On February 20th, 2019 we are making significant updates to the way student and staff names are collected and displayed in Engage.

Read on for more information about the change itself, why we are making the update, and how it could impact your workflow.

Names: A Glossary

You will read a few different terms related to names in this article. Although these terms can be interpreted in different ways, we will follow these definitions:

  • Legal Name: This is the name on a user’s government ID (social security) card. For many individuals, this is an acceptable name to refer to a person by – however, for some individuals, being referred to by their legal name can be an unpleasant or even offensive experience.
  • Preferred Name: Typically only referring to the first name, this is what the user prefers to be called. It could be a different name entirely, a nickname, or something else.
  • Institution-provided Name: This is the name that the campus populates for the user account via authentication or data importing. Depending on campus policy it could be any of the above name variations.
  • User-identified Name: This is the name that a user has entered into their Engage profile themself. This terminology will not appear inside of Engage, but is used for clarification in this article. 
  • Name: This is the name displayed to represent a specific user in Engage. 

How Did Names Work Before the Update?

Prior to this release, there were three (3) main fields for names in Engage: First Name, Last Name, and Preferred First Name. These fields could be pre-populated by the campus, and depending on the individual community settings, also edited by users themselves. Preferred name showed in place of First Name across all “Explore” (public-facing) pages of the site, across most of the “Manage” (semi-administrative) pages of the site, and in conjunction with First name across the “admin” portion of the site.

Why are Names Changing?

When we first created Engage in 2004, the three name fields met many users’ needs, especially given the constraint of needing the platform to work smoothly with a variety of Student Information Systems, each of which had different policies and methods for recording Preferred Names. At that time, many systems were not allowing any option for Preferred Names at all, and it was important to us that a student be able to self-identify. However, in the past fourteen years these systems have evolved and so have the policies of many campuses. With these advancements, we believe Higher Education is ready for a new model to encompass the many different needs of names on campus. Engage is designed to facilitate student engagement – if as a result of using Engage, students are being misnamed by other users, that could negatively influence their engagement on campus. We knew this was a problem that we wanted to tackle.

Our first priority in designing this update was to consider the population most commonly affected- transgender and gender non-conforming students. Based on our research of best practices within education technology and the stories campuses shared with us, we determined that this update would need to give transgender students complete autonomy over how they were identified in Engage, especially in first name, which could potentially reveal a student’s sex assigned at birth. In many states, a legal name change can be expensive and/or time-consuming, and with a primary population of college students, it was important to us to offer students a method of managing their name that did not require a legal process. Because gender is an identity, we also decided to remove the terminology of “preferred” from how names are referenced on Engage.

As we worked on this update we learned of many reasons a student may need to manage not only first name but also their last name. Some institutions have a stringent process (based on data integrity) for changing last name after marriage, or an international student may choose a different spelling of their name than what appears on official paperwork, for instance. Even more-so than other students, names can be especially important for students who are very engaged on campus in a public way – ABC news interviewed a number of college athletes who use surnames other than their legal ones, often related to both personal branding and respect to matrilineal family traditions. As a result, we expanded the scope of our project to consider last name as well as first.

How Names Will Work Moving Forward

We have expanded on the number of available fields related to name and more heavily restricted access to both viewing legal name and changing the name displayed on Engage, while keeping the user experience of names relatively simple. Here’s what happens moving forward:

When reviewing student accounts on the administrative user list, you will now see the following name fields:

  • Name
  • Institution-provided First Name
  • Institution-provided Middle Name
  • Institution-provided Last Name
  • Legal First Name
  • Legal Last Name

Institution-provided and legal names can be pre-populated and updated for a user in Engage through account imports.

When a user first signs in, they will be prompted to confirm their Name. This name first references the institution-provided name fields, and if none exist, then the legal name fields will be used.

