need.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        Email … what’s their email address? Presumably their deadname, but they have to pick something to change it to before it can be changed.

        1. Person from the Resume*

          Ugh! I failed to read to whole letter becuase this is answered in the letter. I just got so exzcited to see Alison’s answer to this rather crazy question.

          Unfortunately, the techs at our home office cannot find a workaround for the company convention of firstname.lastname @ company. com, which means that people (usually from outside the team) who don’t know this employee, will address emails to “Hi, DeadName.” This is upsetting to the employee. Also, we cannot come up with a professional-sounding solution for their email signature without a name.

          I’m try to be sympathetic, but the nameless employee is sounding very unreasonable. They are creating situations where people inadvertantly or unknowly use their deadname. Is the weight and permanance of picking a new name that they think must be theirs forever? Because it doesn’t have to be forever. But a person needs a legal name (even if it is extremely unusual) and people need a name or nickname to use to adress them and refer to them.

          1. Aggresuko*

            Seconded. This is unreasonable. We have to refer to you as SOMETHING, not “blank space” or “happy face symbol.” I don’t care what you pick as a placeholder, but you NEED A PLACEHOLDER.

      2. Viva Varuna*

        I’m not the person this letter is about, but I haven’t gotten an actual physical payslip in years–everything is direct deposit. I don’t get bills in the mail, either–everything is emailed to me and I can choose whether or not to read it, or have it addressed to a username. While it may be difficult to function IRL without a traditional name, that isn’t the case online at all, and it’s possible that work is the only area this person encounters day-to-day where this is a problem.

        1. Kate*

          I don’t see why the physicality is relevant? I get electronic payslips and bills too, and they still have a name on them. So do yours presumably, since you ‘have it addressed to a username’. It’s not about this person not having a ‘traditional name’, as you put it – they haven’t picked ANY way for people to refer to them. Going by ‘Fortnitefan99’ would be better than this current situation.

          1. Everything Bagel*

            Right, the company can’t even give them a new work email address until they choose something to go by. I really wonder how this is playing out in their personal life.

          2. ecnaseener*

            It’s not about getting electronic vs physical payslips, it’s that if you have direct deposit you never need to look at your payslips unless the deposit amount looks wrong. I look at my bank account, it shows a deposit of X every two weeks, I don’t check the payslip.

            1. HotSauce*

              You should be. It is in your best interest to check your pay slip and verifying everything is correct every time. There are plenty of posts on r/legaladvice and r/financialadvice with people who didn’t look at their pay slips and missed errors that had been occurring for months, even years.

            2. Brett*

              Yeah, you should be looking at _every_ direct deposit payslip. Even if the amount is right, there are so many things that can go wrong with deductions. I caught an enormous error with my dental insurance, that would have ultimately cost me thousands of dollars, because my dental withholding changed by $4 (I was moved to the wrong type of plan).
              I also have to be very careful about my retirement withholding, as well as track several other tax related numbers. (It is not unusual for local income tax to get withhold from our paychecks, even if we might be exempt from it while working from home.)

              I also check every utility bill for unusual changes in usage, up or down. And, of course, you need to review your entire credit card and bank statements monthly for unusual activity (even with activity alerts).

            3. Fiorinda*

              If you’re in Australia by any chance, I really recommend looking at your payslips – and not just the pay amount either. People not checking the info on their payslips is the main way many companies get away with superannuation underpayment.

        2. londonedit*

          Don’t you at least get an email with a link to view your pay slip, though? My employer has done away with paper pay slips (I’ve always been paid directly into my bank account in all my 18 years of working, apart from my very first temp job where they still paid by cheque, but you’d still get a paper pay slip confirming the amount, all the deductions etc) but you’re sent a link every month where you can log in to see a PDF copy of your pay slip. And yep, it has your name on it. I guess you could just avoid looking at it but that’s not hugely sensible, just as it isn’t sensible not to look at bills and accounts just because they’re online.

          1. JustEm*

            I do not get an email to look at my payslips, and while there’s a way to find them on our organization’s intranet, I’ve only done so twice in my two years working here (when direct deposit was different than expected)

          2. Esmeralda*

            Nope. I can go into our pay and benefits portal to see it, but there’s no direct notification.

          3. rubble*

            at my old job we accessed them through an employee website, where we could download them. there was no notification or anything, they just appeared each week and disappeared after a few months (you could stills access the old ones by emailing the payroll person).

        3. doreen*

          Even with direct deposit, you generally get something with your pay details either on paper or electronically ,which includes your name and the same is true in my experience for bills and bank accounts – sure, I can have the statements emailed to an email address that has no connection to a name, but a name is still going to appear on the statement. The electric/cable/credit card company isn’t going to set up an account in the name of noname @ gmail.com

        4. Elizabeth Proctor*

          You may not have gotten a payslip, but you should have access to a digital version.

          1. Can Can Cannot*

            And it would have had a name on the payslip. And when taxes are filed, the name on the payslip will need to match the name on the tax form.

        5. Kittymommy*

          True but the accounts themselves are in a legal name. If you have to call the credit card company or utility they’re going to ask for the legal name the account is listed in. all of mine go to an email that doesn’t have my name on it and the username is different as well, but if I pull up the statement they do have my actual name on it.

        1. Nervous Nellie*

          That’s what I was thinking! And what about the IRS? Does Nameless have a drivers license? Does Nameless have a library card? Does Nameless have a passport? If Nameless ever has to fly somewhere, how does he/she/they book a flight without giving a name? Is Nameless registered to vote? What about health insurance? If Nameless needs to get prescriptions, what sort of identification is printed on the prescription container?

          1. SebbyGrrl*

            I believe part of the rules we use here is to believe the op at face value.

            Asking these questions feels like a gotcha to me.

            All those questions are issues the unamed employee can deal w on their own. Doesn’t apply to the setting as the OP has described to us.

            I also treat my given first name as a deadname due to multiple traumas family & otherwise.

            Were we discussing the matter and you brought those I would find it to be ‘what about ism’ & equally as painful.

            Agree that this employee needs to find a placeholder to solve communications issue.

            Everything else is not relevant to the problem as described.

            The Latin and Greek options suggested are on a good path.

            Other suggestions- an animal and a color/or other nature words…

            Sky Fox

            Bird Yellow

            Phonetic spelling of letters – Ay Bee, Em Zed.

            Let’s actually try to help, not confabulate an argument.

            1. Batgirl*

              Huh, I didn’t see those as gotchas, I saw them as reasons to brainstorm a placeholder urgently because “there are multiple occasions this person is being deadnamed.”

          2. Metadata minion*

            They presumably use their legal name, and it’s probably painful every time. That might be anywhere from the little paper cuts of “ugh, DeadName again” to avoiding paying bills because you have to look at That Name being written on the top. Being temporarily “nameless” is actually something a lot of trans people go through, and yes, it’s really really disconcerting and weird from the inside, too.

            To be clear, in a work scenario I absolutely agree with Alison that this person needs to pick a temporary name/nickname for their colleagues to use. But to people wondering “but how do they go through life like this???” — well, presumably they manage and it’s probably really stressful. People don’t do things like this on a whim; this is someone dealing with a traumatic situation the best way they know how.

            1. HotSauce*

              But I think the point here is that they’re NOT dealing with it, they’re putting the onus on others. I think it’s great that their workplace is trying to honor not dead naming them, but then they need to provide a placeholder for them. It doesn’t have to be deep or meaningful, it just needs to be something that can be verbalized and written. If my name caused me pain and anguish I’d rather have people call me anything else, Sharpened Pencil, Red Car, Nonya Business, etc. than stumble around with nothing, that’s just unreasonable.

          3. yala*

            I don’t really understand this whole vibe here, because, like. My library card doesn’t have my name on it. My license does, but it’s not like I look at it every day, or like I file taxes, book flights, or renew my passport frequently. Yeah, I guess my name is on my paycheck, but I get direct deposit, so I don’t really have to look at it either. Same with my prescriptions.

            Presumably, in those situations, Nameless uses their legal name, since they likely haven’t changed it yet, and those require *legal* names, and it’s something they can endure because it’s brief/infrequent/known in advance, as opposed to daily and unexpectedly (there’s a massive difference between knowing your deadname is on your passport and suddenly hearing a coworker say “Hey, Deadname!”)

            As an aside, all of these questions seem very pointless to this situation, because there are plenty of people for whom the answer to those questions is also “Deadname” because legally changing your name is A Hassle (and cost money). So “What name is on their passport? Or library card?” doesn’t actually matter.

        2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

          I do not think this line of questioning is appropriate at all. It’s so not your business if someone hasn’t changed their legal name but uses a chosen name at work and at home and with friends. Just because they can deal with some random store clerk possibly calling them “Ann” doesn’t negate their wish to be known as “Sam.”

          1. Rosemary*

            The problem is they are not giving “Sam” (or anything else) as a replacement for “Ann.”

            1. Worldwalker*

              I live in South Carolina, where a remarkably number of people go by names that are not on their birth certificates. “Mike Smith” might have been named “Harold Walter Smith.” This isn’t a problem for anyone; if you want to talk to that guy, you just ask for Mike.

              But you have to be able to ask for *someone*.

      3. Generic Name*

        As someone who has trauma associated with a past name, yeah, it IS triggering to use a login or receive a bill or other piece of mail with my past name. With mail, I just trash it unopened, but I had to ask to get a couple of login credentials changed to match my current name.

        1. Less Bread More Taxes*

          I also have had trauma relating to my name (which I changed when I became an adult), so I am completely empathetic here. But if you are at a point where you can’t even open your own mail, have you considered getting professional help? Therapy is great at desentisizing you to a point where you can function again while helping you acknowledge whatever trauma happened. It’s perfect for this kind of scenario.

          1. Metadata minion*

            Why are you assuming that Generic Name, or the employee in the letter, *isn’t* getting professional help? It’s not a magic wand that makes the trauma instantly go away. People can be getting lots of excellent help and still have problems.

        2. AnonInCanada*

          But at least you gave them a name for them to go by. OP’s dilemma is this person doesn’t want to pick any name, so how do they differentiate this person from anyone else in the company? And since they’re one of many [insert job title here] in the company, that doesn’t work either.

          So I would start calling them J. Doe until they can come up with one. You need to be able to be identified somehow!

        3. AnonInCanada*

          But at least you gave them a name to identify you with. OP’s dilemma is this person doesn’t want to pick any name, so how do they differentiate this person from anyone else in the company? And since they’re one of many [insert job title here] in the company, that doesn’t work either.

          So I would start calling them J. Doe until they can come up with one. You need to be able to be identified somehow!

      4. MLH*

        I mean, yes.
        I have friends who have gone to great lengths to get their deadnames removed from accounts, birth certificates, college degrees, bank accounts, etc.

        Something being inconvenient doesn’t make trauma go away.

        1. TeapotQA*

          But like… the dead name is removed and replaced with something else. You can’t just not have a name if you want to exist in modern society

      5. SpecialSpecialist*

        It’s one thing to see a you don’t like/use on something you access rarely (legal documents, identification cards, pay stubs, bills, etc.). It’s another to have the name you don’t like/use as the thing you’re referred to on a daily/hourly/minute-to-minute basis.

        It’s probably easier to compartmentalize the pain of a name being wrong on the monthly cable bill than it is to ignore seeing or hearing that name multiple times a day at work with people you would have relatively good relationships with.

      6. Short’n’stout*

        I would guess that these situations are such that they will expect that they are about to read their deadname and brace themselves, or put off opening the document if feeling fragile. Having your deadname shouted at you across the office when you’re not expecting it doesn’t give time to get emotionally prepared.

      7. marvin the paranoid android*

        The simple answer is that yes, these things are probably very difficult! I hope they have a trusted person to help manage some of these tasks for them. I’m changing my name as part of my transition, and every time I see my legal name on a bill or email or username, I cringe a little internally, even though I don’t even have any particularly negative associations with it. Names are hard!

    2. Littorally*

      Agreed. I can fully empathize with the desire to abandon an old name, but I do think that you need to have the new name lined up, or at least a placeholder/transitional nickname, before you declare the old one verboten.

    3. KRM*

      And honestly, if their deadname is painful to them, the way to avoid that is to pick a new name, so that nobody defaults back to their deadname! I understand not being sure, but even an initial would be better than what’s currently happening. I wouldn’t want to hurt this person by calling them their deadname, but if we’re meeting and trying to figure stuff out for people to take on, it’s going to be really hard to not use any name to assign them their tasks. Not to mention checking in on email, etc.

      1. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

        This is what I was thinking, too. It seems much more likely that this person will be deadnamed if they have chosen NO name than if they choose a new one.

