Accessibility statement

Moving to randomly generated usernames

In October 2022 we changed the way that we generate usernames for all new users (staff, students and associates).

Usernames were previously based upon a person's initials at the time of account creation, followed by a sequence of digits (in order to make the username unique). We have changed this so that the first part is made up of three random characters. These are followed by a sequence of digits, as before. The format of the username will not change (it will still be of the form abc123), but no longer contains a person's initials (unless by random chance).

This only applies to newly created user accounts. The usernames of existing users have not changed, and at present there is no process to change the username of an existing user.

Why have we made this change?

Usernames are a unique identifier for users within the University. Unfortunately, basing them upon a person's initials means that some people ask for their username to be changed when they believe that it no longer reflects their identity. This normally happens when someone has changed their name - for example, following marriage or divorce, to adopt a Western name, to distance themselves from a difficult family relationship or to match their gender identity.

Unfortunately we do not currently support changing a person's username as it is used as the primary identifier in a large number of disconnected systems. We would like to support this in the future, but enabling this will be a long term project. 

What we can do now is improve the experience for new staff and students in such situations, and so we have changed the way we generate usernames for all users (staff, students and other affiliated users alike). We feel that breaking the link between a person's name and their username is important for making the University of York a more inclusive place to work and study.

How does this affect me?

If your account was created prior to this change (before October 2022) then your username will not change. Unfortunately it is not currently possible to change your username once it has been allocated.

If your account was created after this change (after October 2022) then your username will look different from the staff and students who came before you. It may be slightly harder to remember than it would have been before, as the first few letters no longer correspond to your initials when your account was created. However, your username is relatively short (three letters and three numbers) and you will use it a lot, so it shouldn’t take too long to commit to memory.

If you look after a University system that handles usernames then, again, nothing should change for you. Usernames are in the same format as before, but the letters will no longer correspond to the person's initials.

If you are a People Database Administrator then you will notice that the usernames generated for new associates will no longer contain the person’s initials. 

Could random usernames contain offensive words?

The random username prefixes are only three characters long, but we know that there's potential for undesirable combinations, for example:

  • common short names (such as 'sue' or 'bob') which do not correspond to a person's actual name 
  • profanities
  • culturally or religiously insensitive or offensive words 

It would be a significant task to identify all names, profanities and offensive words across all of the many languages understood and spoken by the University community, but we know that most names and words (not only in English but in many languages) include vowels or the letter 'y'. We have excluded these letters from the username generation process. 

We have also implemented a blocklist to capture any additional unfortunate combinations of letters that we become aware of, or those which carry special meaning within the University (eg 'tmp'). If there are words or three letter acronyms that you think we should be avoiding, please let us know by contacting IT Support.

What if I don’t like the username I was assigned?

The username that you have been assigned was randomly generated and we have taken steps to ensure that usernames do not include a combination of letters that may be seen as inappropriate. It is not possible to change a username once it has been allocated. However, if you have issues with the username that you have been allocated then please contact IT Support to discuss this.

How will I know I'm emailing the right student if their email address doesn't match their initials?

You should never assume that you have the correct email address for someone just because it 'looks' like their name or initials. If you are at all unsure that you are communicating with the intended person, steps need to be taken to verify their address, for example:

  • Look up their email address in the University directory or on a departmental website
  • If you're a member of teaching staff, confirm students' email addresses via the Student Enquiry Screen or module/course lists
  • Reply to an email that you know has come from them

If in doubt, start your interaction with non-confidential information.