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December 11, 2012

“Please enter a valid last name”
Posted by Patrick at 08:13 PM *

I realize that I’m at risk of turning Making Light into the outlet for a series of appalling Andy Rooney-esque rants against the annoyances of the modern world. This is what happens when you get old.

But I can’t resist sharing with the Fluorosphere what happened to me, just now, when I tried to purchase actual home delivery of that famously financially-challenged and yet still essential newspaper, the New York Times.

As many of you know, “Nielsen Hayden” is my legal last name. It’s also what’s on any the credit cards I would be using to pay for this subscription, if I could get past this screen. Yes, it’s true, in 2012, even institutions as stupid as Mastercard, Visa, and American Express have managed to wrap their walnut-sized dinosaur brains around the idea that some people’s surnames have a space in them. A space in them! Good God, man, no one can live at that speed. You’re asking the impossible. (Cue Eddie Izzard: “The Dutch speak four languages and smoke marijuana.”)

So I’m a little dubious about simply entering “Patrick Hayden,” even leaving aside the fact that being told by a farking commerce website that my actual last name is not “a valid last name” is (a) pointlessly offensive and (b) a complete violation of sensible UI design practice.

And before you ask, yes, I got the same error message when I added a spurious hyphen and entered “Nielsen-Hayden.”

Really. Does the New York Times refuse to accept subscriptions from Gordon Van Gelder? Or Greg Van Eekhout? Or Daniel Day-Lewis?

Whoever maintains this site for the New York Times needs to read Patrick McKenzie’s magnificent Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names. And whichever New York Times employee is responsible for soliciting print-delivery subscriptions on the Web needs to get out their ass-kicking boots and commence using them for their stated purpose.

“Please enter a valid last name.” Please kiss my double-last-name-with-a-space-in-the-middle ass, The New York Times.

UPDATE, December 12, 7:40 PM: Three tweets from @NYTdigitalsubs, about an hour ago. In essence, they say please send your email address so we can fix this, and then we’ll try to fix the larger issue. Well okay then. Good going, New York Times.

Comments on "Please enter a valid last name":
#1 ::: Ellen ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 09:25 PM:

Preach! I have a hyphen, a thing which people have had in their last names since a time quite close to the invention of last names. Airlines, some websites, and a frightening number of computer programs can't handle it.

#2 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 09:41 PM:

And some names begin with a lower-case letter.

#3 ::: Joe Holmes ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 09:49 PM:

My kids have double last names, no hyphen. It does occasionally become a wrench in the finely tuned works of the world.

This reminds me of the forms that require you to type in your phone number, and then scream Error! because you used parentheses, a hyphen, or a space. I should be more forgiving, because I know how incredibly difficult it is for a programmer to write a routine that ignores a space or hyphen.

#4 ::: mamajoan ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 09:50 PM:

I hear ya. As someone with an initial-before-name situation (F. Scott Fitzgerald, F. Murray Abraham, and me), I encounter similar issues in many an online form. Come on, I know it's unusual, but it isn't unheard of and shouldn't be all that difficult to program around.

#5 ::: thanate ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 09:51 PM:

I'm not sure if that's more or less irritating than the problem my mother's family has: being spelled Laidig and pronounced "lie-dig" they get random people "correcting" them about their own name.

This ought to have been an awful lot easier to keep from being a problem in the first place, though.

#6 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 09:52 PM:

That's incredibly annoying. I guess the Times does not want your business. Or the business of any of the millions of people who have last names with a space or hyphen in them.

#7 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 09:55 PM:

#2, Steven desJardins: Indeed they do. Recalling Jerald terHorst, Gerald Ford's press secretary who did the honorable thing when Ford announced that Dick Nixon had a super-extra-special-not-available-to-normal-people Get Out of Jail Free card.

(Gerald Ford has gotten way too easy a ride from posterity. The Nixon pardon is surely one of the ten worst American political events of my lifetime. For a brief moment it looked like power could be held accountable, before Ford came along to say "Just kidding, suckers!")

#8 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 09:59 PM:

I'm tempted to point them in the direction of Salt Lake City and all the genealogy programmers who have dealt with this for years.

#9 ::: Doug Burbidge ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 10:03 PM:

It's worse because the programmers have actively added wrongness to their code. They could just say "The user knows how to spell their last name. We don't need to do any validation on this field." But instead they do extra work in order to do the wrong thing.

Simply choosing not to validate would still leave plenty of incorrect assumptions from the list Patrick points to (assuming that the last name is the surname, assuming that the user has a last name, etc.), but it at least reduces the set of people who will have problems with the form.

#10 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 10:05 PM:

I think of all the de Somewheres and Mac Someones (some but not all of which are written solid) and wonder what they can have been thinking.

Especially since checking for a valid name is a routine you have to write specially.

Oh, wait. They probably listed the valid characters for a name, or just checked for letters only or something. Ignorant dolts.

Yeah, 3Jane Tessier-Ashpool is never going to subscribe.

I remember some stupid website from a few years ago that had a ZIP code search feature. It treated ZIP codes as numeric. This works everywhere except Massachusetts and New Jersey. It was a California website, and I'm guessing they'd never in their lives seen a ZIP code that started with any number below 7.

#11 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 10:07 PM:

Patrick, I am honestly, sincerely sorry for things whenever you encounter some bullshit like this, but I have to confess I enjoy your rants against them. I mean, seriously, I'm sorry you have to put up with this modern (or not so modern) world crap, but I'm glad you are willing to use your considerable gifts to strike back at it. It heartens me.

#12 ::: Keith Edwards ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 10:09 PM:

My wife has similar problems, having like you a double barrel last name sans hyphen. Since we moved to Oregon, she has had less issues (lots of folk from Canada with those weird French names) but when we lived in Georgia, boy howdy what a headache! The woman at the DMV told her flat out "We don't do that sort of thing here" when she went to change her driver's license after we got married.

#13 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 10:25 PM:

Well of course this (as you say in your tweet) "really happened." Why would "The Paper of Record", with an international readership (many of whom subscribe by mail), and home delivery to most parts of the radically multicultural United States, in particular to New York City, have subscribers whose names aren't in the format FIRSTNAME LASTNAME? Nobody could have foreseen that!

On the other hand, do you really need to give the NYT your True Name to subscribe to the paper? Don't they deserve to get some name like "The Residents" or "Mr. Underhill"* or "John Doe" or "Arthur Sulzberger"? Friends of mine have an extra credit card on their account in the name of "John Smith" for use when the billing name really has to match the user name.

I get annoyed enough at websites that won't accept email addresses like or, where cc is some country code TLD instead of .com/.net/.org. At least they can usually handle my name, modulo some alternate spellings, though when I'm talking to a bureaucrat on the phone who addresses me as "William" I realize there are limits there also.

*(I had in mind Ursula Leguin's "Mr. Underhill", but Tolkien's works also.)

#14 ::: Goob ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 10:28 PM:

Ever have I wondered how people with the surname of "Void" endorse their paychecks.

(Perhaps that should be "endorsed?")

The fellow who lives across the street from my folks has a different problem with this particular subscription; he has cancelled, and they won't stop delivering the thing. They're not trying to bill the guy, and every time he calls them about it, they tell him not to worry about it, it's all fine, they'll take care of it, enjoy the paper.

The only other reason we can think of for this state of affairs is that this fellow is more valuable to the NYT (resident of central CT that he is) for purposes of advertising tallies then the actual subscription fee.

#15 ::: Bill Stewart waves at the gnomes ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 10:29 PM:

Hi, Gnomes - Sorry if I used a word of power or invoked the name of a dragon at inappropriate times. There's some hard cider left, unfiltered and very dry.

#16 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 10:33 PM:

And today I tried out the Post Office's shiny new customs forms printing web site. Two problems: (1) it didn't print and (2) it couldn't handle non-ASCII names. Herr Groß would probably be quite perturbed.

I mean, a Customs form generator, for heaven's sake!

#17 ::: David Kuzminski ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 10:44 PM:

About twenty years ago I was on a programming team in which the supervisor sought to help out a buddy by hiring him to be the head programming supervisor deapite not knowing how to program. On the bright side4, he had two abilites that no one else on the team possessed: He was a drinking buddy and he knew how to operate a crane though I'm still unsure how that second skill made him a better programmer. This situation sounds like what might have gone on with the last name programming sequence.

#18 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 11:24 PM:

Patrick, #7: I think you're underestimating the effects of that pardon. Which is all I'm going to say because I don't want to turn this into a political thread.

As someone who grew up with a Dutch surname (Van D****, 2 words, no hyphen, spelled exactly the way it sounded), I hear you on this. In fact, I hear you so loudly that although as a general thing I am in agreement with women keeping their own surnames when they marry, I nonetheless took the coward's way out and changed my name when I got married. And then didn't change it back when we divorced. I was just SO sick and tired of the misspellings, the misfilings (the number of times I had to tell someone "look under D" was beyond counting), and the mistaken gender assumptions (because if you assume that "Van" is my middle name, my gender-ambiguous first name becomes unambiguously male), and I had a "get out of all that shit free" card, and by damn I used it.

Wow. Where'd that soapbox come from?

#19 ::: Ulrika O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 11:29 PM:

Yeah. I had no idea what kind of trouble I was buying when I took Hal's last name. Not really anyway. For instance, I cannot pay my student fees at the University of Washington with a credit card because the fee payment software cannot cope with the apostrophe in my name, and so the name when I'm paying does not match the name in my student record. I was told that the only way to fix this was, get this, to change my name in my student record.

And when dealing with any business that took my name on an electronic form, if I don't have a printout of how they render my name in front of me, I have to guess what my last name is. Or rather, what they believe my last name is. Because, depending on how their software munges my name, it might be O Brien, Obrien, OBrien, O[character soup]Brien, or an improbable rendition to be named later. When ordering products online with a credit card, I have to look at the credit card to be sure what my name is, since not all of the entities with whom I hold a card can render an apostrophe either.

It is, on the whole, maddening, especially since this is a piece of coding that was a solved problem 20 years ago. And I thought being called "Ulrika" was difficult. Hah!

#20 ::: Alison ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 11:32 PM:

Having been in marketing for many years and had custom applications built, I am startled by the number of programmers who need directions to avoid the above scenarios as if they were a unique feature of my app/database/website form/what-have-you. Should I be required to list these things to avoid as requirements when we bid out the job? The one that specifically comes to mind was an address line that kicked back commas as invalid and yet didn't provide a line for apartment numbers. We caught it before the site went live, but should that have been so mysterious?

#21 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 11:32 PM:

Bill Stewart, #13: I do see your point, but I find it kind of amusing, in the context of this particular discussion, that you've mangled Ursula K. Le Guin's last name into "Leguin."

Ursula K. Le Guin. There's someone else the New York Times evidently wouldn't sell a subscription to.

#22 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 11:41 PM:

Lee #18: I hear you. Although I have no Dutch ancestry (that I'm aware of), two of my mother's sisters married guys with Van-space-X last names -- Van Dyke and Van Gigch. So I heard about this stuff plenty when I was growing up. Why it didn't suggest to me, 34 years ago, that combining Teresa's and my surnames into an unhyphenated conglomerate might be troublesome, is left as an exercise for the reader. (READER: "You guys were morons." BLOGGER: "Shut up, you.")

#23 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 11:42 PM:

Michael Weholt, #11: We live to entertain. Also, long time no see, dude.

#24 ::: Greg van Eekhout ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 11:46 PM:

The answer is, no, they will not take my money. And I was about to give them LOTS.

#25 ::: Kaleberg ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 11:48 PM:

Back in high school I had a friend named Hon Wah. In Cantonese, that was just two characters, but an awful lot of pre-computer humans were confused by it. More than once he received mail addressed to the Honorable Wah xxx, a default judicial appointment. It isn't just computers.

#26 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 11, 2012, 11:55 PM:

Now you know how Little Bobby Tables must have felt ...

#27 ::: Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 12:25 AM:

Tangent about reasons a woman might desire to change her name when getting married: my daughter-in-law changed her surname to my son's an act of feminist defiance.

In Czech Republic, if you have a Czech surname, and you are a woman, the laws require you to go by the female version of the name, which is a possessive adjective and indicates that you are chattel of the men in the family. If a woman has a "foreign" name, the possessive adjective form is optional.

Thus, she changed her name when she got married so as not to be the property of her husband. She had to do extra paperwork not to have the -ova ending on her name, though.

#28 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 12:27 AM:

I have a certain amount of self-pity about my last name-- human beings are apt to have trouble processing it.

However, people whose names don't get processed reliably by computers clearly have it worse.

#29 ::: BonnyAnne ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 12:41 AM:

I've been applying to numerous jobs online lately (hoo boy, so many jobs) and if there's one thing that absolutely makes me want to put my fist through the screen it's the way things like birthdays and phone numbers (or password requirements) are formatted.

BOX (no context, no hints): enter your birthday! So easy!

ME: 11/27/19XX

BOX (erasing an entire page's worth of meticulously entered data, because it can): Invalid! Must be like so: 11-27-19XX. Do it all again.

(Or the programming bot that says MAKES PASSWORD NOW PUT IT HERE and won't tell you until *after* you've tried at least one iteration of a password whether you are allowed to use non-alphanumeric characters, etc etc: INVALID. ONE LETTER MUST BE UPPER CASE.)

It makes me all want to spit. Ptoo.

#30 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 12:57 AM:

Note: The Lee who posted #26 is not me.

Patrick, #22: It wasn't so bad when I was living in the Detroit area, with its relatively large Dutch-ancestry community. When people encounter a significant number of "Van X" names on a regular basis, they get used to it.

Moving to Nashville... that was, as the saying goes, an experience. Suddenly I was up against the triple whammy of:
- "Lee" in the Deep South is an almost-exclusively-male name, because so many people either have it as a family name ("the Lees of Old Virginia") or give it to their sons in honor of Robert E. Lee
- No one is familiar with the "Van X" form of Dutch name, because there aren't many people of Dutch ancestry around
- It's fairly common in that part of the country for people to go by their first and middle names (Billy Joe, Betty Sue)

... and there you have it. Obviously I was a boy who went by Lee Van, and my last name started with D. When I matriculated at Vanderbilt, I had to pick up my registration packet from the boys' location (across campus from the girls' location) and they put me in an all-male advisor group (the groups were sex-segregated). I was grateful that I wasn't living on campus that year, because I am absolutely certain that they'd have stuck me into one of the men's dorms. Oy.

#31 ::: Alex R. ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 01:33 AM:

Would this work?

First Name: Patrick Nielsen
Last Name: Hayden

#32 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 01:33 AM:

Lee @ 18: Despite my feminist convictions, I took my husband's surname when I married. My maiden name sounded like a common adjective, and I'd heard every pun by the third grade. Please, everyone. Don't make puns or jokes about people's names. They have already heard them all. Over, and over again.

Back to ranting about data entry validation snafus, my employer switched to an online tool for performance reviews this year. One enters a self-evaluation, then your manager reviews and edits it. One of the QA engineers had typed in something about tracking down a race condition in the software, and the website wouldn't let him save the entry until he removed the objectionable word — race. We were all tempted to type in a variety of words to see which were problems, but not quite curious enough to risk that there wasn't some sort of logging and reporting going on.

#33 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 01:35 AM:

And then you have the opposite class of human-mediated problems, which apply to my late friend with a surname of Vandraiss. (Pronounced with the stress on the Van, even.) The numbers of times I saw his name spelled correctly in magazine references was not substantially higher than the number of times I saw something like "Van Draiss" or worse.

Then again, I mostly saw his name in magazines about model cars -- which is a publishing industry in dire need of quality copyeditors which it has not got, though my impression is that it mostly also has not got the cash flow to pay them.

#34 ::: Devin ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 01:36 AM:

I spent the first 16 years of my life thinking my name was Momsname Dadsname, Devin NMI (a dual non-hyphenated last name). Turns out, the doctor told my dad that he couldn't put a space on the birth certificate, and my legal name is actually Dadsname, Devin Momsname (a single last name with my mom's as my middle name). My mom overlooked this somehow, so my life is documented under a random assortment of variations of my name. Also, my brother has the correct version of the surname, so we have different last names, in different parts of the alphabet.

My friends the St. Pierres share Patrick's great fury against the practice of name validation. It seems there are two kinds of name validation systems: those which reject spaces, and those which reject periods.

Lee @18/30
I've always said that I didn't much want my wife to take my name and if I marry a woman with a cool last name, I'll take hers. I'm not overly fond of my last name (messed up as it is) so I'd be happy to trade up if the chance comes.

#35 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 01:47 AM:

The one that gets to me is when they demand that you type in your credit card number without any spaces or dashes, as if it weren't a trivial one-line task strip them out on the back end.

#36 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 02:21 AM:

Way back in the Nineties, I would hit a lot of US websites which struggled with the concept of other countries not having a Zip Code. I could choose my country on the registration page, but you had to put in a US-format Zip Code. They also didn't like blank entries.

Things muct have improved, but I wonder if those drones dropping bombs on foreign lands ever have the same problem. Is that why it took so long to find OBL?

#37 ::: Douglas Faunt ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 03:27 AM:

And I just ran across a site (storenvy) that would not accept just my first initial for the first name- in spite of the fact that my credit card has that, and it wanted the name on the credit card.

AND it just spit up a message that something on the page was invalid, WITHOUT telling me what! It took a fair amount of experimenting to figure out the problem, since I assumed that a non-printing character was it.

It had no problem accepting "Absurd requirement Fucked up" as a first name, though, and a different payment method.

#38 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 03:27 AM:

My beloved wife has a lot of given names (six of them, to be precise - including a patronymic!), and has had a ton of trouble with fixed-lenght fields in forms that assume that no one has more than 20 characters in their given name(s). Especially things like Australia's tourist visa-like thingy, that says "Given names (include ALL)", then says "Enter ALL names EXACTLY as they appear on the applicant's passport", where those two are irreconcilable, as her full given names are not in her passport (three of them have been initialised, and one's not there at all).

#39 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 03:28 AM:

Devin @34:

A friend of mine got married in granola-liberal Oregon and assumed it would be easy for him to take his wife's last name. Hah! Portland may be ready to do gay marriage, but hetero gender-based nomenclature indeterminancy sends them straight back to the 19th Century.

First, instead of getting the name change for free with his marriage license, he had to file a $300 change of name with the help of an attorney. And then he had to deal with 5 years of various state and financial services refusing to accept his change of name, or issuing veiled accusations that he had criminal purposes in doing so.

#40 ::: Mikael Vejdemo-Johansson ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 03:41 AM:

Yeeeeeeah, I hear you on name related issues. Some of my own stories:

1. I hyphenate everywhere; except for where people will be checking against my ID. I want my name hyphenated, because otherwise noone will actually tokenize it correctly; but due to Swedish laws, it MUST have a space in any official documents.
Hilarity ensues.

2. It's always kinda random how my name comes out. For a long time, AT&T knew me as Zejdemo. Really interesting is when you get services that use your surname as an access key — the Hilton Inn at Penn in Philadelphia does this: you get internet access by entering your surname and your room number. That is, your surname as the hotel thinks it should be spelled. EVERY visit there I have to call the front desk and ask them to spell my name for it. Last time, it was «Vejdemo Hohanss».

Unrelated to my name, I did the entire graphic design for cd's wedding. His name was 3 words. Her name was 6 lines of text. Good fun!

#41 ::: Neil W ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 05:25 AM:

Ulrika O'Brien @19 My university flatmate shares your surname. The most common was Richard Obrien* (which we pronounced OB-REE-EN) but our favourite was Richard O, who we decided was some kind of superhero.

* Not that Richard O'Brien.

#42 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 05:29 AM:

I had one website refuse my business until I rang their call-centre and learned that in the text box labelled Full Name, I had to enter MR NIALL MCAULEY or no dice.

I've also run into many where to get around the "problem" of parsing dates, they've made it so you have to navigate some pointy-clicky mousy drop-down calendar bullshit. Every damned time.

#43 ::: brotherguy ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 05:41 AM:

In the 60's, when computers were even more limited, a lot of the junk mail I was getting from prospective universities chopped my 11-letter long last name after the tenth letter and concatenated it onto my first name.

And once I had gotten into college (MIT did not make the mistake of mangling my name; of course, they did make the mistake of admitting me...) I noticed that a lot of mail would arrive at the MIT Science Fiction Society addressed to Mr. T. Science, Fiction Society.

#44 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 06:02 AM:

On a tangent, I don't think a single telemarketer or business has ever pronounced my street name correctly, even though it's one letter long. (I live on "E Street". Everyone says "East Street". Always.)

#45 ::: Andrew F ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 06:33 AM:

@BonnyAnne, #29

My "favourite" password bot has been one for buying Premium Bonds in the UK, which after the first iteration tells you to include a non-alphanumeric character, and after the second iteration tells you that your chosen non-alphanumeric character is not in the allowed subset. It does not, of course, tell you what that subset is.

#46 ::: Simon Bisson ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 06:57 AM:

And of course that approach is killing naming systems from minority languages.

My surname is a Norman French name, and like many from that part of the world is a descriptive familial (like the Welsh-English dialect "Jones The Steam"). So my three-part no-hyphen surname is Le Gros Bisson ("The Large Bush"), which breaks pretty much every naming database out there...

So I have ended up just going by Bisson, which is a much more common name...

#47 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 07:01 AM:

Avram #35: Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini (formerly of Apple) cited that exact case as an example of the programmer telling the user, "let's you save me some trouble". Naturally, other cases here also qualify.

Tog seems to have redone his site, and I'm not sure where his "Hall of Shame" collection is living now, but there's lots of his user-interface columns there, I'm sure he still has many distressing things to show you.

#48 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 07:02 AM:

Avram @35: The one that gets to me is when they demand that you type in your credit card number without any spaces or dashes, as if it weren't a trivial one-line task strip them out on the back end.

At work I have regular dealings with a database whose input does not strip spaces from the beginning of name fields. So (as happens occasionally) someone entered " Jones", I will not find the record if I search on "Jones".

#49 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 07:05 AM:

When I was first out of library school and applying for jobs, I ran into more than one municipal job application that required you to put in a complete address, including 5-digit zip code, for every past job you had held. Nice trick, considering that I had one past job from Japan (7-digit postal codes) and one from Canada (6-digit postal codes, mixed numbers and letters.)

I had to settle for entering bad data and then explaining it later on, but I didn't get interviews for any of those jobs.

#50 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 07:45 AM:

My husband took my last name when we married. At least one person asked, indignantly, "Is that LEGAL?"

My youngest sister's married last name is Gotobed. One company refused her service because they were sure she was playing a practical joke.

#51 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 07:51 AM:

I have similar problems when I need to enter my English middle name, a Wade-Giles romanization of my Chinese name. When I applied for a driver's license in MD, the clerk simply refused to believe I had written my middle name correctly, even though I had my NY driver's license and my passport as evidence. First, she insisted that middle names could not have hyphens in MD. Next, she insisted that the second half of the hyphenated name could not be only a single character in MD. Of course, all I could do was insist that my name was my name and show her lots of proper documentation.

The odd thing is, their computers had absolutely no problems with my name. When she entered my name, it went onto their records and onto my driver's license exactly as I wrote it. I still have no idea what the clerk's problem was. (MA, OTOH, silently dropped the hyphen.)

A friend of mine from college has a similar problem. He has two middle names. He inevitably loses one of them here and there. It makes me wonder how bruce d. mcclung and Jennifer 8. Lee navigate these systems without wanting to kill something. Also, I believe there are still names unrepresentable in Unicode.

#52 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 07:54 AM:

Doug @9:

I suspect some validation is necessary on the surname field, if only to prevent Little Bobby Tables from doing too much damage. Other than that, though, I think most situations could be handled by having the user verify that "yes, this is in fact what I want" - for instance, someone who has only one name (as is true of many Indonesian people) may leave the surname field empty. For a US-based entity like the New York Times, an empty surname field is likely to be user error, so it's worth checking, but the system should allow it to proceed after verification that it's really what the user meant. (If the surname is used as a database key they can just use the given name in this case, or something else that doesn't require the user to make stuff up.)

#53 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 07:59 AM:

Ireland has no postcodes. No zip codes either. Nothing. Indeed, my father-in-law's address is just "Housename, Village, Ireland". A few years ago my mother-in-law was reduced to using our Canadian address to book a hotel in the US online, and last month Emmet's uncle had to give up and telephone the airline to book a flight from Montreal to Florida because he didn't have a postcode and Travelocity and Expedia weren't having that.

Also, what Ulrika said about having punctuation in your surname. I changed my name when I got married to lose a hyphen, and I didn't change it when I got remarried to avoid an apostrophe.

It's one of those things that's infuriating because there's a completely unnecessary assumption of uniformity.

#54 ::: Pete ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 08:12 AM:

Alex R @31: Alas, no - they appear to be applying the same silly validation in the First Name and Last Name fields, so both are limited to a single "word" (alphabetic characters only, no spaces, hyphens, or other punctuation).

While we're at it, the address can have as few as two "words", but the first word must always be numeric (so no addresses starting with 21A, or 3/21, or Level 21, or 21st floor, etc)

The phone number, however, just has to be any 10 digits.

As a programmer myself, insanity like this drives me to despair some days...

#55 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 08:26 AM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden, #23: Hoping to point my foldy-bike in your general direction very early in 2013.

#56 ::: Pangolin ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 08:31 AM:

In a similar vein of programmer stupidity...
I just ordered something from a website last night, one that I've used before so it had a saved profile of my info. Only it barfed on my phone number - which it populated from saved data - because there were hyphens in it.

#57 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 08:33 AM:

When I married Gail, she decided to hyphenate her surname with mine. This has resulted in some amazing, and, occasionally, amusing contretemps. A fair number of organisations cannot handle a surname of the length of Ofterdinger-Ledgister. Others cannot deal with the hyphen.

Her employer truncates the name by one letter. In one case I know the hyphen is omitted, resulting in the rather interesting surname Ofterdingerledgister. In another case, the truncation (hyphen intact) was rather more drastic. As a result she gets mail addressed to someone named Ofterdinger-Le.

This is about as bad as the number of things that get done to my first name (sex change operations and all).

#59 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 08:36 AM:

Goob #14:

The problems faced by people with the Belgian surname O or the Gabonese surname Mba are pretty well-known.

#60 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 08:44 AM:

My house is on the alley between 53rd and 54th Streets. Most alleys in my town are named [woman's name] Way, but not mine; mine is "53rd 1/2 St"--so it says on the street sign.

When I order from an online store I've never ordered from before, I always make sure to include a note in the comment field that says "Yes, it really is 'fifty-third and a half street'." Looking my property up in the county database is a non-trivial procedure.

#61 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 08:56 AM:

John Chu #51: I, also, have two middle names. I've entered my middle initials, from time to time, in the "middle name" box. I've also had indignant inquiries as to why I have two middle names, as if this were some sort of offence.

#62 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 09:14 AM:

"Moving to Nashville... No one is familiar with the "Van X" form of Dutch name"

You could always remind them of Confederate General Earl Van Dorn . . .

Although (oops!) when he went to Tennessee, somebody murdered him!

#63 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 09:21 AM:

As most of you probably know, I grew up with a hyphenated last name. It was the name I learned to write on that wide-ruled, dashes-down-the-center paper in preschool. It had six characters in my first name, six in my middle (which I never had to use for much), and 12 in the last, one of which was a hyphen.

However, my birth cert had First Middle DadsLast only. When my parents got divorced (I was 3), the judge refused to "let" my mom go back to her maiden name because "it would stigmatize the child in school" to have a different last name than my mother, so she told him, "Fine, how about if we both go Momsname-Dadsname, hyphenated?" He was fine with that, but did not process a formal, legal name change with the divorce papers.

Then my mom quietly went back to her maiden name for all purposes and put me to school as Momsname-Dadsname. This led to hilarity as I tried to get a passport when I turned 18, but that's a different story.

The one that might amuse a bit more is that the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, administered every year in my grade school, had scantron-type forms with put-letters-in-boxes parts for the student identity fields.

They had six boxes for first name and ten for last, and allowed nothing but letters.

Because of this, on my Iowa Basic results I was always ELOISE BELTZDECKE, with the hyphen removed and last letter truncated, and my classmate Rochonda Knox always had her first name turned into ROCHON. We used to joke we should swap ends so at least one of us had a totally legal name for the form. :->

And yes, when the chance arose to take a different married name, I leapt at it. As it turns out I've since changed my first as well ... and I had to go pick one with four completely reasonable (though two more common than the other two) spellings! Ahh, well. When I was little I had to laboriously spell out my first, middle, and last names, AND the name of the street I lived on, so this is at least an improvement.

#64 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 09:42 AM:

Fragano Ledgister @61 I've also had indignant inquiries as to why I have two middle names, as if this were some sort of offence.
Clearly it's unfair for you to have more than your share of middle names. You must be depriving someone else. Give the extra one back, or at least donate it somewhere.

Some time ago, my mother gave a magazine subscription to my young cousins for Christmas. Because it was to be shared among them, she had the subscription addressed to "Smith Children" using their address for mailing and ours for billing. She got junk mail addressed to "Mrs. Children" for years thereafter.

#65 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 10:01 AM:

Medicare believes that no one has, or should have, a last name with fewer than five letters. So all of John Doe's paperwork has to say JOHN DOE00.

True fact. We had a claim denied over and over again for this reason, and it was like pulling teeth to get them to TELL US WHY it was denied.

Keith Edwards @ #12, "We don't do that sort of thing here?" What? Be "foreign"? (Or maybe I should say "furrin"?) On behalf of my fellow Georgians, I apologize.

#66 ::: Winchell Chung ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 10:07 AM:

Programmers never learn. There was a book published in 1968 by author Theodore Tyler entitled The Man Whose Name Wouldn't Fit. It was a satire about a poor man whose last name was "Cartwright-Chickering". This was too long to fit on a computer punch card (1968, remember?). His employers found it easier to fire him instead of going to the expense of re-writing the employee management software. Mr. Cartwright-Chickering becomes enraged and engages in eco-terrorism.

#67 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 10:22 AM:

The name I use here is actually an agglomeration of my first and middle names, as they appear on my birth certificate. I started going by that in 1987, when MIT's default userid was First Initial, Middle Initial, First Six Letters of Last Name, but you could choose something else if you liked it better, and I certainly liked my option better, as it could be readily pronounced. When I discovered that online friends, upon first meeting me, would pronounce it all as one word with the emphasis on the first syllable, I accepted it joyfully, as it didn't make me feel four years old, the way that the two names with the emphasis on the second did -- that was how my family addressed me before school age, and I actively worked to drop the middle name through elementary school, because most people went by a single name, and two felt babyish. As a bonus, when I use it now, I still have to spell it, but nobody questions that it's a real name or refuses to accept that it might be given to someone female -- the number of people who insisted on believing that my name MUST be spelled Ricki or Rikki, or was a boy's name, drove me up a wall.

At one point I filed a legal name change to Rikibeth Ivy, because I was working retail with a name badge, and my employers refused to allow me to put a name on my badge that wasn't in my employment file as a nickname, and wouldn't add a name to the file unless it were a legal name change. And I was very, very tired of fielding questions about the origin of my first name, not least because it was derived from my great-grandmother's Hebrew name, and I never knew whether admitting to Jewish origins would prove some sort of conversational landmine; even in this day and age, it can be. Plus, yes, I AM so fine, but I'm tired of hearing it, and I intend to lose every number I'm given, thank you, and my name has absolutely nothing to do with the practice of Reiki. "Ivy" was only the name of a gaming character of mine, but I would reliably answer to it (unlike Beth), and it didn't cause five minutes of tiresome conversation per customer; nobody seemed inclined to make "poison ivy" or "holly and ivy" comments.

I didn't propagate the name change through Social Security or the DMV, and it appears to have fallen off the map. I don't much care, and I don't answer as readily to "Ivy" as I used to, that game having ended in the mid-90s.

I did take my ex-husband's name when I married, and kept it after the divorce. Largely because my birth name was not only regularly misspelled -- the Germanic i-e reversal -- but also caused INCREDIBLY tiresome repetitions of the Oscar Meyer jingle, plus mildly obscene jokes. And my ex's name, while subject to the same i-e reversal, wasn't especially comical, and moved me up several letters in the alphabet. When you have spent your entire life near the bottom of the list with a W, with only the occasional Wong or Zelinsky or Zimmerman stuck after you, an S feels like redemption.

At least mine isn't subject to computer mangling.

My dad's was, once, through user input error. The MIT Alumni Office has forever since addressed him as "Watler." He finds it amusing.

#68 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 10:23 AM:

We have a tenant, a Polish woman whose last name runs to nineteen characters including the hyphen. Too long for her driver's licence, where it gets truncated. (Good thing she doesn't insist on the diacriticals in "Światopełk".)

I recall, but can't currently find online, a story about a Korean immigrant named "O", who finally had to change his name legally to "Oh" because of all the systems that required last names to be at least two letters long.

#69 ::: Theophylact ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 10:34 AM:

Steven desJardins @ #44:

Most Americans pronounce "E Street" and "East Street" the same way, because the doubled "st" gets slurred.

(Here in Washington, DC we have four "E Streets": E St. NW, E St. NE, E St. SW, and E St. SE, so we have a whole nother problem.)

#70 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 10:44 AM:

Theophylact: My grandparents lived at 2130 N Lincoln Park West when I was a child. It confused catalog people and the like no end. "Lincoln Park West" is the name of the street; "N" is north, and there IS NO SUFFIX (Ave, St, etc). They added an Ave when shippers required it, but it's not on the street signs.

I must admit those rural-style addresses a lot of far-out suburbs have ("15x320 N 175 NE" and similar) confuse the crap out of me, and must also cause problems on websites that enter the portions of the address in separate boxes and don't allow letters in the street-number field.

Some friends of ours had one of those addresses, and then their suburb renumbered wholesale, so they suddenly had a street name and a number and so on, just like in Chicago proper -- and months and months of PITA trying to get their address changed everywhere. Most places want 'proof of address' in the form of a bill or something delivered to you by the post office, but what if none of the billers will change your address without proof? It is a puzzlement. The town finally (two months later) had to send EVERYONE official town-stationary-with-logos postcards including their old address and their new address and basically affirming that the municipality agrees this is their new address.

#71 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 10:51 AM:

Sheesh. Teresa has two middle names. Actually, that was on purpose, and it's connected to the story of how we became, belatedly, officially, and incontrovertibly, named Nielsen Hayden. TL;DR warning: many of you already know this story.

We were married in San Francisco in March 1979. I was 20, Teresa was 23, and between us we had pretty much no money. The $100 (IIRC) that California wanted for a marriage license was pretty burdensome.

So I did some research, and discovered that there was a little-known provision of California state law--left over from the gold rush days, no shit--by which a couple who had been living together already could file a form with the government in order to be considered officially married. (Apparently it was meant to encourage backwoods shack-uppers to Make It Legal. I believe it's now off the books.) We had a real wedding, mind you--okay, it was in our house, all very bohemian and improvised--but what we filed with the government was that form. I believe the fee was $20. And, notably, the form didn't have any place in which to declare a new married surname for either or both partners.

Over the next several years we made our new surname "official" gradually. Getting our Social Security cards reissued in our new name was relatively easy. Getting banks to open accounts in the name was barely a problem. When we applied for passports in 1985, in preparation for our TAFF trip, all they asked was some documentation showing that we used Nielsen Hayden in our professional life. We brought in a recent issue of LOCUS that had mentioned us; they said okay, that's proof enough.

However, ten years later, in 1995, when we needed to apply for new passports in order to attend that year's Worldcon in Glasgow, we discovered--inconveniently late in the process--that the rules had changed. If we couldn't procure an official marriage certificate saying our last name was Nielsen Hayden, or documentation of court-ordered name changes for both of us, we couldn't get passports in the name Nielsen Hayden.

So we spent about $1,000 in legal fees getting a pair of court-ordered name changes. Just in time, too; we wound up having to go through the punitively awful late-passport-application drill, standing in line at the Manhattan passport office starting at 6 AM just days before flying to Scotland. I remember that it was the day that Jerry Garcia died and Netscape had its IPO, leading to a widespread joke that Garcia's last words were "Netscape opened at what?"

But to get back to the point, once our lawyer had drawn up all the papers, he made a really good point--he said "If you always wanted an extra middle name, now's the time to get it. It won't cost you any more." I declined. But Teresa's grandmother, of whom T was very fond, always called her "Sophronia." And that's why Teresa's actual official name, on her US passport and everything, really is Teresa Barbara Sophronia Nielsen Hayden.

#72 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 10:53 AM:

(In light of which, it should surprise no one that I found Elliott Mason's story, linked from #63, very interesting.)

#73 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 10:59 AM:

janetl @32: My last name is--well. See above. Yes, I got every iteration of that joke, though mostly in high school. (I went to a very polite elementary school.) I kept the name when marrying, even though I like the spouse's last name better, as a general mutter of defiance against all those jerks in my youth. But. Uh. Did note that when we have kids, boys can take my last name, girls can take his. Which seems fair to me.

(We did consider hyphenating, but only with the amused thought that it would confuse everyone more. Our last names are already so close phonetically as to confuse people. And we weren't about to have him change his name, because he already had his domain name registered, and had for years.)

Now, my first name? That I changed legally, and had to go through the usual hoops for, as the Free Name Change that the marriage license office said I could get turned out to only be last names, and only if I was changing it to match my male spouse's. To which I said bah. But I got the first name as one to use with people through a process remarkably similar to Rikibeth's.

#74 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 11:01 AM:

I have problems explaining to people that my last name is a last name, not a surname and that I would never change my name in marriage since I don't have a surname just my patronym and I'm not going to stop being my dad's daughter just because I'd get married and yes that's how basically everyone does things back home. No name changes.

Another thing that's annoying about living in Edinburgh when it comes to customer service is that people often live in flats/apartments here and those tend to get indexed either by number or by floor and number or by floor and left right.

So I've lived in the same flat known as flat 3, flat 1F1 (first floor flat one), flat 1L (first floor, left) and no one seems to have a consistent way of looking it up in lists especially when dealing with phone companies, gas or electricity. Ive had to fight quite hard to have a company acknowledging that my flat exists and that they were already supplying gas to it (it was filed under 1L in their records which was a set up I hadn't encountered before at the time)

#75 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 11:03 AM:

I have had problems with websites where I was trying to make a purchase telling me that I lack a valid street address. I live in a small town. My physical address cannot receive US mail because of the postal regulations about rural delivery; the street address comes up as invalid. Then, if I add the PO Box, the site tells me that they don't accept PO Boxes as the street address. (Usually this gets solved by talking to customer service.)

I have also had my zip code rejected as invalid. 12993 is an obscure zip code, but it really ought to be recognized by zip code databases.

#76 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 11:04 AM:

"N Lincoln Park West" brings to mind Seattle, which really does have an East Marginal Way South, a West Marginal Way South, and a West Marginal Way Southwest. Also a West Marginal Place South and a Southwest Marginal Place, since otherwise it wouldn't be confusing enough.

#77 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 11:06 AM:


If I recall correctly, that immigrant changed his surname to "Oh" and shortly thereafter ran into a computer that insisted that all surnames must have at least three letters.

#78 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 11:11 AM:

Otter B @64 (wrt Fragano @61): I have no middle name, as my parents had so much trouble deciding on my first name -- which had to begin with "G" -- that they gave up once it was agreed upon, and failed utterly to award me an official middle name.

Years later, my father offered the middle names of Rose Elizabeth Ann, which I declined. Yes, my last name begins with a "T".

On the other hand, my FG has changed her name several times, including revisions of her original name to one she found more euphonious, and deleting the "h" that crept into her first name.

#79 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 11:11 AM:

Re streetnames: Atlanta. Peachtree. 'Nuff said.

(Peachtree Street, Peachtree Road, Peachtree Plaza, Peachtree Industrial Boulevard....there's also a Peachtree City.)

#80 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 11:11 AM:

Kathryn Cramer #73: My mom lives in a similar small town. All the houses have fictitious street addresses (for purposes of "we do not accept PO Boxes" websites and FedEx); the mail actually sits in your box at the post office until you come pick it up.

#81 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 11:14 AM:

Lila @77: In re Peachtree Profusion; Chicago used to be at least as bad (though variedly so; almost all early presidential surnames had 15+ streets using them) before the fire.

When the city sat back for its, "Gee, GREAT" moment post-fire and decided they were going to redo the plan of the city, put in a grid, widen streets, and generally rationalize, the Post Office came to them and said, "For the LOVE of GOD, Montresor, please, NO DUPLICATE STREET NAMES ANYMORE." And the city complied. Very, very rarely you will find cases where the same name exists as both, say, a "Street" and a "Place," but they are very much the exception, and usually at opposite ends of the city so the Post Office can filter by zip first and mostly not misdeliver things.

#82 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 11:46 AM:

A minor version of the above glitches: websites which won't accept spaces in user names. This can't be written off to ignorance about unusual names.

When I moved to Philadelphia, it took me a while to grasp that there was actually a South St. Surely it should be South Something.

It isn't. What's more, Broad Street is virtual 14th St. I have no idea why the back of my head wanted it to be virtual 15th St. It just seemed as though an important street should have a rounder number.

#83 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 11:52 AM:

Funny name story here:

When my partner moved out of a shared apartment to one where she was on her own, she had to put the phone listing in her name. I advised against using initials and last name, and suggested using one of her male RPG character's name instead.

She did so. Even though her number is on the do not call list, we know every time the phone company sells the listing -- because we get sales calls asking to speak to Mrs. B_____.*

To our continued amusement, she even gets mail (mostly catalogs and credit card apps) addressed to the character. Real soon now, I'm expecting to open the mailbox and find an AARP membership letter addressed to Mr. K____ B______.

*We thought the last name was one that did not exist, until someone looking for family members sent K___ B_____ a letter, whereupon she had to explain the ruse.

#84 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 11:56 AM:

Lori Coulsin @83: We have our landline registered in the name of our dog (with our last name). This is better than unlisted, because any actual friends of ours looking for our landline number will know it's us ... and telemarketers looking for our dog are instantly spottable, as his first name is Ajax, which is not a common human first name. :->

We got the idea from friends, who have always had their phone registered in the name of one of their cats: Mario diNobile. People call asking to talk to "Mr. De-Noble," and they correct the pronunciation, then when asked for correctly-pronounced they add, "But he's dead, so you can't talk to him."

#85 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 12:27 PM:

#84 ::: Elliott Mason

I heard about someone who did a similar coded name for their phone number-- Underground Airline. They'd occasionally get calls from people who were hoping it was real because they were afraid of flying. I do not guarantee that any part of this story is true except for the fact that I didn't come up with it.

#86 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 12:28 PM:

Ulrika O'Brien @ #19

My last name is French with an apostrophe, and a manglicized pronunciation in English. I've dealt with it all my life. So I've got a routine down. If a form doesn't allow the punctuation, it all goes in lower case or upper case, depending on my attitude toward the form's creators.

Verbal retrieval goes as follows: Say my name, take a slow, deep breath and spell out the name, taking my time (usually adding an extra-long pause after the apostrophe before going on to say "Capital E"). If I get a clued-in person, I only have to do this once. for the less cluefull I have to spell it 3-5 times while suggesting that they look at the beginning of the L's or in the E's. (If it's over the phone and the other person has enunciation issues and/or a thick accent, I'll use the radio call signs "L as in Lima..." I only got one person so far who recognized it for what it was. He giggled and things went much faster after. I got the impression he was ex-military and thought I was, too based on the change in customer service.)

Mostly, my deep breath is to allow the other person time to ask "how do you spell that?" Mostly. I haven't hyperventilated spelling my name. Yet.

The robocaller/text-to-voice programs kill me with just how wrong they get it. I thought I had heard every possible kind of mispronunciation* there was until programmers got involved. I was surprised to find that even programming voice-to-text has "accents." (I have my cell phone set to road mode so I get to hear all sorts of fun mechanical mispronunciations when family and friends call.)

* Luckily for me, lists of names on a roll call are alphabetized. In high school and college it was 50/50 on whether my name was called first or somewhere in the middle. Either way it was some form of L-garble-r. If lists were ordered in some other way, I'd have been in trouble.

#87 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 12:49 PM:

Rikibeth, #67: it didn't make me feel four years old, the way that the two names with the emphasis on the second did

You have reminded me that my parents, for whatever half-assed reason, would occasionally call me "Lee-Lee" and expected me not to mind that. Even as a pre-schooler, it appalled me, partly because it was NOT MY NAME but mostly because it sounded infantile and patronizing. And then they would try to explain why I should appreciate them doing it. Gah.

And oh yes, the moving-up-the-alphabet thing. V isn't much better.

Elliott, #70: A number of roads in Texas are officially designated "FM [number]", where "FM" stands for "Farm to Market". And then there's "OSR", no numbers at all, which stands for "Overland Stage Route". I can only imagine the problems people who live on those roads have when trying to do mail-order.

Patrick, #76: Now I must once again mention Chicago's wacky Wacker mess -- North Wacker, South Wacker, East Wacker, West Wacker, Upper Wacker, Middle Wacker, and Lower Wacker, all jumbled together in the middle of downtown. If they were trying to confuse tourists, they could hardly have done a better job!