      2. Anonys*

        Honestly I hat to say this but my first thought was that this letter sounds a little like one of those conservative fantasies of “liberals gone wild”. To be clear, I don’t think this letter is in fact fake, I think the letter writer sounds too sincere and not at all snarky. But it does seem almost like one of those “thought experiments” of: well the libs say everyone can just change their name as they want, soon enough people will want to go by no name at all.

        So many employers do way too little to accommodate employees with name changes (our IT takes months to change emails when someone takes a spouse’s last name. I suppose they are not any quicker if a trans person or someone with trauma wants to change their name, esp if it hasnt been legally changed). This manager seems to be bending over backwards to accommodate something that is just clearly not possible and all the inadequate solutions (such as only using job title) almost seem a little dehumanizing.

        1. NancyDrew*

          I also started to wonder if this letter was a parody.

          If someone is experiencing such trauma that they literally cannot decide on what people should call them, to the extent that it is causing this much discussion/workaround/issues at work, they should probably focus on their wellbeing and mental health right now, preferably in a safe environment with professionals.

          1. Userper Cranberries*

            Just how are they supposed to pay for that without a job or family support? Unfortunately, traumatized people are forced to keep going into work every day in order to survive, and “you should be focusing on your wellbeing” doesn’t help them.

          2. rubble*

            all that costs money, though – unless this place has unlimited pto I doubt taking a few months off to focus on therapy exclusively would be practical. and it could take them a long time to get to that point – even jobs with unlimited pto are unlikely to be able to accommodate 6 months of paid leave in one chunk. they might have to let them have time off and preserve their job (if this rises to a level for disability protection, for example) but paying them the whole time is probably not possible.

        2. SJ (they/them)*

          This was my first concern when I saw the subject line — not so much that the letter was a fake (I know it’s not OK to presume or guess at that), but rather that the employee was going down this route as some kind of gotcha about trans people causing ~problems with their ~needs or whatever.

          Anyway, in my opinion the solution is to ask the employee to pick a name to use at work. (it can be temporary, they can change it later, but they do need to pick one.)

          1. Anonys*

            Yes it kind of feel like: Well some people say they have no gender at all? Well guess what I don’t even have a name.

    4. Moira Rose*

      Yeah, this. In a non-professional context, if this is my friend, I’m saying something like… honey, I need something to put in my phone to associate with your phone number. I need something to put on the envelope when I send my holiday card. I need to be able to talk about you to mutual friends. (“The Nameless One and I went for coffee yesterday!” isn’t a real-life sentence.) You gotta pick a series of pronounceable characters we can use as a label for you. Literally anything will do.

      1. Lacey*

        Yes, I’ve had friends change their names before – both legally and just socially. That’s an adjustment, but it’s very doable. Coming up with a way to reference someone using no handle at all… it just won’t work.

        If it were a friend I’d just nick-name them something and if they hated it they could tell me to stop, but in the office that’s not going to be appropriate or address all of the problems.

    5. radfordblue*

      It is beyond bizarre, both that this employee thinks it’s reasonable to request it, and that everyone around them is trying their best to accommodate it despite the litany of issues it causes. Names serve an essential function in language.

      If they don’t want to use their previous names, that’s fine, but they have to choose something that people can refer to them by. It could be something like “Anon” or “Doe” or “X” or whatever, but they need some kind of name for all the reasons listed in the OP’s letter and more.

    6. Prospect Gone Bad*

      “it has to be asked.” Yes, directly.

      from my decades of adulting, I have begun to see that a lot of outlandish behavior in adults is indeed a cry for attention and validation. The thing is, most of it is subconscious, so said parties don’t even realize it.

      This employee surely has some axes to grind and pain to heal and is using this situation to get a distraction or force a conversation on the topic. So have the conversation. I feel like sometimes work and personal overlap and this employee may not have anyone in their personal life to tell them like it is, and they need to be pushed to get a name. Their friends are probably telling them “it’s OK” and “take as long as you need” not realizing the employee is taking this literally.

      IME it helped get along better with people at my level and with subordinates when I occasionally let the lines between personal and professional blur to have conversations like this. As long as the boundaries usual stay up and the advice and problems discussed don’t get too personal. I realized that many people don’t have someone to talk through certain types of issues. Or they do but want to have the talk with someone they view as a third party.

      1. Stevie*

        This sounds a little too adversarial to me. I think it’s best to just approach it from having a conversation about the employee needing some sort of designation for business purposes, and leave it at that. I can see what you’re saying about the employee possibly not having a support network, but OP surely isn’t equipped to make a sort of judgment on their overall life decisions and this could end badly.

      2. Goldenrod*

        “I have begun to see that a lot of outlandish behavior in adults is indeed a cry for attention and validation. The thing is, most of it is subconscious, so said parties don’t even realize it.”

        This is extremely perceptive. I think this is absolutely a bid for attention, (and in my opinion, pretty ridiculous).

        I mean, you don’t HAVE to have a name…but you do if you wish to participate in society in terms of such things as being employed.

      3. BuildMeUp*

        a cry for attention

        I feel like this is a pretty unkind assumption to make when the employee could just as easily be struggling with their past trauma and handling it badly.

        1. What even*

          I feel like it is pretty unkind to refuse your coworkers a way to identify you, and claim any attempt to do so negatively affects your mental health.

          1. BuildMeUp*

            “and claim any attempt to do so negatively affects your mental health”

            I am so confused. The letter doesn’t say anything like this. First we’re making wild assumptions about the coworker’s motivations, and now we’re making things up?

        2. Courageous cat*

          God, I do wish we could stop calling everything uncharitable/unkind though and expecting that to end the train of thought. Sometimes sentiments aren’t always extremely gracious and nice. That’s part of being humans with opinions. It doesn’t mean they’re wrong or invalid.

        3. rubble*

          a lot of the time that is what people processing trauma in a “”socially unacceptable”” way are doing though. they need someone to listen to them, to believe them, to help them – but they’ve been in an unhealthy situation so long that they don’t what they need or how to ask for it in an appropriate way.

        4. Calliope*

          You know, though? A cry for attention isn’t inherently bad. Sometimes people need attention and help and don’t know how to get it or otherwise unable to ask for it. The is employee might be going through that right now and this doesn’t make them a bad person, just someone who needs help. But it is true that making unreasonable demands on your co-workers IS a way to get attention that ultimately isn’t the most productive for anyone so there’s something to be said for not just taking everything at face value (I.e. going to ridiculous lengths not to refer to them at all).

      4. Murphy*

        Just because you don’t understand it or it’s difficult doesn’t mean that it’s “a cry for attention.”

        I agree that they need a workable solution at in the workplace, but I completely disagree with your characterization.

    7. Hats Are Great*

      I honestly wonder if the employee is able to take medical leave, because this sounds like some very intense trauma, and the employee might benefit from focusing on sorting some of this out in therapy for a couple of weeks, away from the pressure of work and routine interactions, while they figure out how they want to move forward from this.

      (Of course I recognize that medical leave isn’t possible for many people, and therapy may be out of reach practically or financially.)

    8. Mockingdragon*

      Really, it does not have to be asked. I’m sure they notice the problems, and it says a lot that the problem of dealing with this awkwardness is *easier than dealing with being called by their old name*.

    9. DC*

      My read is this is a provisional arrangement, that they had to abandon the old identity before they had a preferred one formulated. And I also assume they’d pick a placeholder name if they weren’t afraid of people getting attached to it and having the placeholder name be associated with them (it’s hard to get even well-meaning people to stop calling you a deadname). Heck, it sounds like LW’s grandboss is already insistent their next name change be their last.

      I wouldn’t assume that the employee is casting off the concept of names as a permanent identity choice. I think it’s far more likelier they are trying to navigate a tricky patch in their life.

      I’m definitely not saying that being nameless is feasibly sustainable for more than a week or so. I do empathize with how easy it is to avoid making a difficult decision (I’ve struggled for weeks with nicknaming Pokémon, for chrissakes). Especially when given permission to hover in limbo. I think gently stressing the employee prioritize
      coming to a conclusion on this (or take time off to do so), perhaps with a deadline a few weeks out, is probably healthier than pretending there is no need to address them.

    10. marvin the paranoid android*

      As someone who is in an awkward stage in the middle of a name change, it’s much more difficult than I ever expected. There are so many things associated with your name that you have to remember, and your name is just so omnipresent in your life. It’s also lots of fun when someone asks you your name and you need to take a minute to think it over. Very weird all around.

      All that to say, I suspect that no matter how difficult this situation is for the employee’s coworkers, it’s probably a thousand times more difficult for the employee themself. My heart really goes out to this person, because it sounds like they are probably struggling with a lot right now. This situation isn’t tenable, but I imagine that the employee is probably not in a place where they are able to find a solution at this moment. If the letter writer is in a position to offer them any additional flexibility or resources that could help out, that would be a kindness.

  9. I Herd the Cats*

    This is WILD. Not having a name to reference turns it into this whole … complicated Thing That Needs Explanation about why s/he is “our employee with no name.” Requiring them to choose something seems reasonable, although they should be allowed to change it in future — people do change their names!

    1. Butterfly Counter*

      Agreed. I doubt it’s the intention, but it seems to be something that would invite a whole lot of potentially traumatic conversation around this person. Yes, if they said, “I’m no longer going by my old name, please call me Sam,” people at work are going to speculate why. But if this has to be a conversation or active thought process every time this person is referenced, and something mentioned to every person that comes into the business later before a new name is chose, it’s an issue kind of always at the tip of everyone’s tongue. It feels like something that will continue to be an open wound.

      1. WindmillArms*

        This is where I’m landing too! I’m trans, and I changed my name while staying in my job. I did not like using my “deadname” there, but I did until I had a new name ready to deploy. Trying to go “no name” draws *far more* attention and scrutiny and judgement, and that was what I wanted to avoid most.

        It might help this employee if it’s framed more as “What would you like us to refer to you as?” rather than “What name are you going to choose?” If the permanence of the choice is stalling this person, having the option to just pick something (literally just *something* like “X” or “Nameless”) might solve the work side of this!

    2. learnedthehardway*

      Yes – conversations about why EmployeeX doesn’t have a name are always going to bring up a whole raft of issues. Presumably, someone with trauma would prefer NOT to have to explain that their birth name is too traumatic for them to use and that they haven’t chosen a new one yet. So, WHY can’t the employee come up with something for work?

    3. Why isn't it Friday?*

      And that’s the bottom line, really. There is a business need for this employee to have a name – any name. Otherwise, the employee’s lack of a name grinds things to a halt and requires A Whole Lot of Explanation, every single time. It’s just not functional.

  10. Phony Genius*

    HR said to be “as accommodating as possible within reason.” Having no name by which to refer to an employee is not within reason. “Anonymous X. Noname” could be a temporary solution. Even Prince’s weird symbol would be better.

    1. DataGirl*

      Agreed. I appreciate HR trying to be flexible around name changes/dead names, but it is not reasonable to have no name at all. I think the manager could and should sit down with this person and say, “for the purpose of business we need to be able to refer to you in some way. Please provide a name, word, or initials that you are willing to be called by, even if it is temporary.”

      1. AnonInCanada*

        Too bad you can’t type emojis in WordPress comments. Because we need some symbol for our new employee as well `:-P

    2. Obfuscated Orangutan*

      I was thinking that their IT systems must use some unique identifier, so perhaps employee2187 or 2187 for short would be a reasonable stopgap. Since systems already have to deal with name changes in other senses, not a single person can really be barred from changing their names- what about someone who legally changes their name (like getting married and divorced) within a short timeframe? That is the most unreasonable thing the company is asking for, which seems as absurd as an employee having zero unique identifier.

      1. DataGirl*

        At my company, the problem with that is our unique identifier is also our username to login to systems. So it’s not something you would want to share with other people.

        1. Beany*

          In my organization, IT system user names aren’t identical to our real names, but they’re very obviously related to them. And they’re not private information, so their becoming widely known is not a big security hole. As long as the passwords stay private, it should be OK.

      2. Jacey*

        I would definitely stay away from suggesting the employee go by a number (if they chose to do so, that’s their prerogative!). It has very dehumanizing history behind it.

    3. Aggresuko*

      A happy face or star is being used on the coffee cups….but that’s probably not great for typing/emails/tech stuff.

  11. ChemistryChick*

    OP, kudos to you for being kind and empathic to your employee, but yeah, they really do need to be addressed as something for all the reasons you’ve discussed. Maybe they could just pick a temporary moniker for work-use only that makes them happy until they decide on something more permanent.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yeah, it’s not fair on others. If a new name is announced, people will try to use it, but otherwise you can’t expect them to just drop the old name.
      I can imagine that the company doesn’t want to go to the trouble of putting a new name into their system unless it’s the definitive name, but unless they’re going to choose their new name this week, they need to choose at least a placeholder name if they don’t want people to keep using the old name.
      I mean, names are what we use to identify people.

