At a U.S.-based company, I run an intranet system where all new users have to be requested by managers. The "Request New User" form has a single-field Display Name in which I'm hoping for an answer like Bob Jones -- a short but unambiguous name you might use if you were introducing the user at a party.

The overall UX of this registration process is garbage, but largely outside my control -- the form is a template inside a third-party issue tracker. All I can really do is reword the field label, and the small, always-visible help text that appears above the field.

Originally, the field asked for "Full Name" without any further explanation:

Full Name:

Typical Response from Managers: Dr. Robert Vermin Jones III, MD, PhD, Esq.

Because nobody in IT has ever met this user, we can't just mentally correct it. He could refer to himself as Robert, Rob, or Bob. He could go by his middle name. He could go by a nickname. He could be that rare user who insists the system refer to him by his full title when it sends e-mail notifications like Dr. Robert Vermin Jones III, MD, PhD, Esq. says "who left a half-eaten pudding in the fridge?"

After a few of these (and going back and forth with the managers to get the real answer), I had a stab at rewording the prompt.

How should the user's name display on the system? Usually in the form of First Last.

Display Name:

With this wording, nearly all the managers that try to register new people are providing answers that are clearly intended for usernames, such as bjones, either ignoring or completely misunderstanding the help text above the field.

Can anyone suggest an unambiguous wording here? It seems like a trivial, minor thing, but on our end these are annoying to correct (because the manager who filed the ticket invariably doesn't answer their e-mail) and from the user's perspective it looks like one of the first things company IT does after they're hired is get their name wrong.

Edited to add: Annoyingly, this is a low-volume system and new user requests tend to come in batches, so I can't realistically A/B test and it may be a while before I have enough of a sample size to declare victory. I don't mind tracking these down manually, I'm more embarrassed by how unprofessional it makes us look to new hires.

  • Might you be able to short-circuit the manager's mental process by asking the template for more fields and requesting "First Name" "Middle Names" "Last Name" as three separate entries? Or are you limited to a single field?
    – sintax
    Aug 22, 2019 at 22:22
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    @sintax Not really, because people don't always go by any reliable combination of the above. We've got one guy whose display name is his last name spelled backwards. I decided a while ago not to enforce any particular relationship between the display name and anything else, because people who knew each other in meatspace couldn't find each other's accounts in the system.
    – Dan
    Aug 23, 2019 at 2:18
  • 14
    "Dr. Robert Vermin Jones III, MD, PhD, Esq. says "who left a half-eaten pudding in the fridge?"" That example seems great, actually - are you allowed to put something similar on the form and dynamically update it when a user puts something in?
    – VLAZ
    Aug 23, 2019 at 6:28
  • 2
    Can you set a placeholder on the field?
    – jcaron
    Aug 23, 2019 at 15:31
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    @RandallStewart More like Legal Name versus Preferred / Given name: For example, if Dr Jones' father or Uncle was also "Robert", then you might need "Robert Jones" for legal/payroll purposes, but he might introduce himself as "Verm Jones" - so that's how he should display in the company address book et cetera. Aug 23, 2019 at 18:20

8 Answers 8


This is a great question and it may take a few more attempts to get it right. As a rule, people don't read, so a short description is key. I'd try:

Preferred Full Name

Nicknames are fine, titles are discouraged

Hope this helps

  • 1
    This is better than anything I thought up. I've used almost this exact wording & will be sure to update the next time one of my repeat offenders runs a batch of new users.
    – Dan
    Aug 23, 2019 at 2:22
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    Could you add examples: "Nicknames are fine, titles are discouraged (e.g. Robert V. Jones, Rob Jones, Robert Jones Sr., ...)"?
    – mathause
    Aug 23, 2019 at 10:10
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    @mathause that may be best. It’s hard to know for sure without testing. I thought about adding examples, but hesitated doing so because of the added length. At some point, people just glaze over when they see text, so I try to write as little as possible. Aug 23, 2019 at 12:09
  • 4
    Omit the word “full” as that suggests middle name to many.
    – WGroleau
    Aug 25, 2019 at 1:52
  • Hi @WGroleau I think you make a good point. The poster wants them to type “First” and “Last” name. I was afraid to remove “Full” for that reason. I assumed that if it said “Preferred” name, they would only type their first name. Aug 25, 2019 at 17:06

Don't give instructions. Give clear, concise, impossible-to-ignore examples.

Display Name

(e.g., Bob Jones, Liz Johnson)

The example names that you choose, like the ones here, need to communicate that users are encouraged to enter their "daily use" first/last names, without having to actually type out that direction, which users may glaze over.