If the user edits their name, that name is saved as their user-identified name and becomes their Name in Engage. It will appear instead of the institution-provided and/or legal name on all Engage pages across the Explore, Manage, and Admin sections of the site. It cannot be updated in the future by any administrative import. However, an administrator with Users Full access can access all name information, including institution-provided and legal names, as well as reset a student's self-identified name, by navigating to the Admin area of the site, choosing the Users drop down, and selecting User List, then choosing a user.


If the student confirms their name rather than edits it, or has not signed in and has not yet confirmed or edited their Name, Engage will refer to institution-provided and legal names to populate the Name. If the campus updates their institution-provided name (via user import or manual update), that change will also be reflected in the display Name for the student.  If the student would like to change their Name later, they can do so under their User Profile.

Note how names can appear in the system differently depending on which fields are available:

User-Identified   Abbie Miller Abbie Miller  
Institution-Provided Abbie Block Abbie Block Abbie Block  
Legal Name Abigail Block   Abigail Block Abigail Block
What appears? (Name) Abbie Block Abbie Miller Abbie Miller Abigail Block

How will this effect my ongoing account imports? 

We have updated our account import template to allow institutions to populate institution-provided and legal name fields. The account import process is backwards compatible with the former format and does not require immediate action to maintain the data transfer.

In order to ease the transition to this new name data model, existing Engage data has been mapped so that any name data currently being imported to Engage as a preferred name is listed in Engage as a institution-provided name, and any other name the campus provided appears as a legal name. Although this may not be accurate for all users, the result is that preferred name will appear to the user as their Name whenever it has been provided. We recommend ultimately adjusting your user import in the future so that institution-provided and legal name fields can be used accurately in the future if desired, but there is no urgency from the system to make this update. 

Where will institution and legal name be visible?

In the example  in the table above, assuming all fields have been entered, “Abbie Miller” is the name that will appear on all Explore, Manage, and Admin Engage pages, with only a few exceptions:

  • Administrators with Users View/Full or All Access admin access can see Legal and Institution-Provided names under the administrative User List.
  • If an Engage administrator searches for a user in the administrative User List by their legal or institution-provided name that student will still be found in the search, but only their Name will appear. All other searches (assigning reviewers and primary contacts for example) will only show students by Name, not Institution-Provided or Legal Name.
  • When generating the co-curricular transcript, an Administrator can select any name on record to be listed on the transcript. This is intended for use at campuses whose co-curricular transcript is an official campus document.

Resetting a User's Name

Once a student defines their user-identified name, it cannot be overwritten by an account import. To revert a student’s user-identified name to their institution-provided name, navigate to the Admin area of the site, choose the Users drop down, and select User List. On the student’s profile, select the button to expand the name list. Click “Reset” next to Name and this will change the individual user-identified name to refer to the institution-provided or legal name for the student.

If the “reset” button does not appear on this page under the drop down, that student has not yet edited their name in any way from the institution-provided data. Refer to account imports to update the name if needed.

Considerations for Data Importing

Names are not required for system operation. An institution interested in more fully protecting the student’s experience by limiting access to their legal name can remove it from their imports entirely so that not even an administrator with full users access can see legal names.

Considerations for Reporting

Only the student’s Name appears in data reports. If the student has self-identified a name other than their Institution-Provided and/or Legal Name, that will be the name that displays in all reports. If cross-referencing a report with compliance information or institutional data resources, we recommend using your unique identifier (username) as your common identifier rather than a Name field.

Considerations for Engage Integrations

  • Engage will not update or reflect updates to names in Campus Labs Core Data. We consider names in a student engagement system to be separate of record from other systems. Updates to names in Core Data will not be reflected on Engage. To update an institution-provided name, use a user import.
  • Campuses using the Panels Baseline integration feature will see Institution-Provided names and not necessarily a student’s name as listed in Engage. This allows for quick cross-referencing with non-Engage formed panels and resources.
  • Campuses using the Insight platform will see names reflected as determined in Core Data, not as determined in Engage. Insight identifies the user by their username and affiliates that information with their Core Data account records, not by the demographic or name information stored in Engage.
Have more questions? Submit a request