    2. Batgirl*

      OP is seriously kind, and really kind of awesome. I loved the detail about putting a star or smiley face on the coffee cups! However this is not a great situation to allow to drag on and on for their sake as much as anyone. It’s not the kind of thing you want your employee to stand out professionally for. A dialogue needs to happen about methods for getting a temporary name in place, like putting a pin in a baby book. It doesn’t have to be a great name, but it needs to be something the employee doesn’t hate or resent. If the OPs kindness and patience isn’t enough to get the employee to a place of being able to have a nickname or general identifier then they need to work it out with a professional.

  12. Lab Boss*

    I read the grandboss saying “pick a name and stick with it” not necessarily as meaning stick with it permanently and never ever change it, but just not to switch recklessly. If the employee goes with one name as a placeholder for a few months before settling on a different name as the permanent option, that is reasonable to work with. If the employee wants to go by a new name every workday and never repeat one, that’s not so reasonable.

    In addition to Alison’s suggestions of nicknames and initials, the employee could consider a job-related name of some kind (like how once upon a time you got the name “Smith” by being a metalworker)? Just a random thought that might help them compartmentalize it as “this is my work designation, it doesn’t have to be my forever personal identity”

    1. Anonymous the Third*

      Location-based nicknames could work here, too, since that’s another traditional place for names to come from. “Uptown Smith” has a nice ring to it.

          1. kicking_k*

            They call themselves by the names of their hometowns (Tallahassee, Columbus, Wichita, Little Rock) because they assume their companions could be killed/zombie-fied at any moment and not giving names is supposed to stop them forming attachments to each other. It does not work!

            1. kicking_k*

              Also maybe you’d want to pick somewhere other than your actual hometown to avoid being reminded of the past.

              1. Anonymous the Third*

                Thank you for clarifying. I should have been clearer, I meant their current location, like if they worked as a Smith in the Uptown metalworks. You’re right, I imagine anything more personal would be uncomfortable for the OP’s employee

        1. Batgirl*

          I was thinking more like Madison in Splash. She named herself after Madison Square Garden because that’s where she happened to be when asked her name. Madison was not used much as a given name before that movie.

          1. Aitch Arr*

            I’m going to be pedantic here, because Splash is one of my favorite movies.
            She named herself Madison because she saw the street sign for Madison Avenue while walking around NYC.

    2. Dobby is a Free Elf!*

      This. A single placeholder, even a slightly “weird” one, is appropriate for reasonable-term use in a professional environment. Choosing a new name often involves a process of trying out names and seeing what works/sticks, and that’s less appropriate for a professional environment, while a nickname, even one like the suggestions above (J.Doe, Nemo, whatever) that sticks for several months while the employee decides on a solution is something that can be managed. I was lucky enough to work with a couple of girls for a while during their foster-to-adopt journey, and each of them tried out multiple new names before settling on their final names post-adoption. One of them changed so often that I ended up giving her my very own nickname for her just to have something to call her consistently, so I’d stop stuttering over three different names before I got the right one out.

    3. Yvette*

      Perhaps they could take the name of someone they admire, or wish to emulate and tweak it? Mother Theresa, Terry Nunn. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Ruth Bergman. I realize this is coming across as flippant, but I honestly don’t mean it that way. In real life people often give their children names of loved ones or people they admire.

      1. Batgirl*

        I was actually thinking, if I were in this position I might think which actors I’d want to play me in a movie and go with their name for a while. Not the whole name though.

  13. Mostly Managing*

    Names are important.
    Both from a “what you are called is deeply personal” perspective and from a “we use language in certain ways and not having a name is not viable” angle.

    The employee needs to pick a name and go with it. Changing once they decide for sure is fine. Changing daily or weekly is also not sustainable, which may be where the CEO is coming from.

  14. Blue Puck*

    FNU
    (First Name Unknown)

    We had an unfortunate snafu where a new employee’s cube nameplate was made up a tad too early, giving his first name as FNU.
    His name was not FNU.

    1. anonymous 5*

      We had a (phenomenal) student for whom that ended up being on so much legal documentation that he just went with it. As far as I know, that was also the name on his diploma.

    2. DataGirl*

      We use FNU or LNU in our database when a person only has one name, as both are required fields. However, I have a hard time imagining calling someone that to their face.

      1. Aggresuko*

        Yeah, we used that but have been forced to switch to using a period (.) if they have no name because people complained and objected to FNU and LNU. Of course, they also complain about the period too. Then we’re all, WE HAVE NO WAY FOR YOU TO ONLY HAVE ONE NAME HERE. YOU HAVE TO HAVE SOMETHING IN THAT FIELD OR ELSE NOTHING WORKS.

        I guess this person would be “. .” at my job. Which we still can’t exactly say….

        1. desdemona*

          That makes me think of the band !!!
          which generally is referred to verbally as ‘chk chk chk’ but I believe they say that any sound repeated 3 times will do.
          Maybe the employee could be . . and a sound could be created in collab w/ the employee?

    3. Alison M*

      Nowadays the Army uses NMN for No Middle Name if someone doesn’t have a legal middle name. Back in WWII days, neither of my grandfathers had a middle name. One of them got assigned X and the other A.

      Per a friend who got assigned NMN, it’s REALLY had to fill that in on the multitude of forms that only give space for a middle initial. At some point, the NMN migrated and started showing up on her civilian ID, which caused no end of trouble when states started switching to the Real ID requirements, and she had to show her birth certificate: “But these don’t match! Your birth certificate shows you have no middle name, but your ID says your middle name is Nmn (clerks try to pronounce it as “Nimin” or similar).” She still hasn’t gotten this sorted out.

      1. Despachito*

        This is allegedly how a town in Alaska came by its name.

        The cartographer preparing the map could not remember the name of the town, and therefore wrote a latin equivalent of “name” – “nomen” to the map, meaning to replace it with the real name. But he forgot, and the typesetter left it in the map and even made a mistake in it.

        And this is why Nome is called Nome.

    4. JaneB*

      We use TBC – to be confirmed – in timetables, planning etc (university) – this sometimes confusion for staff with initials including TB or BC or TC- we haven’t yet had someone with the initials TBC! But it’s a running joke to put those initials in any empty office…

    5. Aggresuko*

      Yeah, but this person would be FNU LNU. Admittedly, “fnulnu@company.com” would work for the email, but heck if I know how you pronounce it…

    6. My Cabbages!*

      When my husband was a bank teller, he had a customer who would cash his check every month. My husband would always be very friendly: “Hey, Fnu! How are things?”
      He was mortified when he found out that FNU was NOT the customer’s name.

    1. Less Bread More Taxes*

      It certainly does read to me like one of those outrageous stories made up by anti-trans people in order to dismiss legitimate trans issues.

      1. Dobby is a Free Elf!*

        I mean…I legitimately worked with a couple of teen girls who were in the process of being adopted, and they went through some trauma related to their birth names. They didn’t go nameless, but they did change names…a lot…before arriving at a solution that worked for them. One went through a lot more names than the other, and it was a big deal each time–something that cannot be done as easily or as well in a workplace, especially a highly professional one where you have a lot of bonds. Picking a new name is a big step, especially when stepping out of trauma–whether that’s for the trans community, adoption, or simply processing through trauma. It’s very emotional. Often, the first step there is, “I don’t want to be this person anymore.” This letter exemplifies the very early step of that process without the resolution. No, it’s not realistic or sustainable to not have a name; but there is a stage during that process when you might not have a new name yet, but have already decided that who you are is not the deadname any longer.

        1. Tree*

          Sure, that’s super common for lots of people, especially young folks. But I really fail to see how “a key employee whose expertise is often sought” could be so obtuse that they are unaware of the infeasibility of their desires in a professional context. In both senses– someone this far along in their career should know better and also if you know you’re in a role that requires a lot of communication internally and externally, it seems wild to think you can ask for no name indefinitely. From the details of the letter, it seems like this has gone on for at least 2-3 months, if not longer.

          1. Batgirl*

            While this could be fake, I can see how the grandboss’ directive that they have to pick a permanent name off the bat, could stall things.

            1. Calliope*

              I find it unlikely that it’s an actual directive. Sounds like Grandboss fired an annoyed comment at OP, not that someone said “you can only change your name once” to the LW in any form. Given how the LW is discussing the accommodations they are already made.

        2. DataGirl*

          Yep, my kid is not trans but has gone through several different names trying to figure out who they want to be identified as. Honestly, it’s not that unusual- growing up I had a bunch of different nicknames at different ages or with different friend groups. The only difference is I settled on something before entering my career.

          That being said, I do think this person needs to let people in the office call them something- even if it’s just a letter or number or word they like.

          1. Worldwalker*

            My late aunt, who died at 96, picked her preferred name when she was a young child. According to my father, when she was something like 6 (which would have been in the 1920s), she said “Call me Pat!” and stuck with it. She was known by that name all her life, to the point that friends of hers didn’t know it wasn’t on her birth certificate.

            Plenty of people change their names for plenty of reasons.

            They just need to change them *to* something. Malcolm Little, Cassius Clay, and my aunt weren’t known by the names their parents gave them, but they were all known by a name.

            1. Despachito*

              My husband had an uncle who only after coming to school learned that his first name wasn’t really “Matt” but “Bob”.

              Everyone in the family so far called him Matt but he was given Bob at birth. No idea why.

              And my own father was known around the wide family as “Santiago”, albeit his real name was “Mike”. He was officially named after his father, but his mother, a foreigner, preferred to call him “Santiago”, and it stuck to him for his whole life. (Outside the family, he was “Mike”)

              1. rubble*

                my own uncle had that happen to him, he only found out when he needed his birthday certificate to get his driver’s licence. they had been calling him an anglo name and he thought his legal name was the italian version of that, but it wasn’t. he has since changed his legal name to match the name he’s always used.

        3. learnedthehardway*

          I have a young relative who has gender identity issues, and their names change periodically. We’re currently dealing with “What do you do when the name they have chosen is simply ridiculous?” My suggestion to their mother is that they don’t have to always play along. If the name (or lack thereof) is going cause more problems than it solves, then it’s okay to push back and tell them to find something appropriate.

          1. Worldwalker*

            At least they’re the one who chose the ridiculous name. And it can’t be worse than Dweezil, X Æ A-12, or Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii?

          2. NotMy(Fancy)RealName*

            My suggestion to the mother (as the mom of a trans person) is to go with what the child chooses. Maybe you think it’s stupid, but your plan gets your kid to not be open with you.

            1. Wintermute*

              part of being a parent is guidance, and sometimes that means not pushing back exactly but saying “you realize this is going to mean X and Y, are you sure you want that?” which is gentle pushback I suppose. If your child is setting themselves up for ridicule or not to be taken seriously and doesn’t see that, it wouldn’t be very responsible to be enthusiastically supportive without warning them of the problems they might not realize.

          3. marvin the paranoid android*

            There are worse things in life than being ridiculous! Lots of trans people choose names for themselves that aren’t normative. Being trans is going to set you apart no matter how respectable you make yourself, so it can be pretty meaningful to choose to present yourself in an intentionally challenging way. I think your young relative is doing great.

      2. boo bot*

        Yeah, that was my reaction as well, Less Bread More Taxes. That doesn’t mean it *can’t* be true. Plenty of people know for sure that they’re done going by their birth names before they’ve settled on something new, but I can’t really imagine anyone just refusing to give people a placeholder, especially at work, especially once it started causing problems at work.

        Regardless of the truth value of this particular letter, though, I want to say that I think it’s worth noting when a letter feeds into a harmful narrative because otherwise, people who aren’t aware of that narrative will have the anecdote in their heads and maybe go tell it to others, not realizing that it’s serving an agenda. Whether or not it’s true isn’t so much what’s important; if a person in the US in 2008 went around telling a story about someone who tried to marry their dog, they would be making an argument against gay marriage whether or not they realized it, and whether or not the story was true (which it probably wasn’t, but again, it doesn’t matter).

        So, I think it’s worth making it clear that (1) this is not a common problem and (2) respecting trans people’s names and pronouns is not in fact a slippery slope to people having no names at all or whatever.

        1. boo bot*

          To be clear, by “this is not a common problem” I meant the letter writer’s situation of having absolutely no way to refer to or address someone who works for them. It’s obviously very common and normal for people to be ready to stop using an old name without having decided on a new name.

