Someone submitted something to me with their full name as William "James" Smith. It is required to use their legal name. I continued to use the name "William" on other documentation but William asked me if I could use James instead since everyone calls him James and he uses James for everything apart from legal documents like birth certificate, etc. For my purposes I am required to use their legal name. I told him this and he would not accept that, saying how he uses James everywhere. Perhaps seeing that I wasn't going to accept James, he said that it was a privacy issue and he did not want other people to know his real name.

I have no issue calling this person "James" (and yes these are all made up names) and in fact had been calling him "James" all day. This is for a sports organization. While it is not a government agency or anything, there is a national governing body that has official policies such as this.

The name in the system shows up on rosters, score sheets, rankings, etc. and this is where the person's name would be visible to others. We turn in the score sheets after each game to the national headquarters and if the name differs from what's in the system, the team is penalized.

Sure it's a sport, sure it's an extracurricular hobby, sure it's for fun but this is actually a small business for me and I have to adhere to the national policies. Additionally, I'd think it wouldn't look good to make exceptions for some people and not for others.

I've since talked to the national headquarters and they reminded me that the policy is to use the legal name. They made a small compromise, putting his name in the system as "William James" and informed me that if we turn in score sheets that say James Smith, the team would not be penalized. (EDIT Forgot to mention that the rosters and rankings will now show "William James Smith", but the score sheets we submit may say just James Smith, i.e. the William part will still be visible to others in some aspects)

I did not know how to react because I certainly want to respect people's privacies especially if there is truly an issue.

However, I felt that using the privacy issue was a lie to try to persuade me to get what he wanted. For example, his email address contains "William" in it and he has 2 Facebook profiles: one as James Jordan and another as William Smith. It's not difficult to find the William Smith profile.

How do you react so as to not look like you disrespect people's privacy issues but you think that the privacy issue does not actually apply to the situation?

Follow-up Question: Was it even appropriate to ask the national headquarters? I already knew the policy and was fairly certain they would not make an exception. Does asking headquarters and furthermore letting James know that I tried asking headquarters only encourage them to come up with farfetched/implausible excuses because now I look gullible?

  • Can you please clarify where which name is being used? Both answers so far seem to hinge on "respect them by calling them by the name they prefer"... but I don't see any implication in your question that you're not calling this person "James", only that you need to use "William" on paperwork. I'm closing it until you can edit your question to be a bit more specific about this.
    – Catija
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 20:43
  • @Catija I added more details, hope this helps
    – superstar
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 20:57
  • 2
    I have a similar issue with my name. Honestly, I'd refrain from using the system entirely if those were the rules. There are indeed people who take these issues seriously.
    – user4788
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 1:36
  • 1
    @– 雰囲気が読めない人 I agree that privacy issues can be a serious thing and in some cases might be a valid reason to go against or ask for a relief from the usual policy. My thing is that in this case, it appeared to me that they were just using privacy as an excuse to get their way. I would never argue and say that privacy is not important, which is why I struggled with what to say/do and why I'm asking the question.
    – superstar
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 1:41
  • By the way, if you haven't already, you should use slightly different names for your question. I know they're generic, but I'm just being cautious. Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 14:19

6 Answers 6


This sounds like a situation that could be simply resolved with a:

Sorry the rules are the rules. The organization is willing to make this concession .... , but if you want anything more than that, you'll have to take it up with them.

The reasons for wanting to use a different name don't really matter in this case, and it doesn't sound like you have the authority to change the rules regardless of the reasons. So just be upfront about that.

Asking headquarters is just due diligence. Again his reasons don't really matter, no matter how far fetched they may seem to you.

As a side note... Using an alternate name for privacy reasons isn't all that uncommon. Most of us do it on this site, I'm guessing that "superstar" isn't your legal name? I don't use my legal name at work beyond the necessary pay and tax paperwork. While it may seem odd to you, it really isn't uncommon.

  • thanks, yes I think I should have been more firm with that in the beginning, I guess I just got frazzled that he wouldn't take no for an answer and then he came up with the privacy thing to which I didn't know how to respond. all these made me think of a followup question though (it's now at the end of the main question)...basically should I even mention to him that I asked the organization?
    – superstar
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 1:37
  • No, superstar is not my legal name but to me having your name attached to something visible to anyone on the web is a bit different than a local sports organization. The use of preferred alternate names isn't new to me, but rather the efforts to hide a relatively common real name is a bit odd to me. Do you go through efforts to hide your real name at work? Did you have to have them hide your real name in the Employee Directory? Do your supervisors not know your real name? "Hey ex-boss..if anyone calls for a reference for Jerkface Smith, that's me but don't tell anyone else my name isn't Jeff"
    – superstar
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 23:41
  • @superstar actually I had to request a policy change, to not have my actual first and last name on my name badge. After a quick talk with the exec she saw that there were probably some potential issues with the previous policy.
    – apaul
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 23:45
  • 1
    interesting, I was just curious how that all works. Like I was trying to say, I have no argument against actual privacy issues and I can see how privacy could be a legitimate concern. What I don't see as legitimate is saying that it's a privacy concern when you haven't hidden your real name from your email address that you give out and when you have a FB profile with your real name that is really easily found through your other FB profile (same profile pic, tags both profiles in posts/photos, etc)
    – superstar
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 0:18
  • 2
    I understand what you're saying, and actually the energy part is part of my concern. I go through energy to contact headquarters about a policy that isn't likely to change. Am I opening myself up to be exploited and lied to even more? "Why did this happen?" "That's what the rules say. They're on the website that I've given you a million times." "Oh...well I didn't rea.... uhhh I have a reading disability! I can't read the rules! You can't discriminate against people with disabilities!" "...ok fine...I'll read you all the rules and not hold you accountable for anything wrong you did b4"
    – superstar
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 0:34

While "the rules are the rules" may work for some, it may not with someone who seems intent on getting things the way they want.

