FAQ for Columbia’s Preferred Name Policy

Columbia University recognizes that some students prefer to identify themselves by a First Name and/or Middle Name other than their Legal Name. For this reason, beginning in the Spring 2016 semester, the University will enable students to use a “Preferred Name” where possible in the course of University business and education.

Under Columbia’s Preferred Name policy, any student may choose to identify a Preferred First and/or Middle Name in addition to the Legal Name. Students may request this service via a link on Vergil. The student’s Preferred Name may be used in many University contexts, including Vergil, class rosters, CourseWorks, and Canvas, and on ID Cards as described below. For some other records, also described below, the University is legally required to use a student’s Legal Name. However, whenever reasonably possible, a student’s “Preferred Name” will be used.

Barnard and Teachers College students should contact their own college registrar's office.

Frequently Asked Questions


What is a Preferred Name?

A Preferred Name is a name a student wishes to be known by in the University community that is different from a student’s Legal Name. Columbia’s policy covers Preferred First and Middle Names. Surnames can be changed only with a legal name change.

What is a Legal Name? 

A Legal Name is the name that appears on your passport, driver’s license, birth certificate, or U.S. Social Security Card.

Do I have to use a Preferred Name?

No. Use of a Preferred Name is optional.

Where will my Preferred Name appear?

  • University ID Card*
  • Class Rosters
  • Vergil
  • CourseWorks/Canvas
  • CourseWorks discussion groups
  • Public Directory, unless a FERPA information block has been requested

Where will my Legal Name be used?

Your Legal Name will be used in business and other processes that require use of a Legal Name. These include:

  • International Students and Scholars Office (ISSO) Documentation
  • Student Financial Services Documentation
  • Financial Aid
  • PowerFAIDS
  • Federal Requests for Information
  • National Student Clearinghouse
  • Transcripts
  • Academic Certifications
  • Diplomas
  • Athletics Rosters
  • Department of Public Safety

Are there any Preferred Name restrictions?

Preferred Names may not be used for purposes of fraud or misrepresentation. The University reserves the right to remove a Preferred Name if it contains inappropriate or offensive language.

Will my Preferred Name appear in the Online Columbia University Directory?

Yes, your Preferred Name will appear in the University Directory unless you request a FERPA block.

Does a Preferred First Name affect my Legal Name?

No. An approved Preferred Name does not change your Legal Name.

How do I request a Preferred Name?

Students may request this service via a link on Vergil. Students may designate a First and/or Middle Preferred Name. All requests are reviewed by the University Registrar’s Office.

How do I delete my Preferred Name?

Students may go to Vergil and select the “delete Preferred Name” button. It may take 7 or more business days for the request to be completed through all University information systems.

Who will have access to my Legal Name?

University administrators, the Department of Public Safety, and your supervisor (if you are employed in a campus job) will have access to your Legal and Preferred Names.

If I used a Preferred Name in my application for admission to Columbia, do I need to request a Preferred Name in Vergil? 

Yes, incoming students should login to Vergil  when they arrive at Columbia to request a Preferred Name.

Do I have to get a new University ID Card if I choose to have a Preferred Name?

No. Use of a Preferred Name Identification Card is only an option for students – in no way is it a requirement. A student can specify a Preferred Name via Vergil that will then cause the name to display on Vergil and course enrollment rosters without generating a Preferred Name ID Card. Only when the Preferred Name is activated in the student database, an action that your Dean of Students will authorize the Registrar’s Office to transact, will the Name feed to IDM and make possible a new Preferred Name ID Card.

How do I get my Preferred Name on my Columbia ID Card?

In order to receive a University ID Card with your Preferred Name, follow these steps:

  • Submit your Preferred Name request in Vergil  for review by the Registrar’s Office.
  • It will take approximately 7 business days to process your request. Before you arrive to pick up your new ID Card with your Preferred Name, call the ID Center on your campus to confirm that your Preferred Name is appearing in the ID system (Morningside: +1-212-854-7225; Medical Center: +1-212-305-0238).

For students on the Morningside campus, the ID Card with the Legal Name should be returned to the ID Center at 204 Kent Hall.

Students on the Medical Center campus should return their ID Card with Legal Name to the CUMC ID Card Office at 630 West 168th Street.

May I have a new photograph taken for my new ID Card?

Yes, please inform the staff at the ID Card Center that you would like a new photograph to be taken before your new Card with Preferred Name is issued.
* For CUMC students in P&S (including PT and OT), Nursing, or Dental Schools:
If you are a P&S, Dental, or Nursing student interacting with patients, or another student who may be in an internship or placement in a patient care area governed by New York State health law:  New York State health law, licensing regulations, and related policies may limit the use of a preferred name in place of a legal name. Before entering a Preferred Name in this system, you must speak with your Dean of Students regarding these potential regulatory limitations.

Is the Columbia ID Card a form of identification accepted off campus?

It is advisable to carry a government-issued form of ID such as a driver’s license or passport with you in order to access resources that are not on the Columbia campus.

I need to change my legal name, how will this affect my preferred name? 

If you have a preferred name in Vergil and submit a subsequent legal name change, you must delete your preferred name in Vergil in order for the new legal name to appear. Please contact the Student Service Center with any questions.

For More Information

If you have more questions about requesting a Preferred Name, please write to [email protected].

For information about legal name change procedures available in New York City, check these resources: