Safe Space News

This is a proposal to improve how EPFL institutionally handles names. The goal is to enable trans individuals, and members of the EPFL community in general, to easily be known by their preferred name and avoid the use of “dead” names in particular.


EPFL currently uses full legal names in most systems and records. Changing one’s preferred name is possible but does not flow through all systems, notably academic diplomas, and is not an easy setting to find. This is not just overly verbose but actively harmful for trans people who wish to use their chosen name instead of their “dead name” (= a trans person’s birth name). It is also problematic for anyone not using their legal name for any reason, such as divorce, “Western” names commonly used by Chinese people, and so on.

Trans students are at a higher risk of suicide and depression than their peers; they are almost twice as likely to report having had suicidal thoughts [1], and 51% of trans adults report attempting suicide [3]. However, the risk for depression and suicide decreases when young trans people can use their chosen name in more contexts [2] such as school, peer groups, and home. Undergoing a name change is an affirming step in transition that helps trans people see themselves and be seen by others as the gender they are rather than the one they were assigned at birth. Furthermore, the mismatch between a chosen name and a dead name can put trans individuals at risk of transphobic violence by highlighting or uncovering the fact that they are trans.

Beyond the harms associated with the use of dead names, using someone’s preferred name is simply a matter of respecting individuals and their identities. Incidents reported to Safe Space convey that EPFL’s current name change process is difficult and sometimes does not work. Individuals are repeatedly asked to state their name and their reasons for changing by different parts of EPFL, reminding them of the painful situation they are in and forcing them to constantly explain themselves and out themselves as trans. Another common occurrence is suggestions to “change their documents later” or “wait until the process ends” as if spending more time with their dead name was not an issue.

This proposed change also benefits other members of the EPFL community. Very few people use their full legal name including their multiple given names or middle names. Some use a nickname instead of their given name (e.g., Swiss Federal Councilor “Ulrich Maurer”), or a “Western” name for ease of communication if their given name is hard to pronounce by Western European standards. Divorced or separated people may also use a different family name than their legal one. Even for those who use their full name, the current presence of names in both “First Last” and “Last First” format leads to confusion.

ETHZ recently issued a directive on the matter, including using preferred names on diplomas.


Members of the EPFL community should be allowed to use their preferred name for print and display purposes. All uses of names at EPFL should use preferred names unless legal names are required in context.

Names handling changes:

  • Newcomers should be asked for their preferred name when registering, separately from their legal name. (The form can default to e.g. “<first given name> <first family name>” for convenience)
  • A choice of preferred name should be instantly approved by default. Abuses of this policy, e.g., changes intended to avoid legal obligations or to impersonate another, should be dealt with in a way that does not inhibit those with a legitimate name change.
  • All uses of legal names, online or in print, in a context where they are not required should be quickly replaced with preferred names after they are identified. For instance, professors do not need to know legal names when assigning grades, Moodle users do not need to know legal names on forums, librarians do not need to know legal names to lend books, and so on.
  • Preferred names should be retroactively changed to “<first given name> <first family name>” for anyone who did not explicitly change it already, ensuring that it is easy for everyone to correctly address everyone else by name.

Procedural interactions changes:

  • We recommend replacing the term “display name” by “preferred name” across services. The term “display” can have negative connotations for those for whom not being called by their legal/dead name is not a question of appearance but of identity.
  • We recommend that EPFL staff that take part in processes related to name change, at any level, receive training on the subject to acquire sensitivity to the matter such that the experiences described above are not repeated. We would be happy to assist in finding and organizing such training.
  • In cases where a legal name is required on a form, there should be another field allowing people to also put their preferred name.

Signed: The Safe Space initiative
(Natasha Stegmann, Safe Space member, abstains from signing due to a conflict of interest given her position)


[1] Perez-Brumer, Amaya, et al. “Prevalence and correlates of suicidal ideation among transgender youth in California: Findings from a representative, population-based sample of high school students.” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry 56.9 (2017): 739-746.

[2] Pollitt, Amanda M., et al. “Predictors and mental health benefits of chosen name use among transgender youth.” Youth & society 53.2 (2021): 320-341.

[3] Russell B. Toomey, Amy K. Syvertsen, Maura Shramko; Transgender Adolescent Suicide Behavior. Pediatrics October 2018; 142 (4): e20174218. 10.1542/peds.2017-4218