          All that said, it did strike me on rereading the letter again that it’s not clear whether the letter writer has actually asked the person to come up with a short-term solution, or what their reaction to all these situations and introductions has been; I thought initially that the employee had been unwilling to consider any temporary options (an initial, a title, a nickname, etc.) but if they don’t know it’s causing problems, then it’s reasonable they haven’t tried to come up with solutions. So if the LW hasn’t asked their employee for input, I suggest doing so.

          1. GythaOgden*

            LW is trying to defend their choice not to name themselves, possibly in response to the organisation wanting them to pick something concrete.

            1. boo bot*

              Yeah, for sure! It’s just not clear to me whether they’ve asked the person how they’d like stuff like email address, introductions, etc. to be handled – not “You must pick a name,” but “How do you want us to introduce you for now?” “What do you want your email handle to be?” “How do you want me to refer to you when I’m assigning tasks in a team-wide email?” It seems like the most urgent priority should be for people to stop referring to the employee by the wrong name, which means the email and outgoing signature need to change, other employees need to be told “say this, not that,” etc., and the person most impacted should be involved how that happens.

              As I said, it’s not clear in the letter whether the LW has had these conversations, so it’s all speculation (at least to me – I read it one way the first time and the other the second, so I may just not be great at reading!) Maybe the LW has, and the employee hasn’t been able to answer, but if they haven’t already gotten their input, they should. It just seems like there’s a lot of wanting to be supportive but not a lot of actual concrete support, and one missing link is what the person most impacted actually wants.

          2. Scout*

            I think it’s pretty much impossible to not realize that having no name to go by is causing problems at work.

        2. Trans and scared*

          Agreed. I’m horrified that Alison published this. Yeah, I don’t expect cis people to recognise every single dog whistle but this causes real harm at a time where we’re being attacked by legislators just for existing. And the comments pushing back on the idea that this is harmful are perpetuating a culture of transphobia.

      3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        If it was an anti-trans fake, the LW would say that the person was trans, which they are not.

        1. Philmar*

          By not saying anything about being trans, they get plausible deniability that it’s not about trans people. But with a modicum of critical thought, you can see how it still undermines trans issues. I also think it’s fake and it was bad judgement on Alison’s part to publish it. And the situation is so out there that the “even if it’s fake it could still help someone” doesn’t make sense either.

          1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

            Well, I also applied a modicum of compassion towards someone who might be having a psychological hard time with coming up with a new name.

            1. Just a Modicum*

              You could also apply a modicum of compassion for the trans people whose experiences are being mocked and degraded if indeed this is a fake letter meant to rile up the commenters and provide an anti-trans talking point.

          2. Theo*

            It’s not that out there. There are several people below who also didn’t use a name or had a friend who didn’t use a name for a period of time. *I* know someone who didn’t use a name. That combined with a mental health crisis, which this sounds like, might result in something that goes off-piste pretty fast, I suspect, especially with a workplace that highly values inclusion and is worried about alienating what sounds like an important employee. I’m trans and attuned to TERF/anti-trans dogwhistles, and even I think you’re reaching.

            Maybe Alison could reach back out with further questions about context, but this is no wilder than a boss demanding a kidney, you know?

            1. kicking_k*

              I can understand it though I would not myself do it. I’ve occasionally tied myself in bureaucratic knots because I don’t like having a title. I’m a cis woman and married, no trauma, but none of Miss, Ms or Mrs have ever felt comfy, and they seem unnecessary. I will ask you to use my first name if I can, not least because I double-barrelled my surname and the combo is really long.

              Just as well I’m not a teacher as the convention here is for students to call the teacher Title Surname.

              On forms I do use Mrs by default.

          3. YetAnotherAnalyst*

            I mean, I’m not trans, but I have a boatload of family trauma that was well compartmentalized for years until it wasn’t – and when it finally blew up and I had to process it there was a definite “well who the bleep even am I?”. If I hadn’t already changed my last name when I married, I would’ve done it then. And if folks at work were pressuring me that my new last name had to be permanent while I was trying to navigate that crisis and still pay the bills (because 100% of my safety net had been my family; abuse often is isolating), I probably would’ve asked if we could just… not call me anything? Because it’s not like I had a new identity that felt more right – just an old one full of disgust and despair.

        2. Mona-Lisa Saperstein*

          Nah, this is firmly in the camp of anti-trans “hypotheticals” that bigots throw around to justify their anti-trans nonsense. I mean, we had a letter from someone recently whose anti-trans colleague was insisting that their gender was “leaf” or something like that.

          1. league**

            Right, it specifically doesn’t mention trans people because they want to be all like “see the slippery slope?”

            1. Despachito*

              But even if the letter was fake, what harm can it do to try and give a rational solution to it as if it was real?

              As far as I have seen, it fortunately did not incite any hateful comments, and most of the commentariat see no problem in changing the name, but coincide in that there should be an identifier for the employee to pick and go by.

              1. Just a Modicum*

                If the letter is fake, which I also strongly suspect, then there is absolutely harm in publishing it here. It legitimizes an anti-trans strawman argument on a public platform.

      4. Churlish Gambino*

        And this is the inherent problem with assuming every letter is real. Usually, even a fake letter is worth responding to because it could still help people having a similar issue even if the scenario in the letter didn’t happen. But something like this is so incredibly niche on top of actively harming trans people by giving an obvious strawman legitimacy via a public platform that I struggle to believe this would be helpful to anybody.

        1. Batgirl*

          Jerks are so capable of making their own strawmen though, and I don’t get why people are so invested in what a jerk might think of anything anyway. It’s just true that some people associate trauma with names and you don’t have to be trans to want to be in control of your own name, and in control of your trauma. Also, speak to any prospective parents and they’ll all tell you choosing a name is super hard even in very boring, predictable, circumstances. Discussion of some problems and pitfalls of people changing their names isn’t harmful or worrying at all. This is eminently solvable.

      5. WindmillArms*

        What’s anti-trans about it? I’m a trans person who transitioned at work, and I considered “no name/no pronoun” because I would have loved it. As this letter demonstrates, that can cause all kinds of issues, even if you’re the most pro-trans person possible. I would not be shocked if this employee did end up being trans, but I don’t think writing in about them (especially where this LW was doing their best to be an ally!) is anti-trans.

      1. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

        Because spreading lies like this is harmful to people who have legitimate trauma leading to deadnames. Much like the whole “litter boxes in school bathrooms” rumors that at rampant right now, making up a story where someone has no name feeds the far right and make them dismissive of others with deadnames.

        I’m not saying this couldn’t be true, and Alison answered appropriately for the situation if it is. However, calling out the harmfulness of things like this is ok too.

        1. Sharpiee*

          I recently heard someone say that one of the local schools put litter boxes in the bathrooms. She really believed it. Sigh….I’m losing hope for humanity.

        2. yala*

          On the other hand, if it’s true, you’re basically claiming that an actual person’s trauma isn’t as legitimate as other people’s because they don’t present it as conveniently as most people in similar situations do.

          Trying to get my brother’s name is a bit like nailing jello to the wall. He has a few he’s mostly settled on, and afaik, he’s never been Nameless, but some folks have more trouble with it than others.

        3. Worldwalker*

          The thing is, with a large enough group, highly improbable things happen. It’s more likely you’ll be hit by lightning than win the Powerball lottery, yet people win Powerball on a regular basis. If only one person in a million can play the Who-Whoober, there are over three hundred Who-Whoober players in the US alone. I’ve lived long enough to realize that almost anything has happened, at least once, to someone, somewhere. It’s unlikely that two siblings will have exactly the same birthday … but common enough that it’s only newsworthy if it’s 3 or more. (two of my BIL and my mother all share a birthday!)

          So I’m not going to say something is false just because it’s highly improbable. Especially if it has to do with how a person acts. People are *weird*. (look what Elon Musk named his kid!) If someone can believe (or at least say they believe) that the California forest fires were caused by secret Jewish space lasers, wanting to reject any name at all is practically mainstream.

    2. Mental Lentil*

      Really? Have you met people? Not everybody has the same experience that you do.

      Also, we are asked in the commenting rules specifically to NOT question LWs, as it can be discouraging to others who may want to write in.

      If you can’t say anything nice……go away.

      1. Orange*

        I find it ironic that you are telling others to be nice or leave. From your comments on this post:

        1. “Really? Have you met people?”
        2. “Because you, like their abuser, are taking away their agency.”
        3. “This question is phrased in a snotty, judgmental way.”
        4. “Do you do your taxes 40 hours a week, every week? Do you look at your paycheck 40 hours a week, every week? No?”

        #4 is particularly galling in light of #3.

    3. Siege*

      Well, the good news is, Alison gets to decide how she spends her time, it costs you nothing to read and participate, and it really doesn’t matter if it is. I trust Alison to decide whether she’s getting a slew of letters promoting an anti-inclusive ideology or whatever and not publish them, so it does no harm to publish this, and if it does turn out to be part of some anti-woke fake letter campaign, that will probably be something she catches. (See also the long spate of posts on NotAlwaysWorking that are clearly fake to promote an anti-worker’s-rights narrative.)

      1. GythaOgden*

        To be frank, workers can be assholes in their own right, which makes it unfair that such posts are stigmatised for presenting the ‘wrong’ image of a minority or other oppressed person because humans are all individual rather than conforming to some idea of a model minority or whatever. That just makes the commenters there look self-righteous rather than anything else. It drives me crazy that people do that, particularly because we’ve probably all known people from every walk of life who were idiots. As disabled, you bet there are people with my conditions who use them as an excuse for bad behaviour — including myself at times. To say otherwise is patronising.

        Here, identity is a complex thing. As someone with some very strange triggers that haven’t always been taken seriously, I can believe this. I’ve also been here in a milder way with some other situations and can definitely say that OP is compounding the problem rather than actually helping this person sort their company affairs out.

      2. Meridian*

        With all due respect, Alison is human just like you and I, and all humans misjudge some situations sometimes. I rarely comment here but I’ve been reading this blog for years and a lot of it has been very helpful for me. But I don’t think it’s healthy to take everything here as gospel without questioning it, either. And that’s not a dog or anything, there are a lot of smart people in my life who I respect and also have healthy discourse with.

    4. Elder Millennial*

      And what if it is? Someone somewhere some day will have a problem close enough that the advice will still be helpful.

    5. I.T. Phone Home*

      There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
      Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Doesn’t do anything here, comment with a link if you want it to be flagged for Alison

    6. Theo*

      As a trans person…. no? You may have no idea how exhausting and miserable it is to hear a name that makes you feel terrible applied to you dozens of times a day, but plenty of us do. This is absolutely not the way I would handle it — I’d just have people call me J. Doe or something until I had it sorted — but the base problem is actually very real. Imagine (assuming this person is trans, which, we don’t actually know that) that your given first name is Richard, which feels Bad in a gender way, and your given last name is Bones. Now imagine that you have spent the last, oh, twenty years being beaten down by people with the last name Bones about your gender identity, and every time you hear “Richard Bones” you want to die a little bit because you get reminded of A, your former uncomfortably gendered name, and B, the horrible people who gave it to you.

      It does not make trans people and people with family trauma feel Good when you think our troubles must be made up.

      1. WindmillArms*

        I feel very lucky that I love my last name and get along with my family, because I could lean on going by my last name when I was in the awkward early years of gender transition. Without that? I definitely see how no name at all would be appealing to someone.

        1. pancakes*

          I can see how that could be appealing, but I can’t see how anyone could think it’s practical!

      1. pancakes*

        Yes, but everyone in the office trying to accommodate this as if it’s reasonable to go without a name is the part that doesn’t ring true to me. That part seems very unlikely. And I don’t think it is reasonable to ask everyone to wrangle with this level of self/other strife on a daily basis.

    7. Susan*

      I agree. It really reads like a “powning the libs” fake letter to make trans people and allies look dramatic/stupid.

      1. IT Manager*

        And yet when I read it I was jealous of that lovely supportive environment where (aside from grand boss) everyone is trying to make it work for someone who has expressed a challenging situation.

        Pwned, I guess? I don’t see a problem with trying to make it work, though it seems they logistically need to get to a workable solution now. Better than the “just fall in line” attitude we see so often.

    8. Seen It All Before*

      Exactly! I’m imagining a Fox news type podcaster sending this in to have something “hilarious” about “politically correct woke culture gone wild” to speak about on a future episode.

  15. No Tribble At All*

    Other suggested “filler” names: Jane/John/Jay Doe. “X” as in Xavier. Guy or Buddy. Last name Smith or Jones.

    For some reason I’m blanking on femme-sounding “everyman” names.

    1. Janet Pinkerton*

      My family just calls everyone Miss because that’s what they were called when they worked retail in the 70s/80s/ish.

  16. Albeira Dawn*

    In your employee’s shoes, I’d probably try to frame this for myself as a pen name. It isn’t my real name, it isn’t who I am, it’s a way for people to refer to me in a very specific context to eliminate confusion. I can change it, I can drop it entirely, I can use one name for work and none outside of that.

