What is the best protocol for handling a student whose name has changed from the time when a letter writer knew the student. For instance, suppose Pat Jones has become Pat Smith. Do we write

Pat Smith (né(e) Jones)

or is this unnecessary? I would think that the name should match what's in the rest of the application, but I would imagine it would also be helpful to make sure that the name change is noted, just in case there's some inconsistencies in the overall record (for instance, I doubt that all universities would change transcripts of alumni).

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    If the name change occurred during a career (education) it would be reflected in much of the paper work and hence something the applicant would need to explain as well. So I do not think it is necessary to do much about it. The suggestion you make is fine as a signal, once, early on in the letter but not necessary. – Peter Jansson Oct 7 '13 at 9:17
  • I'm talking about cases where, for instance, an undergraduate has gotten married following graduation, and then asked for a letter after that. – aeismail Oct 7 '13 at 9:22
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    Without addressing the question: if you do reference the applicant's name change, I would advocate "previously Pat Jones", rather than "né Pat Jones" (assuming the letter is written in English). – Tom Church Oct 7 '13 at 13:16

Why not ask the student what they would prefer? I can imagine situations (for example, if the student changed what gender they identify with) where they might not want the name change mentioned too much, or they might appreciate you explaining the circumstances. You're writing the letter for student's benefit, after all.


Your suggestion of using the né(e) construction is the traditional solution in English, i.e. the solution suggested in etiquette manuals. I would do it once at the beginning of the letter to avoid confusion then revert to the current name. Just because the student should mention it elsewhere does not mean your letter should not contain all the information you can reasonably provide.

As a side note I would doubt that any American University would retroactively change transcripts. However, being a person who has never changed his name I have no relevant experience to back that up.


In the specific case of an undergraduate who has gotten married after graduation, I think it would be unethical to mention the name change unless the student specifically asks you to. It's emphasizing information (marital status) which the people receiving the letter should not be considering when making their decision, and in fact are legally barred from considering in the US. In places where it's not illegal (and where marital status is mentioned elsewhere on the application) letters should still be concentrating on data relevant to the job and not things like race, appearance, or marital status. Furthermore, given many people's prejudices (both conscious and unconscious) it is likely to actively harm female students. Even if the student you have in mind is male, mentioning marital name changes in general will be harmful to women.

In the case of someone who has a publishing record under a different name, the issue is more complex, and I think it would be reasonable to ask the candidate if they'd like you say anything.

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    +1 for mentioning unconscious prejudice against female students...this is a genuine concern, and one that should be considered when including the information in a letter of recommendation. – J. Zimmerman Oct 9 '13 at 3:10

If the student is clever enough, he has both names written on his CV. In some systems, it may even be built into the application software (in France, universities online applications typically ask for both family name and birth name).

So, I wouldn't bother with it, unless the student asks you to do it. And yes, I would use the student's current name, even though he may have been named differently when you first met him.

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