Ginger, #78: Over the course of the last 35 years, I have abandoned my middle name (I use only my initial, and am perfectly willing to lie like a rug in order to get legal documents in that form), my birth name (via the process described @18), and for a while almost my first name (there was a longish period where I very nearly adopted my SCA name as my official first name, but then I gradually went back to my legal name). I suppose that from my parents' POV it must have looked as though I was rejecting everything having to do with them -- and while that wasn't exactly true, neither was it not true enough that I much cared what they thought about it. Basically, I was doing what your FG has done -- shaping my name to suit me.

#88 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 12:56 PM:

Ah yes. More reasons I am pseudonymous.

cd: I feel your wife's pain, and I only have three names. 21 characters, however, 23 counting the spaces. Repeatedly, there will be places that can handle my last name (11 letters), or my first name, but both together run over the limit, so I get used to responding to "Watso" (yeah, still not my last name - and shorter). And forms that want all the names, but won't give me room to put them in - yeah.

Oh and one other thing. Many places do usernames of the "first initial, last name, truncate at 8 characters" variety. Because of the name calling at school and elsewhere, that creates a truncation of my last name that is inimical to me, and given that I won't answer to it when someone else uses it, I'll be damned if I call myself that. Whenever I am going to get another one (and given that my job involves getting an account on each of my clients' systems, it happens frequently), I check to make sure I'm not going to get that, and get them to override the generator if I am. "Tell the system the account already exists and give me the account I would get in a conflict, please"

Of course that reminds me of one of my favourite .sig files from back in the Monastery: "Our corporate policy is "last name, first name, with a number for conflict, clipped to 8 characters. We changed the policy for Kitty Fu..."

I will admit that some of the "form programming" problems are actually backend problems that propagate, and that mistakes in those are harder to fix than "fix the form". So two layers of "pass it up the line to the user". And that many of the weirder cases in Patrick McKenzie's list don't apply to most databases (but a lot more do than most "caucasian" programmers think). But some of it is just laziness. And failing to put the formatting information - especially Password formatting information - up front is just insulting - doubly so if you're going to clear the rest of the form data.

Re: Addresses: Avenue Road, Toronto. Calgary, where it's not just Peachtree (if there aren't 4 different "any names" in a 50-or-less-year-old neighbourhood, it's really odd; if there are 7, it's not surprising. And add that 201 Douglas Glen Heath isn't next to 1-something - it's the first house on 200 Douglas Glen Heath, 100 Douglas Glen Heath is the last turn you just missed. When I moved to Waterloo, I was told to go to 249 Cedarbrae. "Cedarbrae what?" I asked, to total befuddlement.

(I will grant that all the Douglas Glen whatevers are in Douglas Glen, not scattered all over the city like Atlanta's Peachtree. Doesn't help.)

And then, of course, there's Dorchester in Montreal. No, I mean R. René Levesque. No, I mean Dorchester...

#89 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 12:56 PM:

First the good points: I have a first and a last name, and systems like them.

The one that gets me is that most people can't spell my (Germanic) last name--between the doubled nn and the vowel reversal, even if I spell it it usually isn't written down right. At least if I say, "Just imagine I'm a big German man who really likes beer" it gets associated with beer rather than pig pens.

#90 ::: Michael Pullmann ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 01:02 PM:

All these stories make people leaving the second "n" off my last name seem downright pleasant in comparison.

#91 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 01:03 PM:

I think I took the same test that Elliot Mason did in 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade. What made my case weird was that apparently the rule was that it was essential that the names be truncated at precisely 6 letters, even if there was a perfectly cromulent shortening with a different number of letters. That is how I became "CHRIST" for the purposes of those standardized tests.

And I ran into a similar issue when I first got a New Jersey driver's license, where I officially became "Christoph." (Does anyone else remember the 90's vintage NJ driver's licenses? With the shoddy printing and the rough cutting? The ones where you could always tell a fake because the lamination of the fakes looked too professional?)

I was terrified when I switched it for a Massachusetts license that they would insist on keeping the truncation, but fortunately they went with what I put on the forms and what was on my proof of address, not my old driver's license.

All this talk makes me glad that when I proposed to my then-fiancee that we take a doubled or hyphenated last name that she turned me down.

#92 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 01:07 PM:

Fade Manley @73

Mme Barebones (who, obviously, doesn't go by the name of Barebones, or indeed Mme for that matter) and I have a similar arrangement with our children. It's caused great consternation among our various relatives, but doesn't seem to have had any other ill effects. Getting it through the French bureaucratic process was another story.

Otoh, while our children's names are relatively easily digestible by computers, they are also, for local purposes, both illegal, containing as they do the terrorist supporting letters 'x' and 'w'.

#93 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 01:17 PM:

Lee @87: from Something Positive:
"Dad, nobody calls me Penny-Jenny anymore, I go by PeeJee."
"Bah! Why would I name you Penelope-Jennifer if I wasn't going to call you my little Penny-Jenny?"
"Why would you name me Penny-Jenny and then act shocked that I'm prone to violent outbursts?"

#94 ::: Sumana Harihareswara ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 01:21 PM:

Giant last name here, also got truncated in standardized test forms. I'm indebted to this thread for telling me what OSR and FM mean, and for the breathtaking case of 201 Douglas Glen Heath. Wow. may interest you - it's stories by people who are harmed by useless "real name" policies, including people whose "real names" are complicated.

#95 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 01:22 PM:

re 8: When I had an Oracle course with one of the Mormon genealogical programmers, he told us that they allowed 176 characters for name fields. The reason they had to do so was those translated-from-Algonquin names of the "Princess Summer-Fall-Winter-Spring" sort. Some years later I worked on the GED scoring software, where it was hammered home that I could not insist on a last name. That was the first of two person-data systems I've written from scratch, and in both cases the only requirement I've made on names is that something has to be filled in. I did boldly limit each name field to 60 characters, though.

And zip codes..... Our system picks up the widely distributed file that tells you what zip codes go with what towns and counties. And I have had to hammer home to people, multiple times, that it cannot be trusted, and that there has to be provision for hand-correcting the city and county that it returns. Item: the post office still claims that 20904 is Cloverly, MD and 20905 is Colesville, when it is the other way around. (Well,actually they claim that both are Silver Spring, which isn't accurate either.) Item: some years back a few houses outside Laurel were given their own zip code because their owners kept having trouble getting Montgomery County services, because the zip code tables all said that all Laurel zip codes were in PG, Howard, or Anne Arundel county. Item: my parents' house is on its third zip code. For foreign addresses I just threw in the towel and said, "you get four lines of address. Use wisely."

#96 ::: C. Wingate sees that the gnomes are having a problem with this too ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 01:24 PM:

And don't get me started on the Wikipedia obsession over the en-dash.

#97 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 01:27 PM:

re: #84 ::: Elliott Mason

...We have our landline registered in the name of our dog (with our last name). This is better than unlisted, because any actual friends of ours looking for our landline number will know it's us ... and telemarketers looking for our dog are instantly spottable, as his first name is Ajax, which is not a common human first name. :->

My former husband used our dog's name (adding "Washington Jefferson Jackson") when he was doing investment research.

One guy trying to reach the "qualified investor" at our number became incandescent when I told him he'd bought a fraudulent list. I finally called Monroe over and had him sneeze (his most famous trick) into the phone. I think the guy stroked out.

#98 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 01:30 PM:

Elliott @ 81

I've always wondered how they did the regularization. Not only were roads moved around, but lots were standardized, too; but legally, all that land already belonged to people. If you had a large lot before the fire, were you given two approximately-in-the-same-place lots after it, or what? For that matter, did the original plats and ownership records even survive the Fire?

As for computer forms, I went to public school, but all through my grade school years, in the very late '60s and first half of the '70s, from first grade on, we had an experimental, learn-at-your-own-pace, computer-scored system, called PLAN. (I've no memory of what PLAN stood for.) The computer printouts only had room for six letters in the first name, so my (extremely common) first name was always truncated.

We were all Very Impressed by the fact that there was A Computer in the principal's office.

#99 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 01:31 PM:

PNH @ 76: Raleigh has:

East and West South Street
North and South West Street
North and South East Street
West North Street and East North Street (which are completely disconnected from one another -- you can't go east on West North Street and end up on East North Street, or vice versa)

There is also East and West Lane Street, which are rendered on Mapquest as "E Ln St" and "W Ln St," neatly illustrating the problem with automated street address parsing.

#100 ::: Ai Ling ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 01:36 PM:

Even Social Security couldn't get my first name right ("Ai Ling" is my first name). Everyone seems to want to either force me to use only half my first name (Ai) and make the second word a middle name (which it is NOT). Those who don't, want me to hyphenate (Ai-ling, urgh) or worse, join them together (I hope you see why "Ailing" is unacceptable.)

#101 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 01:41 PM:

So aside from the many fail stories here, is there a list of "best practices" in name management somewhere? I need to do some revising of a workshop participant records database and would like to avoid at least the most egregious errors.

#102 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 01:43 PM:

Back in the 1960s, when the use of computers by businesses first began to impinge upon the popular mind, Theodore Tyler wrote a book called The Man Whose Name Wouldn't Fit, or The Case of Cartwright-Chickering. It involves the adverntures of a man who, after many years of work for a corporation, is pushed out because his surname is too long for the computer system that has been purchased to handle the company's personnel records.

Punch cards and magnetic tape are involved, and there is some frame-breaking via a fungus that feeds on plastic.

It's interesting how little things change when it comes to the untidiness of humanity and the rigidity of systems.

#103 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 01:47 PM:

While we're on the subject, can we get commerce sites and the bloody US Post Office outside of Queens to acknowledge that some addresses have hyphens? Yes, I realize everyone else copes with simple numbers, but we lifetime residents of Queens really like our "[cross street]-[lot number]" system.

#104 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 02:04 PM:

well, I'm going to go out on a limb here and bet that what they did at the New York Times is slotted in a javascript library to do client side validation written by a third party without properly ascertaining that it actually worked - a mistake but a forgivable one in that people tend to expect that something used by lots of people won't have this kind of problem. If on the other hand they actually did try to write their own name validity check my response would be: wow!!!

#105 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 02:15 PM:

Lee @ 87: I should clarify a wee bit: the FG started out in Cyrillic, had a mistranslation of her name into English, whereupon the "h" arrived; married and divorced twice, then modified her maiden name from a Russian-type ending to a Ukrainian-type ending ("-erova" to "eryn"), but yes, it suits her very well.

#106 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 02:30 PM:

Patrick #OP:
Patrick McKenzie’s wonderful list is probably impossible to code for, seeing as it incorporates the need for multiple concurrent character sets (Unicode/nonunicode) at the same time.

Randolph #16:
Some US Government agencies have an officially restricted character set that doesn't even allow for common diacriticals, complete with an official list of replacement strings for the characters (ie Ö = OE)

Avram #35:
I first ran into the no-spaces-even-though-there-are-spaces-in-the-original nonsense the first time I had to enter a credit card number online. Which was probably back when possibly the only online transaction you could make was to pay for network access. I've seen some sanity recently, where the site would not only accept the spaces, but would display with appropriate spaces even if you entered it spaceless.

BonnyAnne #29 et al:
For phone numbers, there is one site that I've used in the past year that required the number to be entered in the NANP* canonical form (nnn)nnn-nnnn, thereby excluding non-North American numbers (but it may have been a US government site). And of course other sites have other unspecified rules.

My internal response to this kind of problem is that I've been Hobgoblined†

*North American Numbering Plan, the formal spec for US, Canada, Mexico, and Carribean countries (possible etc.)
†By False Consistency, of course.

