How True Name helps transgender people make a name for themselves

June 23, 2022 | By Deborah Lynn Blumberg

When Asher DiGiuseppe tried to make a purchase at his local Toronto liquor store, the clerk looked at him with suspicion and questioned his card, which was still printed with the name he had used before transitioning. The encounter was uncomfortable and, even though he experienced it regularly, jarring.

“When you’re just trying to buy something,” he says, “you don’t expect to have to explain your entire gender identity or life choices or where you’re at in your transition to total strangers.”

Nearly half of transgender or nonbinary people in Canada feel anxiety, embarrassment and frustration when showing an ID that doesn’t reflect their identity, according to a January  Mastercard survey.

A quarter of those surveyed say they have not changed their gender marker on their formal ID, discouraged by the expensive and time-consuming process — it often requires both a name change, then obtaining certification of the transition from a health care professional. There’s also the matter of having to explain the situation to potentially hostile strangers and fielding intrusive questions about their surgical status.

New research by Mastercard across 16 countries in North America and Europe revealed that 59% of people who identity as nonbinary say they feel unsafe while shopping, and 57% say they think it’s important that companies and organizations address them in a way that respects their identity.

Members of the transgender and nonbinary community in Canada now have a tool to help to ease uncomfortable or potentially unsafe encounters at checkout  and further incorporate their chosen name into their daily life. Mastercard’s True Name feature lets cardholders with participating banks use their true first name on their card without requiring a legal name change. 

DiGiuseppe looks forward to receiving a new card with his chosen name and no longer having to pay cash or ask friends or family members to shop for him to avoid stressful in-store questions or confrontations.

“For me, there was always a workaround,” he says, “but there shouldn’t have to be. Trans people have enough to worry about. Not worrying about your name on your credit or your debit card really helps to even the scales.”

Since its debut in the U.S. in 2019, True Name by Mastercard has steadily gathered momentum. In January, the T-Mobile MONEY debit card in the U.S. adopted the True Name feature, and last year Amsterdam-based challenger bank bunq was the first issuer to make the feature available in Europe across in 30 countries. This month, BMO became the first financial institution in Canada to offer the feature, which is now available to banking customers in 32 countries across North America and Europe, through a dozen issuers.

“Helping customers make real financial progress is important, and that starts with providing safe and accessible banking to our customers by removing  barriers to inclusion,” says Jennifer Douglas, head of North American Retail and Small Business Payments at BMO. “All of our customers should feel comfortable using the name that reflects who they are — it’s one more way we can help alleviate financial anxiety so that they can focus on their financial goals.”

Starting this month, BMO customers can use their chosen name on both their consumer and small business debit and credit cards as well as on their monthly statement. They can also choose to use the non-gender-specific prefix Mx. instead of a prefix such as Mr. or Ms.

“It’s a little thing that means so much to people,” DiGiuseppe says. “It can have such a big impact on people’s mental health and their identity. It’s so affirming.”

For Emme Reynolds of Ottawa, credit and debit cards also carry with them a certain amount of stress because they’re just another opportunity in one’s day to be “deadnamed” or misgendered. “It’s wild to see how many times in a day your old name can pop up,” they say. “It’s exhausting to see the name and to be misgendered.”

Reynolds hasn’t changed their own name legally because they say it’s a cumbersome process that they’re not ready to tackle. They intentionally don’t look at credit cards inside their wallet, because the cards serve as a constant reminder of their former self.

They’ve turned more to online shopping, in part due to the pandemic but also to avoid misgendering and intrusive questions when shopping in stores. But online shopping with a credit card is tough too. While Reynolds can change their shipping name, their billing name is their former name that’s still on their credit card.

The True Name feature eliminates those discomforts. “It’s about having something that’s finally me,” Reynolds says. “It gives me something to look at that represents the me I’m moving towards.”

This story was originally published on March 14, 2022. It has been updated to include new research by Mastercard about the nonbinary community.

Deborah Lynn Blumberg, contributor