    [I’m thinking specifically of authors who write for one genre using their real name and another using a pen name, so that little Timmy who loved their middle grade mystery don’t pick up their adult romance before they’re ready.]

    Feelings about names are very complicated and I hope you and your employee figure out something that works.

    1. Purple Cat*

      I’m not in the same boat as this employee, but this *feels* like a good approach. Gently reminding the employee that they must be called *something*, but it really doesn’t have to be a permanent name that they’re committed to. It just needs to be functional. But it can definitely be fun!
      Even having an internet name like “Purple Unicorn” is better than nothing.

    2. Yvette*

      [I’m thinking specifically of authors who write for one genre using their real name and another using a pen name, so that little Timmy who loved their middle grade mystery don’t pick up their adult romance before they’re ready.]

      Showing my age, but Judy Blume comes instantly to mind.

      1. league**

        wait, Judy Blume wrote other things under a pen name? I didn’t know that. Tell me more!

        1. Yvette*

          No she didn’t but she probably wished she had. She wrote a book called Wifey and got slammed because it was definitely an adult (as in aimed at grown ups) book and people who were in the habit of just getting their kid the latest and greatest Judy Blume were up in arms over it.

    3. Dramatic Intent to Flounce*

      Yeah, I’m glad it sounds like HR and OP have their employee’s back, and I get why they wouldn’t want to stay with ANY aspect of the old name when family trauma’s involved. But it’s also not doable to refer to them with nothing in the workplace, especially if they’re potentially working with external people who don’t know what’s going on. (In the employee’s shoes, I wouldn’t want to have to explain things every time someone outside the department comes in.) So, just for work, something is needed that doesn’t have to be outside work, doesn’t have to be forever, and which everyone working on a day-to-day basis recognizes is a designation rather than a name, but doesn’t require the whole explanation to out-of-department types. (Later, if they ask and Employee’s changed their name, it can be as simple as ‘Oh, I changed it!’ or OP sending out an email to other departments giving the short ‘Placeholder is now Name, this is their email, we’ll keep a redirect until X Point’ version. Either way, it’s much less loaded to explain ‘Oh I changed my name because I hated the old one’ than ‘I’m not currently using a name because my family poisoned everything I could use to refer to myself.’ The first is in the past, and also lets you imply the issues with Old Name were more in the ‘embarrassing’ range like ‘My parents named me Beauregard Vine, Beau for short’ rather than ‘my family is a source of trauma.’)

    4. NotMy(Fancy)RealName*

      This is essentially how we got through my son’s name change, except we went with superheros. That legal name? That’s just your cover identity.

    5. FGW*

      Chiming in because I had to select a pen name rapidly (for reasons) without a lot of time to think about it. I picked a famous local baby animal from a nearby zoo and my favorite color.

      There are a lot of variants that could be used similarly for a temporary name, depending on the employee’s hobbies and interests.

      For instance:
      Activity + Sports team = Skydiver Steelers
      Favorite food + Recreational hobby = Pineapple Reader
      Desired city to live in some day + Favorite movie character = Dublin Neo

      1. WindmillArms*

        Great idea! Something like Pen Name, Anon Y. Mouse, Sue Bree Kay. It doesn’t really matter is it’s obviously a “fake” name, so long as everyone know who Pen/Mouse/Kay is.

      2. desdemona*

        I like this one because Nomme sounds gender-neutral to me and I can’t think of a common gendered name it sounds like?

  17. LTR,FTP*

    It’s honestly too much to ask to be nameless.

    I’d suggest following the convention we used at summer camp — our counselors did not want to go by first name, and Ms. Lastname was way too formal… so they picked fun nicknames for themselves. The nicknames only lasted for the camp session, so some counselors cycled through multiple names during the course of a summer… but everyone had *something* they were called, even it it was Pooh Bear.

    1. fine-tipped pen aficionado*

      Yes! We needed a way to keep campers from contacting us on social media at Girl Scout camp and did the same. I was Juniper.

    2. Bayta Darrell*

      Camp names are very common and at camps I’ve done have been used by both counselors and campers. Everyone adjusts very quickly to being called something new. I had a camp that was full of names like “cloud,” “rainbow,” and “pizza,” …and one kid called “Morgan Freeman.” I think that if the person isn’t ready to settle on a name, choosing a nickname and keeping the mindset of this not needing to be their forever name could be helpful.

      1. Goldenrod*

        “I had a camp that was full of names like “cloud,” “rainbow,” and “pizza,” …and one kid called “Morgan Freeman.””

        LOL I love this. That’s amazing.

    3. Beth*

      I’m remembering talking to various people over the phone at social services-type government offices, some decades ago. Every single name that any of them used was one that could be either gender, and after a while, I realized that they were all pseudonyms. On Tuesday, the person who answered the phone was Robin, on Wednesday it was Tracy, etc.

      I thought it was a great approach, since these were people who were inevitably going to have frustrated people wanting to shout at them, and using pseudonyms was simple and effective.

      I do have sympathy for the employee in this letter, but srsly, they can use a pseudonym while they make their decision. Trying to make other people deal with namelessness isn’t reasonable.

      1. Dancing Otter*

        This is especially common in collections departments. NOBODY uses their real name when calling deadbeats, for reasons that should be obvious.

    4. Public Sector Manager*

      When I was in private practice and represented a few clients before the IRS, all the IRS auditors at that office used the color naming convention like in Reservoir Dogs. I dealt with Mrs. Green and Mr. Brown the most. They did it for security reasons.

  18. Diane*

    I know trauma does weird things to your brain, but I’m wondering at employee’s goal here. Surely it’s easier to be referred to as X (or some other obvious placeholder moniker) than to have the repeated complicated discussions and inevitable slip-ups that their current strategy is causing? It also doesn’t seem like a healthy trauma coping method. It might not be a boss’s purview to suggest but I’m wondering if a private reminder of how to access the company’s EAP resources would be helpful. I know people are often split on whether or not to comment on coworkers’ appearance of health, but I feel like there’s a way to do it that doesn’t imply they expect a follow up from the employee or sharing of any personal information.

  19. Lady_Lessa*

    Wild suggestion. Use part of the one of their numbers except in Roman numerals as their name. Such as XVI.CCIII

    1. Asenath*

      Not so wild. I heard of someone whose real first name included Roman numerals – not tacked on the end, as they do in some families, but an invented name that ended with a number, written in Roman numerals. I didn’t believe it at first, but the person who told me wasn’t known for joking or believing “friend of a friend said” stories. There are a lot of unusual names out there.

      But yes, Employee needs to pick a placeholder – it doesn’t even have to be a word usually used as a name as long as Employee will use it (until some permanent name is chosen) – it has to be easy to pronounce and spell, and maybe easily be broken into two parts for use in generating the email address.

  20. LifeBeforeCorona*

    I have to ask, how do they get paid? Or pay bills or use the internet? Or sign contracts of any kind? I understand the name change trauma, I tried to change my name when I was a teen but my parents weren’t having any of that.

    1. Siege*

      Probably by accepting that this is a part of life they don’t have control over yet. I mean, I don’t spend 40 hours a week reading my power bill, so that seems like it would be a momentary stab that would be easy to minimize, but being called Bill Jones 7 times an hour for a workweek would be more like an evisceration. Why assume that all things are equal experiences? Why not assume that the place we spend a significant chunk of our waking hours is more important to control than the paystub we look at once every two weeks for 60 seconds?

    2. MsSolo UK*

      If they’re a digital native, they may well have all of that set up to do automatically. I haven’t /had/ to look at a payslip or a bill in years (I mean, I do check occasionally!). The most annoying thing would be all the emails that auto-fill your name to let you know your bill is available online if you want to look at it – I don’t know if you can change the name on those without some form of documentation, or select a nickname. Employee has presumably either taken what action they can, or is filing everything without reading it for now.

      Pure speculation here, but I suspect they hit a tipping point where they just couldn’t deal with their deadname any more, but now they’re paralysed because choosing a new name has become a massive thing as they’re forced to confront how often they’re likely to hear it in person. Placing emphasis on the idea they can use a ‘pen name’ or initial for now, and it’s not a commitment, might help them move forwards in the process, instead of feeling like they have to make a forever choice purely for the sake of the coffee run at work.

    3. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

      A name change is an entire thing. So the employee doesnt want to be called by their deadname but their is a whole process legally to change their name. So they are still getting paid and using their deadname until they can/have changed their name legally.

      Which brings up a good point. Perhaps the employee is under the assumption that the name they are called at work HAS to be their legal name. And since they have not changed their name legally yet since they are still trying to choose, they figure asking to be called nothing is better than being dead named.

      OP Please make sure the employee knows that he can choose a nick name until he gets things sorted out.

    4. DC*

      I mean, if I hear my name verbally spoken in a public space, my ears prick up, my train of thought is pulled out of whatever I’m thinking about. It’s like a shortcut to get my attention that’s hardwired to my identity. A paystub or a Bed Bath & Beyond 20% coupon in my mailbox, on the other hand, does not tend to yoink my consciousness with the same vigor, to say the least.

  21. Swisa*

    Could they just use the employee’s title? It would be complicated if more than one person has the same title, but if not, may help?

    1. Smithy*

      I came here to say a version of that.

      In one job, my email address was essentially my job title – not as clunky as the whole thing, but when I now try to spell out first initial full last name, I fondly remember when my email used to just be development@. Depending on what this person’s job title or department is, perhaps there’s either a version of that word that’s collegial enough – or an abbreviation? If someone was the Director of Communications – perhaps just going with DC?

      Pushing for a version of their job title seems like an accommodating approach but where the employer may have more standing to say “when we hired you, there was already agreement with the title Director of Communications – let’s just refer to you as Coms or DC on a personal level until you’re ready”.

      1. Asenath*

        Apparently, there are several people with the same job title. I had for years an email address along the lines of “LlamaGroomingOffice@Employer.com” which was great, but it also wouldn’t work if it would confuse outside people as to which of the several llama groomers had that address.

        1. Smithy*

          For email, this does sound like a non-starter for sure – but given both the number of issues, I wonder if that might be a start at least for verbal communication? Referring to the coworker verbally as “Tech” perhaps or again some kind of initials.

          Inevitably the email situation sounds incredibly painful, but I wonder if there was some intentionality to address some of the in person communication as well as an internal update that says “On an interim basis, we are referring to deadname@company.com as Tech in all communication, we thank you all of you for continuing to make this a thoughtful and inclusive workplace for all of your colleagues”. It might not fix everything, particularly depending on the size of the company and the nature of how the colleague is contacted but it gives people direction as well as a clear correction for mistakes.

          While I get that professional email addresses are not exactly the same as legally changing your name, I put that as a closer level of admin headaches and would be hesitant to identify an intermediary email address without trying something else first. Depending on how their IT department is and how rigid their processes are – that might be where some of the “pick a name and stick with it” insensitivity is coming from. Whereas sending an all-company email followed by changes on an internal directory can be far easier to change and edit as you go.

        2. doreen*

          It wouldn’t confuse me as to which of the several llama groomers had that address – I would assume that the address was shared by all the llama groomers or possibly everyone in the llama grooming office , because that has been my experience. Which is fine for the circumstances it’s meant for – but doesn’t work for emails that are specifically meant for llama groomer #1 that shouldn’t be read by others.

        3. Smithy*

          I think even if you don’t update the email – you could still send a workplace wide email saying the staff member at deadname@company.com will now be referred to as Coms/DC (from my previous example or perhaps something like Tech?) for the interim. It’s also a clear line on an email signature, again directing an intermediary step.

          Forcing the email change until a new name is chosen may be too hard, but at least it gives a concrete correction for colleagues not looking to be rude. You’re just saying “I’m currently going by DC instead of Dead Name, thank you”. The person can apologize and correct the behavior, moving on quickly. The response of “I now go by no name – no, not No Name – just nothing” is likely prolonging and confusing the interaction which may increase the distress and also confusion.

    2. JSPA*

      Came here to say this; give them a unique and descriptive use-title that highlights some key skill (that will follow them from job to job) regardless of job title. “Llama supplement expert, can you weigh in on this?” Or a nickname that they’re fine with having remain a nickname, even if they’ll eventually change to using a real name. They might also be amenable to having a “work name,” the way that some camps encourage their campers to have a “camp name,” or trail throughhikers have a “trail name” or authors have a “pen name.”

      In fact, “call me by my pen name, it’s Paddington Brown” is a strange but not unbearably strange way to present the request.