#107 ::: Gelfling ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 02:52 PM:

I just updated the beneficiary on my 401k with Fidelity. There's an entirely separate form for naming a non-US resident, but it still won't accept an alphanumeric postal code.

#108 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 02:54 PM:

I wonder whether the reason for some of these horribly prescriptive web forms (your name is wrong, please sanitize it) is that the poor soul coding the customer-facing front end knows that the data will have to be passed through multiple other systems that he or she has no control over and that might not behave sensibly with anything other than a space-free ASCII string. He or she might reason: I can easily capture anything in Unicode with my PHP (or whatever) skillz, but the data gets passed to that Lotus Notes system that does the billing, and the horrible perl-and-SQL bodge that interfaces with Distribution (and that no-one has maintained since the developer got a new job five years ago)... and if I let a name in that breaks anything in the backend, I'll be the one to blame for Not Checking The Input Properly. Far better to be on the safe side and be insolent to the customer.

#109 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 03:18 PM:

I've been having fun with last names since moving to the Netherlands.

Not because Dutch people are incapable of pronouncing my name correctly—though they are, since Dutch doesn't have a "th", nor does it have appropriate sounds for the "u" and the "a".

No, the problem is that, instead of keeping my maiden name around for everyday use, I packed into the already overcrowded middle-name slot*. Generally, that's OK, and computer systems take the surname I give them and like it. But sometimes they want my surname and Martin's, and then they want to hyphenate them to create a kind of generic household surname to address us both by.

Deep in the records of the hospital where I got the lipoma out of my shoulder, there is an instance of "Abigail Sutherland-Sutherland", and during the after-care it would periodically spawn Bad Data Hatchlings to crawl into my records. Fun!

* I had one middle name at birth. I acquired another when I was baptized as an adult, and added it to my name when I got my first passport by presenting the baptismal certificate. So when I used my Free Name Change to add Martin's name onto the end of the conglomeration, I ended up with three middle names.

Unfortunately, I have to take care with initials. Some of them...spell things.

#110 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 03:22 PM:

In Greenwich Village, unless they've changed one or more of the names, there are two streets both called Waverly Place. I think this resulted from building around a wider street until it got pinched into an X, or something like that. There used to be a restaurant there called Waverly Waverly.

Lee 87: The Wacker mess...yes, this got me lost WITH my luggage on the way to WorldCon. I'd've been OK if I'd found a local who would answer my question "which way is [streetname I can't remember]" instead of getting all helpful and trying to direct me by a "quicker" way...directly into the Wackerplex. Shortcuts make long delays if you get fucking LOST. Wacker, Wacker, wanker, wander, wonder why. Gaahh. Of course, I should have just nodded, thanked him, and asked someone else, but I was tired and it was getting dark.

Which is not, actually, why I will oppose future Chicago bids. That horrendous, disabled-hostile, totally-inappropriate-for-WorldCon hotel is (if they want to have it there).

Mycroft 88: We changed the policy for Kitty Fu...

One of my duties at my last full-time job was sorting out IDs (just making them match across systems). I took the opportunity to fix a similar problem for a user. That company's policy was FirstInitial Lastname, clipped to 8 characters, with as many characters replaced with numbers at the end as needed to disambiguate (and they were unique for all time, too, so there was a JSMIT100 by the time I left there). Anyway, Carolyn Unting didn't think much of her ID...I swear I did not make that up.

That same system accepted apostrophes in names on entry, but treated them as a field truncation during some later processing (see Steve with a book 107 for reasons for some input stupidities). We noticed there were a lot of people whose last names were O, and not all of them were Korean.

Chris 91: Yep, know that one. I have been Christophe, Christoph, Christop, Christo, and Christ on various forms and printouts. You'd think the idiots would realize, even back in the 1960s, that a common name like 'Christopher' should be accommodated. That was part of the reason I came up with 'Xopher', by the way.

pgbb 92: Are 'x' and 'w' Kurdish or something? Or are you being sardonic and those letters just aren't used in Turkish?

Steve 107: That's probably the case sometimes, but it just means the stupidity is a layer (or two, or three, or more) back, rather than being the one guy who wrote the program.

#111 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 03:22 PM:

jnh @105:
Randolph #16:
Some US Government agencies have an officially restricted character set that doesn't even allow for common diacriticals, complete with an official list of replacement strings for the characters (ie Ö = OE)

My former colleague, Daniël, hit that when he tried to go to the US for the first time. The Migra wants your name exactly as it appears on your passport—but won't accept diacritic marks.

"But that's not my name," he howled, typing it in without the trema. And he's right. Daniel is not pronounced the same as Daniël. And Dutch diacritics are not the same as German, so no Official Substitution that uses German rules will be right for Dutch.

(Then we got to the question about convictions for moral turpitude. "What's that?", he asked. Deep breath. "Well, Daniël...")

#112 ::: Roy G. Ovrebo ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 03:30 PM:

jnh @105: (ie Ö = OE)

I know that one quite well, seeing as Øvrebø becomes Oevreboe on plane tickets. Then again, the credit card companies generally accept Ovrebo. I don't have a problem with foreigners having an inferior alphabet - but I do find it offensive when a Norwegian hotel can't get a quite common native name right.

(Sorting can be funny - I'm used to being last on every list, Ø being the 28th letter of the alphabet. When it's turned into O, I'm in the middle. I actually had a school put me first once - but that was back in 1990, when getting computers to cope with the 29-letter alphabet was even more of a dark art than it is now.)

What really annoys me in web forms though is when you _have_ to type in a phone number for some reason, and then aren't allowed to do it right. The correct format for reaching Norway is +47 XXXXXXXX. Yet they invariably won't allow the plus sign for an international number.

#113 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 03:40 PM:

Mycroft W @88 said on street names: And then, of course, there's Dorchester in Montreal. No, I mean R. René Levesque. No, I mean Dorchester…

We ran into a suchlike problem when on vacation in San Antonio last winter. The GPS's directions clearly said to get off the highway (for our hotel) at the exit for (street name fictionally interpolated from non-remembering) South Landmark Lane. We looked and didn't see it, and then the GPS said we'd gone too far. Blink blink. Got off the highway, turned around, got back on, paid attention to exit numbers … it had extremely recently been renamed Cesar Chavez Way, and the signs showed no hint of the old name. Presumably the GPS's map hadn't been re-downloaded in the previous week. The hotel-keeper commiserated with us, because for obvious reasons his customers had been having to deal with it a lot.

Sumana Harihareswara @94, in re

My husband owns the domain "" -- we use it to give out perfectly-working dummy emails to people who insist upon one. That way, when we start getting spam sent to, say, "", we know who sold our list.

Cally Soukup @97 asked about the Chicago Fire: I've always wondered how they did the regularization. Not only were roads moved around, but lots were standardized, too; but legally, all that land already belonged to people. If you had a large lot before the fire, were you given two approximately-in-the-same-place lots after it, or what? For that matter, did the original plats and ownership records even survive the Fire?

From my memory of a long-ago-read book on the subject, SOME of the original deeds/plat maps/etc survived (one book of plats had been lent out to someone at the time of the fire; some property owners kept off-site copies with their lawyers that were luckily also not burnt/in a fire safe; etc), fairly randomly. The city almost immediately had everyone claiming to be affected sit down with a clerk and describe in great detail what they USED to own, with regard to street-facings, size of buildings, etc.

There was then some kind of validation/error-checking process (asking known-respectable people about other lots in their neighborhood, for example; asking the local beat cops, who walked them all the time), because it was A DAMN LONG TIME before any of it was rebuilt. The city then calculated rough areas owned-by-whom in roughly-this-area, and said basically, "We're going to redraw the streets and get you as close as we can." Some property-owners were upset because they lost their pointy-ended lots, for example, because it was convenient for their business to be a certain shape; others were annoyed because they either were no longer on a corner or hadn't been and now were; there was a process for willing property-owners to swap around a bit before the thing was finalized. And there was a set-per-area payback price for landowners who ended up a few square yards under what they used to have.

I wish I could remember what book it was in, I remember it being fascinating to interpolate all the gossipy reality of Messy Human Beings into the process. It did end up being convenient that we really do live in an elected fascist dictatorship here in Chicago; at a certain point the mayor just said "Here's the map" and his aldermen backed him up. Of course, if you were in good with your alderman you could often get changes made. :->

#114 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 03:44 PM:

We gave my daughter my surname (which is a patronymic, somewhat like Peterson) as a second middle name, with my husband's surname as her sole surname. But that means that both her first and last names are each 4 characters, while her middle names are both quite long. Too long, it turned out, for the Social Security databases. So when we got her Social Security card after she was born, they had truncated the "son" from the second middle, so it appeard that her name was (something like) Anne Margaret Peter Chan, instead of Anne Margaret Peterson Chan. I have not yet investigated whether this can be corrected or not (ie, if it is an issue with the database itself, or just with the printing on the card). I don't know how problematic this will be in the long run for her...

#115 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 03:49 PM:

Roy G Øvrebø @111:

(Sorting can be funny - I'm used to being last on every list, Ø being the 28th letter of the alphabet. When it's turned into O, I'm in the middle. I actually had a school put me first once - but that was back in 1990, when getting computers to cope with the 29-letter alphabet was even more of a dark art than it is now.)

Ah, sorting. Did you know that when you alphabetize a Dutch surname in the Netherlands, you do it after stripping off the tussenvoegsels (van, den, der, ten, etc, etc?), while in Belgium, you leave them in?

So Dick Van Dyke would be very surprised, coming here, to find himself in the D's.

#116 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 04:04 PM:

OtterB #64: Believe me, there is no clamouring crowd of people wanting to be named Jubildeo.

#117 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 04:06 PM:

re 81: Back in the 1970s when Howard County, MD got a new fire/rescue dispatching system, they took the opportunity to rationalize the street numbering system. They picked a point in the center, divided the county into four quadrants, and decreed that each house number in a quadrant would be unique, regardless of what street it was on. Houses were still numbered in sequence, and the "odd on one side/even on the other" rule was respected, but for instance my parents' two block long street has five digit house numbers. OTOH it cut down on misdirected mail a lot. Obviously the win for the fire department was that as long as they heard the house number they could figure out where to go.

#118 ::: C. Wingate would like a word with the gnomes ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 04:07 PM:

Did one of my posts around 90-95 get lost?

#119 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 04:17 PM:

C. Wingate:

It's shown up at #95. Hurray for gnomes!

#120 ::: Idumea Natick Cowper ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 04:17 PM:

C Wingate @117:
Did one of my posts around 90-95 get lost?

I do apologize; it got dropped in the shift change.

Hear ye, hear ye! Comment 95 is not what it was. Go read the new content now!

#121 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 04:19 PM:

Abi @ 114... Dick Van Dyke would be very surprised, coming here, to find himself in the D's

But not as surprised as Jerry van Dyke when his mother came back from the dead as an old car.

#122 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 04:38 PM:

Abi @ 114... Dick Van Dyke would be very surprised, coming here, to find himself in the D's

ObSF, I seem to recall that in one of the earlier Vorkosigan books, it's pointed out that in the service academy cadets' names are alphabetized without the "vor" prefix. IIRC, it's supposed to be a leveling mechanism.

#123 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 04:46 PM:

Yes, OtterB, but that's dropped in later books. Miles is only called Kosigan that once. LMB reserves her right to "have a better idea," so the rules shift somewhat across the series.