I used to take part in an amateur pool league (APA) and they had similar rules but they had a specific reason for it. If your team performed well and went to the nationals competition in Las Vegas, they needed your name on the member sheets to match up with your official ID - driver's license, passport, etc or else they wouldn't let you play in competition because you could not prove that you were the person who was actually on the team. So, if you wanted to go to Vegas and win a bunch of money and prizes, you'd have to register with your "official" name as it appears on your ID.

You don't say what sport or league you're in so I don't know that there's a similar consideration but as a person who likes to understand why the rules are the way they are, I'd be more willing to accept an explanation like the one above than "that's just the way it is".

I think that you've done a commendable job in trying to find a middle ground and I'm sorry that this member doesn't seem willing to accept this. Hopefully there is an explanation of the policy that will assuage him.

This means that, if you don't know how to explain the reasoning, asking your local contact or the national one for an explanation is actually the right thing to do. That's usually part of why they exist - to answer these sorts of questions, so don't feel bad about reaching out to them.

Unfortunately, if you have an explanation of why this rule exists, you've found a reasonable accommodation, and he's still not willing to accept it... You may have to acknowledge that his best option may be to leave the group if privacy really is a concern for him.


Just because a naming convention is required on an official document does not prevent you from using a different name while speaking to them. There is reason many documents have a space for "known aliases".

Use the official name when have to fill out forms or other official materials, but when you are speaking to him use his preferred name. Regardless of the reason, I don't see a reason why you shouldn't respect this request.

ETA after update

If you have gone through all this effort to try to manage this person's request it would be perfectly inline to inform them of what effort you have done and what accommodations are willing to be made.

If after all the effort on your part, "William" is still not satisfied, I would question their true intent and motivations. If they continue you to pester you about using a different name once you have explained all of this, it is time to disengage and move on. Do not cause yourself undue stress to pander to someone who is unwilling to compromise.

  • I don't have a problem calling him James personally and verbally and that wasn't the issue at stake. It's just that I have paperwork where I'm supposed to use the legal name and he wanted me to put James there regardless
    – superstar
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 20:44
  • @superstar see edit.
    – apaul
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 3:45

Here are the current options on the table:

  1. Tell him about the compromise you got from HQ. If he still doesn't believe you, give him their phone number and tell him who you spoke to.

  2. Show him how he can change his name legally (this will vary on jurisdiction and if he's a minor and has his parents permissions).

  3. If he's an immigrant with a foreign name (unreadable to most Americans). Offer him to use that name assuming he has an id with it. Or if he has a middle name that he hasn't told you about yet, maybe that could be used too.

  4. Tell him he has the option to leave (unfortunately, depending on his reasons this may come to that, if he has two different girlfriends for instance that do not know about each other, your league may only be of secondary concern to him).


So it's this guys right to his own name vs. faceless bureaucracy.

I'll just make your head explode by telling you that my legal name is not the name in my birth certificate, passport, or driving license. And that this is absolutely not unusual where I come from.

So if you use the wrong name (the one in my passport), that's not a privacy issue, it's an attack against my identity. If you insist on it, I consider it deeply insulting. In some cases there is bureaucracy that I cannot beat. Otherwise, I will do whatever I can to beat the system.

  • 1
    Forgive me, but is a full legal name change not an option where you live?
    – apaul
    Commented Oct 29, 2017 at 23:22
  • 2
    The funny thing is that the guy put 'William "James"' from the get-go. Had he only put James Smith, I would have been none the wiser. Had he put Jimmy Smith, that would have prompted me to tell him there's no nicknames and he can only put Jimmy if that's actually his legal name and not James. He voluntarily wrote William, no questions asked until he saw it being written in a place where others could see it. I'd assume that in a case such as yours, you wouldn't have even bothered to put William or would have asked first before even writing anything.
    – superstar
    Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 16:40
  • @apaul No. Absolutely impossible. The reason why I cannot change my full name is that I can legally use any or several or all of my first names, in any order, as my legal name.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 16:28
  • @gnasher729 I'm sorry, I don't understand what you are saying. You have more than one legal first name, or?
    – apaul
    Commented Jul 7, 2018 at 16:31
  • Just out of curiosity, where does your legal name appear?
    – DaveG
    Commented Aug 15, 2018 at 13:48

People are not 1 dimensional. We usually have multiple motivations behind any given opinion or action.

you may be right. When he says he has "privacy issues" it may be a lie. Or it could also be that he has multiple reasons that he wants to be called James, and that even though privacy is one of the less important reasons to him he thought it would be an effective reason to convince you.

In any relationship you can choose to be a tyrant, a slave, or you can negotiate.
-Jordan Peterson, paraphrased

If you look at your relationship with this person as a negotiation, you are losing a lot by refusing to call him by his preferred name. I'm sure you have your reasons but I suspect that interpersonally in this instance you are losing more than you gain.

  • 1
    Though I do want to keep good a interpersonal relationship with this person, a business and policy are involved as well.
    – superstar
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 21:01
  • ah I see, Well explain to him that the rules don't come from you and that if we don't follow the rules we lose points. Make sure to point out you would rather just use his preferred name and that you've already tried asking the league to change the rules. Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 21:31
  • hm that made me think of a followup question, I put it at the end of the main question now...basically should I even bring up that I actually tried asking headquarters?
    – superstar
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 1:34
  • @superstar I would say yes. It shows him that you cared enough about him to try and give him what he wants. Just make sure that when you talk to him personally, you call him James :) Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 14:20

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