  • 1
    This is the best imo, even less ambiguous than the current top-voted answer
    – minseong
    Aug 24, 2019 at 14:33

Does your system allow users to control their own display name at a later point in time? E.g., once hired, can Robert V. Jones go into some settings panel somewhere and change their own display name to show "Rob Jones" or "R.V. Jones"? (If not, what happens if they change their name legally and want to be subsequently addressed by "R.V. Smith"?)

If so, I'd probably suggest just asking for Full Name as originally done and telling the the employee how to change it to their satisfaction in their "Welcome!" email. This reduces the effort of the managers to understand the desired input, reduces your pain trying to guess what input they meant, and allows the employee increased flexibility to identify how they like.

  • 6
    Good point. I'll adjust the welcome message to include a link to the profile settings page.
    – Dan
    Aug 23, 2019 at 2:15

Display name is just alright.

With this wording, nearly all the managers that try to register new people are providing answers that are clearly intended for usernames, such as bjones, either ignoring or completely misunderstanding the help text above the field.

Just ask for "display name (example: Robert V. Jones)" and "account name (example: bjones)".

If you don't ask for an account name too, detect account names being entered in the display name field, prompt attention on the message you had added (might not have read it carefully), and if the user in the end still chooses to use an account name for a display name, respect their choice.

Use a small stopback like how Stack Exchange does when review audits are failed.

They still do it wrong yet you want them to do right, so badly.

If so, force them to do it right by removing the thing completely and just use first and last name.

Then make several choices for display name; all of them would feed on the other fields.

  • Unfortunately I can't inject code into the third-party application, and it's low-volume enough that I can't justify writing an in-house UI. If I could, I would definitely have regex matches in place for the two kinds of common screwups.
    – Dan
    Aug 22, 2019 at 21:20
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    Showing an example seems like a good approach. (Maybe ‘Bob Jones’ to highlight that it can be an informal, short name.)
    – gidds
    Aug 23, 2019 at 8:16

I'd still try to do testing

So long as you have a user base you can still do testing. Just go to the existing users in person, with a bit of paper with the field on it, and ask them to write down what they'd write if they saw that on a sign-up form.

I would have started with the hypothesis that the problem here is the word "Full", which is keying your users to enter literally anything that might be part of their name.

Based on that hypothesis, I'd have done my first test using the label "Name". I'd expect that to clue users in that they should put in here the thing they want to be called.

The other answers to supplement the label with clear examples (e.g. Helen) are an excellent second step, but you should be using examples like this to add usability on top of a correct label, not as a patch to fix an incorrect one.

As an aside I'm not surprised that "Display Name" got you screen names. Those two words are basically synonymous.


You say,

I'm hoping for an answer like Bob Jones

so... you should convey exactly that to the user. Give an example!

Preferred name, like John Doe.

Not as abstract as "Preferred name, usually in the form first last".


I'd show as much information possible that reaffirms what you are trying to say. So, you can have - the title will say this will be shown to others

Display name (?)

Bob Jones

Fill it in with a placeholder (Bob Jones here) that shows the spirit of what is being asked for. The (?) can open a tooltip that says something along the lines of

This is the name that others will see and know you by

And if possible, try to include that example you had in your question to illustrate how the name would be used:

Bob Jones says "who left a half-eaten pudding in the fridge?"

This will work best if you can dynamically populate the example with whatever is put into the field, so when the user changes it, it becomes

Bob Jones says "who left a half-eaten pudding in the fridge?"

This is a great example, since it shows that the system will not be used for only formal requests. You can have others along the same idea but avoid overly professional examples, as they may mislead users, for example:

Dr. Robert Vermin Jones III, MD, PhD, Esq. says "I would formally like to request the TPS report be completed until the end of the week. Thanks in advance."

Looks like the overly solemn and strict and thus the full title and honorifics are appropriate, so make the example (or examples, if you want alternatives) be rather informal. Other possibilities are "Does the printer on the third floor work?", or "Anybody up for badminton on Friday?", or "I've brought muffins in the kitchen" - something that appropriate for office setting but not strictly business.


If there is no filter, it is the manager who decides what name is appropriate to fill in. Assuming their intentions are right, you can give them some direction.

It also helps to know why they fill in the name as they do. Did you ask? For example, if they have no clue what the name is used for, they will have to guess what is appropriate. So adding more context might help them:

Fill in the full name as displayed in the system and to other users.

Full name visible for other users:

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