#124 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 04:47 PM:

My mother's maiden name is Macsomething. It's now her second middle name, although she uses the 'M' as her sole middle initial for most purposes. When she got her master's degree, the diploma spelled it 'MacSomething'; she gave the diploma back and insisted they fix it. Which, to be fair, they promptly did.

My bank, which wants mother's maiden name for verification purposes, insists on spelling it with the second capital letter. When I tried to get them to fix it a while ago, the clerk was perfectly willing to do so, but the computer program wouldn't let hir. The name actually displays on the computer screen in all caps, but it prints out in (wrong) u-and-c on documents, which made troubleshooting difficult. The clerk finally resorted to erasing the name and carefully re-entering it correctly. It didn't take. On being printed out immediately thereafter, it was wrong again. We gave up. Obviously all Scottish names have an intercapital after the 'Mac'; everyone knows that. Macdonalds, Mackenzies, and Macleods are just spelling their names wrong. I do wonder what happens on that system with a name like Mack. Does it print out as MacK?

#125 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 04:57 PM:


That could also be consistent with the story. After all, many a well-intentioned, high-minded attempt to do something at the level of alphabetize the names without "vor" at the begining is adopted in the real world, and dies off after a year or two because it's more trouble than it's worth, or it introduces unexpected problems, or when the fad passes it just seems like pointless busywork.

Steve with a book:

Yeah, it's entirely possible that many of the systems that choke on anything that isn't bog standard American naming, address, or phone number conventions do that, not because they can't handle it, but because they are front-ends for legacy systems that choke on such things, and that the programmer can't or doesn't want to dig through and debug. ("Oh, you want to fix that code? Great, you program in COBOL, right?")

But my guess is that at least as many choke on those things because the programmers involved didn't bother coming up with even a minimally adequate set of test cases.

#126 ::: --E ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 05:00 PM:


My best friend is Japanese, last name Otake. She shows up on my caller ID as O'Take. Overcorrection, much, Verizon?

#127 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 05:03 PM:

But my guess is that at least as many choke on those things because the programmers involved didn't bother coming up with even a minimally adequate set of test cases.

Thus the demise of the in-house QA team is analogous to the demise of the in-house copyeditor: they result in end users/readers seeing stupid stuff that should have been caught before the code/book saw the light of day.

#128 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 05:04 PM:

When I was attending a tiny Spanish-speaking kindergarten, the teachers had a remarkable amount of trouble spelling my name, given that its spelling in English contained no match whatsoever between spelling and Spanish pronunciation of those letter groups until the final two letters. I still cherish the preserved childhood assignment in my mother's files, in which they spelled my first name JEDER at the top.

(H -> J since an initial H is silent in Spanish, TH -> D was a pretty standard phonetic swap, and EA -> E made perfect sense since it's just pronounced 'eh' anyway...)

praisegod barebones @92: I was once roundly scolded by a conlang community for using the letter X to represent the same sound in my conlang as it's usually representing in English, but I had heretofore not been aware of that letter's other terrorist tendencies.

#129 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 05:24 PM:

Fun with names. Myself, having a relatively easy name haven't much problems with it, though English speaking people always have trouble with my surname even if I spell it "wise but with another s", while Dutch speakers always want to hear Visser. But there have been some amusements with work e-mail systems, with the company that actually pays me addressing me as mawisse, which is clearly my mother and makes me feel all old timey and western, while the company what I really work for at the moment thought it was a good idea to dredge up my long abandoned middle name, adressing me as Martin-Paul, which only my extended family still does.

Meanwhile my poor wife always had great trouble getting Dutch people to spell Culley properly. She also didn't like to see her name Sandra shortened to Sandy, so I called her 4th of July, Asbury Park instead.

#130 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 05:37 PM:

Patrick, I hear you and I feel your pain. And you have my sympathies, because it seems like Great Bureaucratic Uniformities have been quicker to accept hyphens than they have spaces.

(Oddly, Facebook originally made me enter my last name "Le Boeuf-Little" because, I dunno, there couldn't possibly be that many capital letters without starting a new word? A couple years later I tried again to remove the space, and it silently let me.)

For a while there, credit card companies were insisting that there was no hyphen in their key set, and they'd just leave it as a space. Which meant I'd get called "Mrs. Little" by people assuming that "LeBoeuf" was a middle name. I get people assuming that even with the hyphen, oddly, but if they're going to make it, they don't need any extra help from me.

Generally now if I get told "we have no hyphens" I'll say "So run it all together like one word: LEBOEUFLITTLE. We'll deal." But it's been awhile since anyone's told me that their keyboard is missing a hyphen.

We didn't cobble our last names together until a couple years after we got married, by which time we'd moved from Selma, OR to Boulder, CO. Which is just as well, since it sounds from others' stories that Oregon might have had a problem. The folks at the Boulder, Colorado Social Security office just said, "Cool!" and changed both our SS cards. We never did do a formal name change in a court. Just the SS cards (oddly, never had problems with getting passports or renewing them), and then gradually informing all these different businesses that this was the case, and yes it was because of a marriage, and we resent having to show our marriage license because it's OUR name, why should we have to PROVE to you that we have the 'right' to change it when it's OUR name of COURSE we have the right to change it, who the HELL do you think I'm going to manage to defraud by tacking an extra two syllables onto an already fairly distinctive name?!


So. Well and good. Fun times ahead:

That one car mechanic who took John's credit card, ran it, and handed it back to me because hyphenated names can't possibly belong to men. I handed it to John and said, No, it's his. The mechanic nodded, then handed me the receipt to sign.

That one time I had to call the airline up because their online form at credit card payment time said "Enter name EXACTLY AS IT IS ON THE CREDIT CARD" and so I did. I forget whether it was a card that actually had the hyphen or just a space, but either way the fool form acted much the same way the NYT form is acting toward PNH. The person on the phone said, "Why didn't you just enter it as a single word?" I said, "Because then it wouldn't be EXACTLY AS IT IS ON THE CREDIT CARD." This seemed to cause bogglement, because I recall having to repeat this point several times.

Oh! And there was the grand time we set up a small retirement index fund in John's name, and the person in our local office by damn wrote his last name out correctly - I watched! - before sending it out to headquarters, but when HQ mailed us all the literature, it was clear they'd created the fund in the name Mr. John W. Little. And the local office hadn't the power to fix it, so I had to contact HQ. Who said, "You'll have to fill out a form." I said, "So send me the form." The form came - and demanded a name-change fee. A name-change fee! Hell if we were going to pay a fee to have them fix a mistake that they'd made in the first place, or go along with the fiction that this was us changing our name when in fact it was them who changed OUR name, WITHOUT our permission. I went back to the local office and said FIX IIIIIIIIT!!!!! (possibly stomping my foot a few times and spitting in between refrains). Wonder of wonders, they did.

Last one in current brain-dump: The current household credit card very obligingly has our name exactly as we spell it (if all in caps, as credit cards do), but apparently this used up most of the available space, because they shortened my first name to NICO. From time to time, at payment time, I get complemented on my unusual name.

Argh to the ARGH.

#131 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little has a gnomage ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 05:38 PM:

To be fair, it was a very long post that boggled Moveable Type the first time I tried to preview it.

Alka-seltzer for gnomes with indigestion?

#132 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little has been gnome in the process of gnome-reporting ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 05:39 PM:

My reportage of the gnoming has been further gnomed. That is all.

[And as long as your URL link includes the string 'index.php' it will continue to be gnomed, every time. -- JDM]

#133 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 05:48 PM:

Oh and hey, while I'm dueling gnomes, let's throw another one in the hopper:

I would just like to cast a momentary spotlight on the ex-coworker of mine who came to me with a volunteer application and said, "Her last name's a big long hyphenated mess, so you can just enter it as the bit after the hyphen if that's easier," to me.

To me, she says this.

I am very proud of how patiently I explained to her that I, too, had a big long hyphenated mess for a last name, and it bugs the crap out of me when people guillotine it to suit their comfort levels, so I would not do anything of the sort to this woman. I mean, what a terrible way to thank someone for volunteering her time to a local non-profit!

I am also proud that I remained calm and patient despite the fact that this ex-co-worker simply failed to register anything of this calm and patient speech other than "No thanks, I'll enter it as written." Seriously. She didn't apologize, she didn't say "Oh, does that bug you? Wow, I never knew," she didn't say anything else but "OK, whatever, just so you know you have that option!"

Some people's obliviousness boggles me forever.

#134 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 05:50 PM:

As someone who did have to do a lot of programming for personal information, yes, the main problem was back-end systems for which I was told essentially, you deal with it. These were old IBM mainframes, so the text had to also survive a translation from ASCII to EBCDIC. Management considered it too much trouble to keep all of the systems on the same codepage -- even if you put accented characters in one system, the could be mangled by another, such as a printer set to a different codepage. Data was also exchanged with 3rd party vendors, which gave another opportunity for mangling.

#135 ::: ACW ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 06:04 PM:

I'm going to be a little bit contrarian here.

The Consensus View seems to be "A human being ought to have complete freedom in the choice of a name. If a bureaucratic institution has difficulty accepting the name-of-choice, it is always the institution that is wrong." I agree with this view up to a point. Certainly, our institutions (of which computer software is merely a proxy) should accept names with hyphens, spaces, apostrophes, and idiosyncratic capitalization. But I believe the Freedom To Name Oneself can have justifiable limits, imposed by a society.

John DeLorean's surname was not, according to him, "DeLorean". His preferred realization had a half-space between the "De" and "Lorean". He would grudgingly settle for no space, preferring it over a full space, but felt that both were misspellings. No online form I know of could have accommodated him.

Suppose the imprisoned Russian dissident punk rocker Maria Vladimirovna Alyokhina were to seek asylum in the United States. Would she be justified, when filling out immigration paperwork, in insisting that her name was Мария Владимировна Алёхина? Surely she could argue that "Maria" is simply not her name.

Names serve two masters. One master is certainly the name's bearer, who invests the name with an emotion-laden aura of self, of identity. But the other master is the society in which the name is embedded, which also has a claim, because names are used by others to refer to the bearer. It is wrong to completely burden the bearer with society's requirements, but it is also wrong to shift the burden entirely to society. A society, I think, has a certain interest in being able to establish modest well-formedness constraints on the names of its members.

#136 ::: Ken Brown ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 06:06 PM:

My name is Ken. And I write software that handles names. I have been doing it for over twenty-five years. And I could tell you such stories... but the margin of this iphone is too small to contain them. Basically,what everyone said.

On the other hand, as I am a citizen of a state that lets you call yourself whatever you want, the idea that you have to pay money to change your name, or register it in some way, or there a laws about what characters you can use to spell it, strikes me as just weird.

But I still have to explain to banks and phone companies how come my name is Ken when my initials are RKJB.

#137 ::: ACW appeals to the gnomes ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 06:08 PM:

Perhaps I was too long-winded. Or perhaps I misspelled a gnome's gname.

All I've got is a tube of Pringles. I don't know if gnomes like Completely Artificial Food.

#138 ::: Alan Hamilton ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 06:10 PM:

Oh, one of my favorites: why isn't "O’Malley" equal to "O'Malley"? It's a little easier to tell in this font by looking at it -- in some fonts they're nearly indistinguishable.

From a programming standpoint, they really should be considered the same even though they actually aren't.

#139 ::: Mary Frances ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 07:00 PM:

Since we're talking duplicate street names, here's my personal favorite: once upon a time, I spent summers in a small town in Michigan where it was possible to agree to meet someone at the corner of Pine and Pine--and then to have to specify which corner of Pine and Pine you meant. Actually, there was only one Pine Street in town; it just--looped a lot. These days, I'm told, the town has redesignated the street corners and "South Pine," "West Pine," "Upper Pine," "Lower Pine," and some such. Still all the same loopy street, though . . .

