[Ads-l] Preferred Pronoun--pragmatics and policy

Geoffrey Nathan geoffnathan at WAYNE.EDU
Mon Oct 10 10:07:52 EDT 2016

It's rare that the two aspects of my life intersect, but here's a question that involves both the IT policy and the American English and sociolinguistic sides.

Our university, like many others, is instituting a system where students and staff can choose a 'Preferred Name' which will then show up on class rosters, grade lists, and other 'public-facing' web documents. The legal name will remain hidden except for  those pages that need to display it (such as social security, financial aid, bank accounts etc.). This is not difficult to do (aside from some programming on the back end.)

However, there has also been a request for people to be able to set a 'preferred pronoun'. This is generally an issue for transgendered students, who are trying to avoid being referred to by the incorrectly gendered pronoun. And, of course, since we are  in the 2010's, there are also some experimental non-gendered pronouns floating around.

So I have several questions:

If you are at a university which has instituted 'preferred pronoun', what choices does your university give to those who choose one?

How is this information conveyed to those who need to see it? Preferred names show up on class rosters, advisement pages, grade submission pages and so on. But there's no place in those pages for 'pronoun'.

We could add a field there, but how do we populate it? By putting something there we announce that the person has chosen one (for the usual Gricean reasons), and thus violate their privacy.

But if we populate that field for everyone, we'd either have to make all 30K faculty, staff and students choose one (and have to hound those who refused) or we'd have to guess for the 99.9% who didn't choose, and given the number of gender-neutral first  names (Kim, Lee, Kaoru) we'd likely guess wrong and annoy lots of other people.

Thoughts? Please reply off-list, as this is likely not of much interest to the majority of listmembers.


Geoffrey S. Nathan
WSU Information Privacy Officer
Professor, Linguistics Program
+1 (313) 577-1259

Nobody at Wayne State will EVER ask you for your password. Never send it to anyone in an email, no matter how authentic the email  looks.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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