Learning my students’ names is important to me, and something that I strive to do within the first two weeks of the quarter. With the DePaul mask mandate in place this quarter, that was a harder exercise than usual. But it is crucial in my view so I worked hard to achieve it, and I’m happy to report that I was successful.

I’ve heard it said that you perceive who you are, which is something I confirmed with respect to student names this quarter when two students came to my office hours. On the way they found a dropped UPass outside the stairwell next to my office, something that the student it belonged to would miss desperately when she tried to get on the train the next time. So I took it and volunteered to try to track her down. A quick search showed me that her major is animation, and there is a classroom right outside my office used almost exclusively for animation classes. I left my students in my office and walked over to the classroom. I went up to the instructor, handed him the UPass, and said that I had found it outside the room and was hoping to find out if the student was in his class. I expected him to look at it, read the name, and confirm that she was in his class. Instead he looked at it, read the name out loud, and asked if the student was in his class. She was, and she came up to get it. I walked out of the classroom stunned. This instructor, in the eighth or ninth week of a ten-week quarter, had no idea if that student was one of his. And he certainly couldn’t connect her name to her face. And, yes, I’m sure there are lots of explanations for this, some of which are probably even reasonable. But it was so outside my experience with my students that I was in a state of disbelief for several minutes.

This week I experienced something personally that further confirms my conviction that knowing and using the right name is important. This year is my 25th anniversary at DePaul, and the university holds a luncheon for people who have achieved that milestone. I decided to go, sent my RSVP, and submitted the requested information to the organizers. This week, two days before the luncheon, I was contacted for the pronunciation of my name. For my particular name that’s easy, but I appreciate the effort. What I didn’t realize until I heard back from them is that they weren’t using my preferred name. Amber is my middle name, not my first name, and is the name my parents used for me from the time I was a baby. But the organizers had consulted HR without looking into the DePaul system that contains preferred names and had my legal first name in the program. Being called by my legal first name is jarring and uncomfortable for me, as it is a name only used by telemarketers and other people who don’t know me at all. Going to a luncheon celebrating my long history at DePaul where that name would appear over and over significantly diminished the enjoyment I expected to experience at the event. So I told the organizer that I had changed my mind about attending. I also pointed out to her that not checking preferred names would mean that transgender colleagues were in danger of having their dead name appear in the program, which is much worse than my situation. I did not get a response from her about either point. The sadness that I feel over this situation stiffens my resolve to continue my dedication to getting names right.