  22. DrSalty*

    I assume this person doesn’t use their last name either? Tough situation. I would say you need to tell them that they need to pick some kind of nickname or moniker to use at work. I’d remind them it doesn’t have to be forever, and it doesn’t have to be for everywhere or every aspect of their life. I think it’s only a matter of time before their coworkers start calling them “Nameless” or some other nickname they don’t want. It’s better to get ahead of that.

    1. Everything Bagel*

      Yes, this is probably what it will come down to. I’m trying to understand how this person refers to themselves in written and oral communications. When they leave a voicemail or write an email, how do they sign off? I think the manager here was kind to try this for a while, but now they must revise for obvious reasons. I hope the employee will understand and agree.

  23. Six for the Truth*

    Oof, yeah, updating your professional name more than once in a year is annoying, but it’s way more sustainable for everybody than this.

    It sounds like the employee’s whole former name, like Pamela Doe, feels bad and they don’t identify with it. That’s fine. I changed from a name like Pamela Doe to a name like Palamedes Sextus when I transitioned, and found my old surname a lot MORE upsetting than my old first name for family trauma reasons, so Mx. Doe definitely wouldn’t have helped. (This was many years before Gideon the Ninth came out, so it wasn’t actually Palamedes Sextus, but it is similarly weird.)

    It may help to explicitly tell this person they’re allowed to use an unconventional name, something based on a username, or a reference to a fictional character – literally anything is better than not having something to call you.

    1. Siege*

      Why? What business is it of yours? Why do you care about how they experience the place they have more control over than their job? Is it just to make fun of them?

      1. BA*

        I think the question is applicable… like what do they do when they go to the dentist? What name is being called when it is their turn? How they approach outside of work can definitely be informative for how to proceed within the workplace.

        1. Siege*

          Why? This is a work blog. It’s not a going-to-the-dentist blog. Work, for most of us, is the single largest chunk of time we spend doing a thing in a week. It makes absolute sense to me that you would want to affect that as quickly as you could. And it is not relevant to a work question to speculate on how a person handles parts of their life they spend much less time engaging with than they spend on their job.

          1. BA*

            Again, I think the point of the question is to help solve the work problem. If the employee is using a particular way of being identified when they get a latte, go to the dentist, etc. then that can inform the workplace situation. If they’re not, then (shrug). It was perhaps just a way to work with the employee to solve the work problem quickly and easily.

            1. Siege*

              They probably have the sense to think that an identifier they use in semi-professional contexts could be used at work. The fact they’re not doing this (and how INCREDIBLY hard it is to not have a name makes me think this happened at most a couple days before OP wrote in, when this is all very fresh) likely means they either don’t have a solution or they don’t have a workable one (like, requesting a star on their latte is not going to translate to an email system unless they want to go by Star Jones). I guess I just don’t think this could be something that’s been going on for six months, you know?

              1. BA*

                I’m really curious to see if we get an update, and since you’ve brought up the timing of all of this, I am now even more curious about how long this has been going on. I lean toward your interpretation of the timing, BTW…

            2. Everything Bagel*

              And perhaps the manager here can ask the employee how they are managing this outside of work. If it’s working better in their personal life, perhaps they can apply whatever they’re doing to their work situation. It’s not unreasonable to speculate how one goes through their entire life with no name.

            3. Theo*

              honestly? they’re probably suffering. they just don’t want to suffer for 40 hours a week, as opposed to an hour at the dentist or thirty seconds at the library. I hope people who are doing this “but what do they say to the cable guy!!!!” style gotcha can take a minute to appreciate the difference.

              1. BA*

                I’m not here to argue this, and completely appreciate the point you’re making that they’re suffering. My only thought was to suggest to the letter writer that asking the employee if they’re doing something outside of the office that seems to be working for them is a way to engage them and to start the conversation that can lead to a solution that the employee can be OK with. Yes, 30 seconds at the library is far different than working in your office 40 hours a week. But there was no “gotcha” in my mind.

          2. Mental Lentil*

            Agreed, especially as this question is phrased in a snotty, judgmental way, rather than “I wonder if they have strategies outside of work that could be adapted for work.”

        2. JustaTech*

          At the dentist they’re probably called by their deadname, since that’s the name that is tied to their insurance. Or maybe they’re not going to the dentist specifically to avoid being called by that name.

          As folks have said up and down thread, they’re probably suffering.

        3. logicbutton*

          The thing is that they probably thought of that, you know? If they had an easy solution like that they probably would have shared it already.

      2. radfordblue*

        Because it’s so obviously unworkable in so many contexts that it calls into question why they think it’s a reasonable thing to request at work. It just doesn’t make sense, and it’s difficult to give useful advice for a situation that just doesn’t make sense.

      3. BigHairNoHeart*

        It’s a really unusual situation. And OP has already run into so many issues (many of which are resulting in their employee being triggered, yikes!), and I have to imagine the employee in question is dealing with even more issues since it’s impacting them personally. I think it’s only natural to see an odd situation like this and wonder how someone could ever practically deal with it in their day to day life. I’m wondering it myself–and at least for me (and I think others on here who have expressed similar sentiments), it’s coming from a place of compassion for the person impacted rather than a desire to make fun of them.

      4. anonymous73*

        You seem unreasonably worked up over a legitimate question. You need a name to function in society. Period.

        1. Nameless in Customer Service*

          But it’s not a legitimate question when it only has one already unacceptable answer.

          If the LW’s employee has not legally changed their name (which they haven’t because if they had this whole issue wouldn’t exist) then they’re still using the deadname to conduct business like banking and medical visits, and still suffering every time they do. So the question “what do they use outside work? [Use that name]” just circles back to using their deadname at work too, which is, or should be, out of the question. That’s what makes it a “gotcha” question.

          The answer to this situation has to be found in the future, not by circling back to and insisting on the past.

        2. Siege*

          I do get unreasonably worked up over pointless speculation that seems like a wedge to mock people with, it’s very true.

      5. Dona Florinda*

        How this person respond to people outside of work can be of help. What do their friends call them? How do they want to be called by their doctor? If they go by any name or nickname, they can use it for the workplace as well.

        1. Jora Malli*

          I’m guessing they’re still using their legal name for official things like banking and medical records, but those things don’t come up several times a day every day of the week like workplace interactions do.

          I agree that going nameless isn’t a workable solution, but this is already a hard situation for this employee, and comments like “how do they even function, though?!” aren’t going to be helpful for the OP.

        2. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

          Not if they don’t like the solution they’ve come up with outside of work and don’t want to make it permanent. I would imagine that this is in fact the case, or otherwise they would have brought it up themselves.

        3. Siege*

          I feel comfortable assuming that if they had a workable solution for outside the office, they would have the intelligence to state to the office that is their preference. So it doesn’t matter as speculation because it doesn’t exist.

          1. Rocket*

            Considering the amount of times Alison has had to offer the simple workable solution of “use your words” on this site, I would not assume anything.

            Some people might not think to suggest the nickname their friends use for them or an online handle because it’s not a “name”. Suggesting they start there isn’t any different from any of the other “can they use a number, can they use a character name, can they use an initial” advice.

  24. Lady_Lessa*

    Use part of the one of their numbers except in Roman numerals as their name. Such as XVI.CCIII

  25. emmarosej*

    An initial seems like a good compromise – a friend of mine who transitioned has a dead name that began with M and as they transitioned, they started going by M until they chose a name they liked. If they really don’t want to use their surname either, they could also go with the “Doe” strategy – John / Jane Doe, or just J. Doe if they don’t want to select a particular gender.

    1. Anonymous Poster*

      I agree that an initial would make sense here. Maybe stick with an initial that doesn’t really have any names associated with it, like Q.

      Heck, I wanna be called Q. I love that character from Star Trek!

      I kid, but seriously, an initial would be incredibly helpful here and doesn’t mean anything long-term when choosing a new name.

      1. A Penguin!*

        I actually have two aquaintances who go by Q as a name. At one point I think I knew one of their legal names at one point, but only as a piece of trivia.

        1. AFac*

          I used to have a group of people refer to me as Q as a reference to the James Bond character, but the whole Q-anon phenomena has taken the shine off of that nickname. I’m generally agnostic-to-mild-dislike regarding nicknames people give me, but I kinda resent that that one has now been co-opted by a bunch of conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, and Jan. 6 f*ckmuppets.

          1. Anonymous Poster*

            Ugh I forgot about that. Yeah nix Q.

            Unless the employee wants it. They may choose whatever they like, but they need some sort of moniker while they work through figuring out what they would like their name to be.

      2. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

        Going along with the start trek theme, do what the borg did with seven of nine.

      3. DC*

        Yeah, I think an initial is the best play for this (and I know a couple NB people who’ve taken that route). I’d favor “X” for this unique situation though, just because it also has the connotation of “N/A” so it’s kinda close to conveying a state of namelessness. I definitely worry that anything else people come up with that’s similar to an actual name runs the risk of getting nicknamed and cutesy-ized by people who think their own lack of understanding is a tension that would benefit from diffusion with humor or flippancy, and something like MXMIII from the roman numeral suggestion would wind up as “Heyyyy, Maximillion!” and then they’re stuck with another name they hate.

    2. ThatGirl*

      I have a nonbinary coworker who has a traditionally gendered first name that can be shortened to a more gender-neutral nickname. While they are OK with people still calling them by their longer first name, they prefer either the shorter version or their initials, so most of us have defaulted to their initials.

      In this case, even if the person in question thinks their deadname initials are too close, something like “XX” or “ABC” or “NN” (no name) would be a lot easier as a placeholder than nothing at all.

      1. Anonymous Poster*

        I agree. Whatever the employee wants is fine, but there has to be a way to refer to them by some sort of name, and it can be a temporary placeholder. It doesn’t matter if the employee intends to change it later or not, but the business simply can’t continue to function well without a specific way to refer to the employee. It sounds like a placeholder would be appropriate while the employee works through this and chooses what they would permanently like to be called.

        I think an initial would be easiest (since in a business context, I’ve seen folks preferred to be called by a couple of initials or 1 letter). Numbers comes off… I don’t know, weirdly for some reason. I wouldn’t want to call someone a string of numbers because then it feels like I’m some HR Bot getting ready to downsize the following employee numbers. Or announce to Valued Customer 8395 that they are now going to be randomly searched in the TSA security check line. I would recommend against that.

  26. L.H. Puttgrass*

    I am so sympathetic to the Unnamed Employee, but trying to go without a name raises so many issues. You’ve got to have some way to refer to a person! Even Prince had a symbol and wouldn’t complain too loudly about being called “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince”—a solution with obvious problems in this circumstance, since “The Employee Formerly Known as DeadName” is not at all helpful.

    1. Hills to Die On*

      I was wondering when someone was going to do this. I cannot imagine how frustrating it must be for their coworkers because going entirely nameless does not work.
      In all seriousness, I would have started saying ‘The person formerly known as Twyla Llamagroomer” or “Formerly Twyla” for lack of options if they won’t just pick something. I mean, I hated my dad and his last name as much as anybody can and definitely didn’t want it, but you have to function in the real world. But this person just isn’t.
      People need to be able to reference you as a specific individual in the 3rd person – come on.

      1. alienor*

        Yeah, I think this issue is getting conflated with the issue of people not wanting to call a coworker by their chosen name, but it’s really not the same. If someone balks at switching Stephen’s name to Sarah after a transition, or wants to call Busarakham “Betty” because their real name is “too foreign,” that’s a them problem and they need to get over it. Having an employee in the office who can’t be referred to by any identifier is an everyone problem that actually impacts the ability to get work done.

  27. bopper*

    Can you refer to them by their title? “Let’s ask Junior Engineer what they would like.”

    1. Emyla*

      How about just the acronym for their title? Ie JE for Junior Engineer — like that if there is more than one person that has the same title, the abbreviation will only be used with the Employee with no name. And it’s shorter than a long title.

  28. Betsy S*

    Some of our employees use only one name, culturally, and they end up in our system with last name LNU

    There are names that mean ‘no name’: Otis, Nemo, Anamika
    and many famous pseudonyms
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pseudonyms

    If she’s open to suggestion, how about N.N. plus some last name? N. N. Onimus? N. N. Otis?
    Maybe casting it as a pseudonym rather than her future One True Name will make it easier for her?

  29. Construction Safety*

    Tongue firmly in cheek: “4 of 12”, if they are fourth by seniority in the group.

    1. Iris Eyes*

      I have a relative that often refers to his birth order number in family conversations. This seems like a possible strategy. Or if you want to get fancy/nameish with it you could use maybe Latin based names for number. Primus, Secundus, Tertius, Quartus, Quintus, Sextus, Septimus…

      1. Fiorinda*

        Or for something that feels less formal but still forms a distinct and workable handle, Yann, Tann, Tethera, Methera etc might be options.

  30. Dasein9*

    If they need something as a placeholder and want to make sure it doesn’t become a de facto name, then maybe a number would do the trick? Seems depersonalizing but so does namelessness.

    1. Phony Genius*

      Reminds me of an old commercial where a utility company addressed their customers by account number.

      But it could be a practical solution where I work. We all have 5-digit ID numbers. You could use the first and last digit (spelled out) as their first and last names, until they choose something else. There have been TV characters named Six and Seven, and I bet there are a few in real life.

      1. Dasein9*

        The Romans had names for birth order, like Quintus or Septimus. Maybe that could be played with in a manner that is both respectful and workable.

    2. Curious*

      Perhaps their employee number? The last four digits of their Social Security Number? Or a more generic “24601”?

  31. BA*

    I applaud the LW and team for being accommodating. But it seems as though anyone outside of the team, internally and externally, needs a cheat sheet for what is happening and how to navigate it. That potentially draws more attention to the trauma for this person and makes simple communication extremely difficult. The reasonable accommodations suggested by HR are a two-way street. The employee needs to be reasonable and asking them to pick and name isn’t unreasonable.

    1. A.N. O'Nyme*

      I think that’s what HR might have been hinting at. LW, I too applaud that you’re willing to be accommodating but…Exactly how accommodating is this situation for the person in question? It’s causing a bunch of confusion which only draws more attention to the situation, and people outside the company can’t possibly be expected to know about the situation so they’ll accidentally hurt your employee. I can fully understand your employee doesn’t want to be called their deadname but at least asking for something – anything – to use temporarily would probably be better for everyone – including your employee.

    2. Siege*

      Honestly, I think it’s even reasonable to set a deadline on picking literally anything they can live with. And I really applaud the company for trying to support the employee. This sounds very hard and frustrating for all involved.

      1. Aggresuko*

        Yup. “_____, you need to pick a placeholder typeable reference to yourself that you can live with indefinitely by Friday at 5, please.” (No symbols, something that can be used on emails.)

    3. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yes, I think that while you can be supportive, at some point, people need to call the employee something, even if that something is temporary. Several friends of mine chose a temporary name to try out before settling on a final name.

      1. Despachito*

        This.

        And if NoName is dealing with people outside the company, if they opt for something else than a name it will probably incite questions (why do I have to deal with 1234 or Engineer?), and is this really the kind of attention the employee wants (given they are probably sensitized by a trauma), or the company wants?

  32. Observer*

    my grandboss feels strongly that, for office purposes, this employee needs to “just pick a name and stick with it.”

    Does your boss mean “stick with it forever” or “stick with it for a reasonable amount of time, till they get everything sorted out.” Because the first is just silly. But the latter is totally reasonable. If you can, I would just act as though OF COURSE that’s what the boss meant.

    HR seems flummoxed by the situation but suggested we be “as accommodating as possible within reason.”

    Well, not using any name at all is actually NOT “within reason”. Your employee DOES need to choose something. It’s putting a ridiculous burden on everyone else.

  33. Calibri Hater*

    I would insist on an initial. There is no issue with addressing someone as “X” for example. “x@companyname.com”

    The logistical issues outlined by OP are LITERALLY WHY WE HAVE NAMES

  34. fieldpoppy*

    We have a university in Toronto that basically has a dead name — the leaders have decided that Ryerson University will be renamed because it’s named after one of the founders of the residential schools that were responsible for cultural and actual genocide of Indigenous people in Canada. But the new name is not yet announced, so people who don’t want to use the deadname call it “University X.” Everyone knows who they mean, and that ultimately there will be a new name. I would recommend such a solution (“Person X” or “Person Blue” or whatever).

    1. Phony Genius*

      Has sort of a Washington Football Team feel to it. Maybe a name like that could be a solution. “Acme Corporation Llama Groomer” or something.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      Like when that football team was temporarily just known as the Washington Football Team.

    3. NeutralJanet*

      Right, my immediate thought was the Washington Football Team, which was a placeholder name until they decided on the Washington Commanders. If Nameless Employee has some sort of characteristic they find neutral (like being from Washington), maybe they could use that?

  35. ChillinChild*

    Yeah, this is unsustainable. I cannot imagine any way to run a team without a person having a name that specifically identifies them and is (more or less) permanent, or at least long-term. I certainly understand the desire to be responsive to the person’s needs, but those needs cannot so impede the needs of the organization. Is it possible to phrase it as “The only way our company can function is for you to have a name that others can use. We understand your situation, so would it be possible for you to pick a name that you would *like* to use for the next six months (at least) and that will become your work name? It may not feel natural immediately, but having a name is simply a requirement to work here.”?

  36. Hibiscus*

    Public Universal Friend II. There, that’s your temporary name.

    Honestly, this is just chaos and I get trauma but you can’t be doing this. As the letter outlines, it does not work.

    1. works with realtors*

      If anything comes of this entire post and comments, I hope that its a higher level awareness for Public Universal Friend.

  37. Ebaum*

    I too am boggled by this choice because having to work around not having a name, be automatically deadnamed as a result, and constantly explain why seems like a lot more emotional work. Regardless, I agree with those saying to just suggest they pick a fun work-only name. In every foreign language class I ever took, every student had to be a culturally-appropriate name, and plenty chose one that had nothing to do with their given name. Just think of it as your work sim.

    1. Bluesboy*

      A friend of mine used to teach English abroad, I think in Singapore but I might be mistaken. He said that each student picked a word in English to use as a name – in some cases they picked a concept they liked, like a girl who chose to be called Diamond, but sometimes they just liked the sound. One boy chose Satan!

      I’m not saying Satan is a good idea (!) but I do think it would be a good idea to just pick something that you’re happy to be addressed by temporarily. The problem is, as I see it, that’s such an obvious solution, surely they would have already done it if they wanted to? I have to assume that they are against choosing any kind of nickname for the time being until they find their ‘forever’ name.

      1. LegalEagle*

        My friend was once doing a language exchange with a girl who chose an English vegetable name for herself (something like Onion or Carrot) and my friend was like “why…did you choose that?” and the girl replied that people are named Daisy and Rose, so why Onion? According to my friend, an offbeat name fit the girl’s personality and she totally pulled it off.

      2. Aggresuko*

        Hahahaaha, reminds me of The Kitchen God’s Wife, in which one jerky character is nicknamed “Judas” because he wants a name nobody else has…

  38. Popinki*

    My question is, what is this person doing about their personal finances? Paychecks, bank accounts, credit cards, rent/mortgage, utilities? Doctor’s offices?

    I also can’t imagine that being constantly deadnamed because people don’t know what else to call you (beyond “the one in the blue sweater, at the second desk” or “hey…you?”) is all that great for one’s mental health.

    If I had a coworker who chose not to use a name, I’d respect that without a word of criticism or complaint. I sympathize about the family trauma; toxic family will fluff you up mentally like nothing else in this world. I get wanting to make a fresh start, and appreciate that coming up with a name for the Real You is a serious thing. But I’d be lying if I said this wouldn’t aggravate the living daylights out of me. I know it’s about them and not me. I’d still be aggravated.

    1. Hog Wild*

      This is my question too. How is employee dealing with situations where the lack of name clearly inconveniences them rather than everyone around them?

      1. Aggresuko*

        Seconded. Is _____ losing their mind every time they get a bill? When they go to the doctor? What are they doing in other situations that aren’t work, because this has to be coming up all over the place. Is anyone else having a better solution than nothing?

        1. JustaTech*

          Honestly, probably yes, they are still using their deadname as their legal name and it’s probably still upsetting every single time. Heck, that might even be contributing to their difficulty coming up with a new name.

          It’s not like changing your name for all of those places is easy. Consider the “normal” case of name change, when a woman marries there’s a cultural expectation that she will change her name. Because this is *expected* things like IT systems are usually set up to change your email and login pretty easily. But think of every single thing that has your legal name attached. Your IDs, your bank accounts, your health insurance, your car insurance, your rental agreement or mortgage, your credit cards, every single account you have, your professional licenses and diplomas.

          It’s a huge amount of work (often costs money) and depending on where you live, can be a year+ long process to change on your government IDs. So it’s more than likely that they’re waiting to figure out a name before they try changing anything. And it’s also possible that they’re doing everything they can to avoid interacting with any of those systems right now.

        2. Dahlia*

          Much like pre-transitioning, they are probably being deadnamed a lot and probably feel pretty shitty a lot, yes.

          Is the idea of that really so wild?

      2. rubble*

        probably not well! it may be contributing to their inability to pick something, too – there is no way to completely erase the old name without committing to a new one, which creates a huge amount of pressure to pick the new one and make it legal quickly. they might be buckling under that pressure.

  39. Littorally*

    Man, I deeply feel for this person. When I transitioned, there was a long gap between the point when my deadname became dead for me and the point when I was fully settled on a new name and ready to jump through the legal hoops. It wasn’t a fun place to be in! I pretty much did not have any name that comfortably and happily meant me.

    But, that being said, this is not a good way to go about handling it. I identified a nickname that felt coherent for me and stuck firmly to that, even if it was very definitely not what I wanted my formal forever name to be, because I needed to have something. It wasn’t delightful, but it was fully workable. This…. ain’t it.

    1. it's just the frame of mind*

      In their personal life, my spouse tried out a series of names for quite some time before they settled on their new name. But they stuck with their dead name at work until they were fairly confident they had found something they could live with.
      I definitely feel for the person, but it’s harder logistically to communicate about this person than the one person I’ve met who doesn’t use any pronoun. I feel like I’d just be calling them “The Person” which would feel and sound…strange.

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yes, I’ve had several friends who chose a nickname before settling on their new name. Was it a little confusing? Sure, but we all did our best. I can’t imagine how you can expect people to function around you without a name. For all the reasons the letter-writer states, this is not sustainable.

  40. justpeachy86*

    I really wanted a Price situation, like the “Accountant formerly known as Heather”, but they have really put the OP in a bind. We live in a world where we have to be called something.

    “We’ve tried to meet you, but we will always hit a 100% fail point without a safe name to use. Let’s land on something by the end of the week. It doesn’t have to be a forever commitment, but a starting point.”

  41. I.T. Phone Home*

    OP, I think the kindest thing you can do is encourage this employee to resolve this quickly. Danny Lavery at Slate recently gave some advice on choosing a name on his podcast but I think that episode is behind a subscription. The short version of his advice was to just try names out; give it to baristas or use it at restaurant pickups, have close friends use it in conversation, etc. and see how it feels. If your employee trusts you in particular to be sensitive on this issue, maybe you can check in with them on your coffee run days and see what name they’d like to try out on their cup. (Don’t ask less sensitive coworkers who might not understand this is a trial run to do this!)

    Definitely push back on grandboss that this needs to be resolved permanently. That’s only going to increase the pressure to come up with the perfect name and further delay your employee on making a decision. Make sure your boss is on the same page first, then assure your employee that they can try something out for a couple months and revisit it if it isn’t working out. And maybe gently let the employee know that all name changes feel weird until they don’t, and there probably isn’t a choice that will instantly feel perfect and whole and seamless. It takes time and repetition for it to feel natural. Good luck!

    1. Nonprofit Junkie*

      Agreed about “this needs to be solved permanently.” I think asking the person to figure out something “for right now while they figure out the name” is the respectful way to go while solving the work issue which isn’t a lack of a name, but a lack of a way to refer to someone. I know that seems like splitting hairs but clearly the issue of a “name” has become emotionally laden for this person.

    2. radfordblue*

      Certainly this doesn’t need to be resolved permanently right away, but people need some kind of interim name to use while this person is figuring out their long-term name. Names serve an essential function in language, as the OP’s letter points out, and it is not reasonable or workable to just announce that you don’t have one.

    3. Generic Name*

      I like this idea. If IT has rigid rules for changing emails (like you have to have a court order or some legal document as proof), consider changing that. Maybe only require supervisor approval. That way Employee can feel free to have a temporary name to use until they settle on one they want to legally ensconce.

  42. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

    This one is absolutely stumping me. I think it would have been wiser (and less naive) of this person to wait to do this until they had a new name… logistically as we can see it genuinely causes difficulties. At least offer a middle ground solution while you think of something more permanent!

  43. Carcarjabar*

    How is this person referred to in their private lives? Their friends must refer to them somehow, can they not use that same reference in the workplace?

    1. it's just the frame of mind*

      Well, they may be trying out different names in their personal life and feel it’s not ideal to be constantly trying a new name at work.

    2. Theo*

      Maybe their friends just don’t use a name. It’s actually not that hard to do in non-professional c0ntexts! They probably use a title (like “Friend”) or a pronoun, or any of the various easy workarounds (“this one”, “my buddy with the three cats”, “my best girl”, “my oldest nephew”) when referring to them in third person, and in first person, you’d be surprised how little it’s necessary to use someone’s name. Personal life =/= work like. I agree the employee needs to use something in place of a name, but friends and family have way more wiggle room in terms of never needing to use a name than coworkers.

      1. MEH Squared*

        I agree with this. I’m Taiwanese American and I rarely use names for anyone, especially family members. My brother is always my brother, even when I am talking to other people about him. I have carried this tradition over to my friends for the most part, though I would use their names if I was talking about them to someone else.

        All that aside, this is really untenable in a workplace and I agree with a temporary nickname for now until the employee decides on their forever name.

      2. GammaGirl1908*

        This is a running joke in my family — we laugh about how when it’s awkward to call someone by name (or you don’t know their name), you end up calling them Umm. “Umm, hi! Great to see you! What’s been going on? Well, Umm, tell your mom I said hi; gotta run. Umm, see you around!”

        My mom went away for her freshman year of college, and when she came home, the church’s new pastor was suddenly her new stepfather. She swears she called him Umm until he passed away a couple of years later. A friend of mine tells a similar story about the two weeks that his grandmother was the substitute teacher for his first grade class; he Ummed her the whole time. I also note that my parents have close friends that I’ve known my whole life, such that using Mr. and Mrs. is odd, but I’ve long outgrown calling them Aunt or Uncle, and using no honorific is weird as well. I probably COULD use first names and just muscle past the weirdness … but most of the time I call them Umm.

  44. Nonprofit Junkie*

    I have sympathy for the person going through this and also think that the lw is being very supportive. That being said, it can’t continue. LW, I would ask the person to pick a placeholder name with a deadline so that they can’t spend too much time waffling. Ask them to decide on an acceptable “placeholder” within three days. I think suggesting to them something like “placeholder” or “X” or “Anon” and just being very clear “we need someway to refer to you while you decide on your new name.” That this isn’t you demanding they figure out their new name right this second, but rather figure out “someway to refer to you” since it seems that the concept of a name is quite loaded to the person.

  45. Eli*

    Time to resurrect Public Universal Friend!
    I fully understand how painful hearing one’s deadname can be (and not wanting to be referred to/seen at all, which I think is a bit of what’s happening here), but I feel like this employee hasn’t fully thought through this. They still have to have an email, a chat name, etc. They can’t get away with not having a name. When I started transitioning, I hadn’t picked out a name either but couldn’t deal with my deadname, so I literally just picked a letter of the alphabet. It wasn’t my name, but it was a good enough placeholder while I tested names out at home. That might be disconnected enough for the employee to process things while smoothing over communication issues at work. Nothing has to be permanent until the legal paperwork is done.

    1. JSPA*

      If their email isn’t part(s) of their dead name using their email sobriquet could also work. Or a forum posting name.

  46. Mental Lentil*

    As somebody whose first and middle names were borrowed from other family members, and who has suffered trauma that those names remind me of on a regular basis, I get this. I totally get this.

    But, as someone else pointed out, not having an official name just reinforces the tendency of coworkers to use the dead name.

    Why not just use a number? We’ve had characters on popular tv shows whose names were numbers (5 of 7 on Star Trek, Number Five on the Umbrella Academy, and Six on Blossom) that a number could work. I would love to just be called #7.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Or give them a nickname. “Until you choose a name, we’re going to call you Scooter.”

        1. JSPA*

          There are two sorts of nicknames, though. The ones one chooses (and which one can’t be “given”) and the sort that’s for, “when you don’t know someone’s name, and need to be able to indicate them, and it would not be OK to demand the real name.”

          Cultures where asking someone’s real name is awkward, private or an imposition have a lot of the second sort, and it’s about NOT invading privacy or insisting on taking the agency of the person.

          In this particular instance, that dynamic is in play, here, even if it’s not a common dynamic in the culture. Under that very limited circumstance, I’d posit that, “I’m calling you Scooter until such time as we’re close enough that I get to hear your real name or chosen nickname” is not impolite in quite the same way as you’re assuming, and in fact does not presume a right to infringe on someone’s identity or agency.

          1. Mental Lentil*

            Again, this person has issues around names and currently has no name. That’s different than giving someone a nickname who is perfectly okay with their name.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              But you can’t function without *some* kind of handle. It’s causing problems. Assigning them a number isn’t better – I’d actually consider it more offensive than giving me a random word.

              1. Gothic Bee*

                I believe the point is that the LW shouldn’t assign them any name/nickname. They need to go have a conversation with the employee where they explain that having no name is not going to work and then ask the employee what they would like to be called.

                The LW was trying to accommodate the employee’s initial request before this, so there’s no reason to think the employee won’t be willing to use a temporary work name for the time being after LW has this conversation with them.

            2. Rusty Shackelford*

              (Also, I was being mostly facetious about picking “Scooter.” I’d say “we need something to be able to refer to you other than Hey You, so would you like Scooter or Buddy or Maverick or Sunshine or anything else?”)

        2. Hills to Die On*

          They are taking away their own agency by not calling themselves something. People have to function, and not having an identifier is putting it on the employees to choose how to identify the unnamed person. As Rush would say, if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice. This person may be thinking that they have not named themselves, but they have just allowed the entire office to decide what to call them.

          1. Littorally*

            Very well put. This is a huge and difficult burden for them to place on their coworkers.

  47. Carrots4All*

    I have a friend who has chosen to drop their given names. They currently are referred to by initials they have chosen. They have stated repeatedly, they are not happy with this placeholder measure, but they are still looking for the right name and recognize the impracticalities of not being referenced at all.

    When they go to the coffeshop/tea shop, what do they tell the barista? Can they use that name? There is a whole wikipedia page for placeholder names by language in addition to an entire article devoted to English language placeholders.

    My own mother gives a different name than her own name to any Barista or restaurant reservation. She uses the same other name each time. So it’s easier to find her/her drink.

  48. MisterForkbeard*

    I don’t know what to say about this. You can get by with a title for a little while, but a unique identifier is pretty much necessary for most system and process related work, not just verbal or social markers.

    I sympathize enormously with this person, but they need to pick something even if it’s obviously a placeholder. People being able to contact you or identify you is a pretty key business concern.

  49. Within the bounds of reason*

    This is a good example of shared responsibility and why it’s important. Everyone needs to have a way to refer to this employee, not just at work but in many other aspects of society. If the employee can no longer use their original name, it’s their responsibility to make sure people have some way to refer to them. It’s everyone else’s responsibility to respect that decision and refer to them with the designation they prefer. It’s the employee’s responsibility to figure out how to manage their own emotional needs related to naming.

    Ask the employee to designate some kind of name – a letter, a number, anything they would like to be called – and respect that. If they change it later, respect that too. Then everyone has discharged their responsibility.

  50. Gnome*

    This is a great place for initials. N.A. sounds like maybe Nathan Andrew, but also is Not Applicable. Obviously, the individual might not like that one, but they need to be referred to as something a bit more efficient as the-coworker-formerly-known-as-Prince. Can they be T.B. Dee? Or use a placeholder name for now and change it later?

    1. Rainy Day*

      I kinda think “T.B Dee” is a really nice alternative! It sounds like a name whilst being a nice placeholder.

    2. reject187*

      I love T.B. Dee – very “to be determined” AND sounds like a reasonably name-sounding name.

  51. Jennifer*

    They need to have a name. I can understand their dead name is traumatic for them but they need to have some sort of temporary name until they find their permanent one. It can be something generic like John/Jane Doe.

    They have to be using some sort of name outside of work. What’s on their bills? What name do they give when they order food delivery or takeout? Even Anonymous or Anon would be fine if they need something more gender neutral.

  52. Web Crawler*

    I had a friend who went by Friend for a year because she had yet to choose a new name for herself. It worked out fine, though there was a lot of “Friend is coming over later” “Which friend?” “No, not a friend. Capital-F Friend”

  53. Database Developer Dude*

    ….. not having a name at all is a fundamentally different issue from changing one’s name from one thing to another.

    The employee needs to pick a name.

  54. Turanga Leela*

    Would the person be offended by being John Doe (or maybe Alex Doe, to be gender-neutral)? Maybe using something that’s clearly a placeholder would feel impersonal and impermanent in a way that might be helpful—it reinforces that the name isn’t really the person, but rather a way to refer to the person until they pick a name that feels right.

  55. Esmeralda*

    Perhaps ask the employee to go by their title. Even if it’s the same title as other employees, presumably they’re not going to respond to a job-title, but rather their name. For example, Bob, Wakeen, Moira, Aisha, Lllama Analyst for this employee.

  56. bluephone*

    Dead names and family trauma suck but this is insane. What are they doing with their paychecks? Or at tax time?

    This is insane. The employee needs to pick a name, any name, and be done with it for Pete’s sake. Heck, they can have my ID on here, I’m not married to it.

    1. Mental Lentil*

      Do you do your taxes 40 hours a week, every week? Do you look at your paycheck 40 hours a week, every week?

      No? Okay, but you do spend 40 hours at work every week. That’s the issue here.

      (Also, what they do while they are not at work is none of LW’s business, and therefore, none of ours.)

      1. Database Developer Dude*

        Except work-based accommodations need to be reasonable, and having NO name at all is an unreasonable accommodation.

        1. Gothic Bee*

          Sure they do need a name to be referred to at work, but that’s not a good enough reason to suggest that they should go back to using their dead name in the meantime. It’s surprising to me how many people think it’s okay to say “but what name is on their paychecks??” as a gotcha when clearly the name on their paychecks is likely to be their dead name and no it is not okay to suggest someone should go back to using that name.

  57. IrishMN*

    Not sure if this has been suggested, but would the employee be okay with a number? I realize for some people that could be dehumanizing, but I think it doesn’t carry the mental weight of a name. It would also be a good placeholder since it’s unusual and people would probably be able to adjust more quickly once the employee chooses a name. Maybe they have an employee ID? Or it could be super generic like “123”?
    (After writing this I’m starting to think “The Employee” might be a good option too?)

    1. JustAClarifier*

      I honestly feel like this might be the most neutral long-term solution if the boss is intent on not letting this happen again. Just use the employee ID.

  58. TB*

    I’m curious how long this has been going on. The lengthy list of complications makes me think it’s possible this has gone on for a while and also that the letter writer maybe hasn’t had many conversations with the employee about it.

    Talk to them about it! Tell them you want to respect what they’re going through and that you want to work together with them to find a temporary solution while they’re finding their new name. Do they have ideas on how to catch their attention from the open office without using their deadname? Thoughts on how to restructure their signature? Are they comfortable with coworkers giving a brief explanation when being connected with new or external contacts?

    1. I Wish My Job Was Tables*

      This was going to be my suggestion. This nameless employee might have their own ideas for what would make them comfortable and would still work with this system. I assume they’re already going through the process of figuring out how they want to be addressed, so they probably have solutions they can bring to the table.

  59. Martin Blackwood*

    Could you refer to this employee as the initials of their job title? Eg. Assistant Coordinator = AC. Not something that could be confused with referring to another employee like referring to them by job title could be. If that wouldnt work, tell them to pick a letter at random as a placeholder, I think

    1. Lab Boss*

      You’ve just made me realize that the initials of my job title are also my actual real-name initials, so thanks for that existential crisis…

      1. Lab Boss*

        Now you’re getting into Dilbert joke territory…

        “Next time you order me business cards, please list my full title as Director Of Product Enhancement, don’t use the acronym DOPE.”

        “You’re the Director Of Product Enhancement?”

  60. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

    I think it makes sense to sit down with the employee and include them in the brainstorming for a solution. There’s nothing unkind or intrusive about the LW telling the employee they will continue to respect their decision to drop their old name, but that the challenges of having no name to use are creating confusion/disruption and encourage others to use the old name. Would the employee be amenable to using an initial (or initials) of their choosing temporarily? There can be some difficulty in making multiple changes to an email address for instance, but not insurmountable ones. I think bringing the employee into the discussion around solutions without blame or pressure (they haven’t done anything wrong and the goal isn’t to make them choose a name and stick to it), and to simply outline the work problem to be solved both respects their dignity and avoids imposing a solution that feels uncomfortable or invasive. It would probably help to frame this as a time-limited solution too: “We just need to be able to call you something in the short term, so don’t worry about needing to make a change later. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”

  61. Sunflower*

    Tell them to pick an informal nickname for the office. “Ms. Admin” or “Mr. CS (customer service). Or they can pick anything (football, flower, bulldog, egghead, etc.) Just something.

    With the email address, can they use something like Ms.ABCD@company.com?

    But they really need to get off their tuff and pick a name. It’s not easy or fair to you all.

  62. Mid* <