#140 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 07:17 PM:

Victoria, #86: We were once invited to dinner at the house of a friend-of-a-friend who lives on Tanglebriar Street. The GPS rendered it as "Tan-GLEB-ree-ar".

Mycroft, #93: *snerk* (Dear ghod. I'd have killed him as soon as I was old enough to lift a fireplace poker.)

abi, #114: AAAAAAAAAAAAGH! (for reasons which should be obvious if you've read my earlier posts)

albatross, #124: I program in COBOL (well, I did for 20 years and it wouldn't be hard to recover my skills), and would be delighted to have a side job fixing crap like this.

In fact, part of my last non-contracting job involved taking personnel files that were handed to us by the client in whatever internal form they wanted to use, and regularizing the data from them into our system for computation and output of employee benefits statements. As this was not an open-ended process, there was almost always a hard-coded "correction table" for names that just wouldn't parse into our format.

#141 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 07:17 PM:

Mary Frances (132): Then there's Atlanta's intersection of Clifton Road and East Clifton Road. Or rather, two intersections. East Clifton loops around and meets Clifton twice. To compound the confusion, Clifton makes a right-angle turn at one of those intersections. So, to go "straight" on Clifton toward Ponce de Leon Road*, you have to turn right there. If you actually go straight, you end up on East Clifton and eventually double back to Clifton at an intersection that you already passed.

pronounced "Ponts d' LEEon", familiarly known as "Ponts" (still spelled 'Ponce', of course)

#142 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 07:52 PM:

I just now added an UPDATE to the original post, noting that Twitter account @NYTdigitalsubs has, quite graciously, reached out to me to try to fix this -- both my specific problem, and the general problem. I've DM'd them back. Props to the New York Times for responding constructively to splenetic bloggers.

#143 ::: iamnothing ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 07:53 PM:

Fade Manley @127: which conlang community? if I may ask.

#144 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 08:00 PM:

iamnothing @136: Zompist, I think? I asked if people on the forum would take a look at how I was handling my grammar, and got criticism how I was representing phonemes, plus one person saying they would never look at my language because I had used tables in my HTML layout. I gather from others that it was a fairly nice community; I was not brave enough to stick around after that, in those days.

#145 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 08:03 PM:

Mary Aileen #134: DeKalb County is a funny place. But then, it does have a king.

#146 ::: dave ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 08:06 PM:

Travelocity thinks my son's last name is JonesIV. And thus different from mine.

#147 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 08:07 PM:

For professional purposes, I use my initials rather than my given name. I took my PhD that way, changing my name in the University of California records to F.S.J. Ledgister. No one is ever confused by this, I find.

#148 ::: Fragano Ledgister is back in Gnomeland ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 08:08 PM:

But why? I'll happily give the gnomes some nice grapes.

[Three-or-more spaces in a row. -- JDM]

#149 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 09:14 PM:

A former co-worker lived on 'North Avenue 46', which, with 'North' abbreviated in the usual way, might be read as 'N Avenue #46'. His mail was sometimes ending up in the next county, due to people or computer software trying to 'fix' it to what they thought it should be.

The USPS won't help straighten it out if one of their purchased commercial databases is wrong.

#150 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 09:34 PM:

The official mail system where I work does the first-initial-last-name-to-eight-characters, truncate to add numbers ... but I have first-initial-middle-initial-last-name, for reasons I've never figured out. (It doesn't bother me, since that's how I normally sign my name.) But there are several people in my work group that got truncated (Yusifaliyev, Hambarchian, Khachikyan, Albertson, Dimaculangan).

#151 ::: HelenS ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 09:38 PM:

One of my high school teachers used to live on East Lake Sammamish Parkway SE, which always confuzzled people. Oh, and when I read out the "Tanglebriar" story above, my daughter said she'd heard an automated bus message saying that the next stop was near "Senior 99" rather than "SR [State Route] 99." Well, I guess someone 99 is a senior citizen, all right...

#152 ::: Q. Pheevr ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 10:03 PM:

Senior 99? Or Señor 99?

#153 ::: Cassy B. ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 10:42 PM:

When we were dating, my husband lived on W. North Avenue, apartment E. He used to give his address as XXXE West North Avenue, deliberately, just to mess with people....

#154 ::: iamnothing ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 11:12 PM:

Fade Manley @144: Yeah, that sounds like Zompist (ZBB). It's not so much a nice community as a knowledgeable one. Coincidently, I'm considering using x as /ks/ for a conlang; it's supposed to look like Latin while being quite different.

#155 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 12, 2012, 11:23 PM:

This is small potatoes compared to some of the stuff people've been talking about -- when I worked at CopyMat and needed to give out the address, I learned to say "three-three-oh nineteenth street", because if I said "three-thirty nineteenth street" it would invariably be written down as "339 19th St." (For reasons that are actually fairly obvious.)

Lee mentions her GPS mispronouncing things. Our GPS has one huge quirk:

Lee has also already mentioned Texas's "Farm-to-Market" roads. These are abbreviated FM. So, for instance, when exiting the 610 freeway going to my place, I exit on Westheimer Road, which is also FM 1093. Now, when dealing with freeway exits, our GPS doesn't hold with abbreviations -- it'll say "exit on left towards United States 101," for example.

But it doesn't know that "FM" stands for "Farm-to-Market". So it blithely tells me to exit onto "Federated States of Micronesia 1093".

#156 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 12:48 AM:

Years ago at an anti-apartheid march (should give a clue as to when), a friend arrived with a sign that said something across the top that I pronounced as trih-STAH-tay.

"Trih-STAH-tay"* is the goddess of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. I really read it that way on the first try. My brain has some odd quirks from time to time.

*Gevfgngr, BX?

#157 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 12:53 AM:

I have the occasional problem that people look at my name and see that "Brooks" is a common last name and "Moses" is a not-uncommon first name, and so call me "Moses" or "Mr. Brooks" or something.

(There was an early settler in Tennessee named Moses Brooks, incidentally.)

This did come in handy once, though, when some incompetent tried to steal my identity to get pre-approved for auto loans, and made that mistake. "I'm sorry, there is no such person at this address." Between that and the fact that he didn't have my social security number and was just making numbers up, I decided I would not worry too much.

It was, however, a little disconcerting how many places pre-approved this nonexistent person for a car loan!

#158 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 12:59 AM:

We flipped a coin when my son was born, and as a result of that toss he received my wife's surname as his own and my surname as a given name. Nobody has ever made difficulty about that, in or out of any bureaucracy, so far as I know. It was explained to him later that he could use either, or both, all quite legally (in Australia). He has never bothered to change. He is Evan Wifesname.

I wonder if this need to satisfy a machine - a requirement I absolutely despise and abhor - will have some effect on naming cultural conventions in future?

#159 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 01:04 AM:

Also, speaking of depersonalizing corporate email name conventions, my wife worked at a medium-sized company (3000ish employees, IIRC) where one's email address -- assuming one was a permanent hire rather than a temp -- was one's three initials.

There is an obvious problem with this. They solved the obvious problem by moving people to the next unoccupied set of initials when necessary. Thus, my wife with initials of SKM became, which she declared stood for Suzanne Zelda van Pelt. This was somewhat difficult to dictate over the phone....

I mentioned that this applied to permanent employees. She started as a temp, and thus when she started she had the address, where was the email address of her manager. (It wasn't actually jbh; I don't remember the exact letters.)

#160 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 01:20 AM:

At one time, the directions that I gave friends to find my house were: Turn left on Broad Oak Blvd, then left on Broad Oak Drive, and then left on Broad Oak Court.
This was 1970s suburban mess of twisty, turny cul-de-sacs, plus a developer with a severe lack of imagination. I'm much happier where I live now, on a nice, sensible grid, build back in the halcyon days of the streetcar.

#161 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 01:30 AM:

Heavens, janetl, you lived in a maze of twisty little streets, all alike.

#162 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 03:28 AM:

Don't always blame the programmer.

Client: "It should make them enter the phone number in proper format."

Me: "Oh, that doesn't matter. I wrote a simple piece of code which reformats any phone number they enter, it was very easy, really, it even ..."

Client: "No, they should correct it."

Me: "Um, why?"

Client: "Otherwise they'll keep entering it wrong."

Long silence.

Me: "Sure. It's your website."

#163 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 04:43 AM:

Patrick@21, arrgh! :-)
Xopher@156, in some electronic contexts, "tristate" is an intermediate between on and off.

One of my ancestors was Dutch, living in upstate New York. (I forget if he was an immigrant or his parents were.) He didn't spell his own name consistently throughout his life; we could attribute it to different transliterations but I assume it was just illiteracy, and as a Stewart I'll accept just about any spelling that starts with St..

My wife's mother changed her name when she moved to Hollywood. Her father had anglicized his name, and later changed it, and in California* you used to be able to use any name you wanted legally. When my wife was about 12, she dropped the middle name she never cared for and started using the form of her first name that she preferred, and when we got married she turned her father's later last name into a middle name, which should have solidly kept the original middle name gone. Unfortunately, a while back she had her purse stolen with her passport in it, and the passport clerk at our post office was a very strict "names must follow the paper trail" type, so her passport is now stuck with her original first name spelling from her birth certificate and the discarded middle name (and so do airline tickets when we travel overseas.)

* (That's no longer true. Not sure about the civil laws in general, but the Motor Vehicle Department won't give you a driver's license in a name that isn't on some official paperwork or changed in a court, unless you're a woman taking your husband's last name.)

#164 ::: Bill Stewart says Hi to a valid last gnome ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 04:45 AM:

Probably mistyped something; sorry.

#165 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 05:52 AM:

My GPS, a TomTom, used to mispronounce a street name in Macclesfield, Cheshire. It would tell me to turn right onto THESSilk Road. It's actually called The Silk Road, in honour of that town's (former) industry.
I sacked that voice in favour of the nice Irish lady.

#166 ::: Cal Dunn ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 06:00 AM:

I'm in a sort of Stockholm syndrome arrangement with my hyphenated last name; I've been resenting it for so long that now I can't bear to change it. The main problem I've encountered is people incorrectly titling me as Mrs, because of course any woman with a hyphen must also have a husband to go with it, which I found much more annoying at 22 than I do now.

On the other hand, I had so much trouble getting people to call me by my middle name that I broke down and swapped my first and middle names by deed poll.

My favourite validation-breaking example is the town of 1770 in Queensland. I've never even been there but sometimes I get the urge to relocate just for testing purposes.

#167 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 07:05 AM:

Brooks Moses #159: That initials-as-logname pattern was characteristic of MIT and the companies spawned by their grads. As I heard it, this led to some amusement at FTP Software*, where Chip E. Olsen was not in fact the company president.

*: "Sun wouldn't hire me because I didn't have a Master's degree. So I started a company that competes with their flagship product." -- jbvb, who seems to have stayed busy...

#168 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 08:22 AM:

re 138: On the principle that Wikipedia is the next refuge of the obsessive-compulsive, one of the big ongoing fights is over the use of "–" as opposed to "-".1 It has gotten so bad that there is presently a proposal for a moratorium on discussions as to which one to use where.

1What, you can't tell an en-dash from a hyphen at a glance?

#169 ::: Jordin ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 08:26 AM:

Lori@ #83: Way back in 1975, we wanted to get subscriptions to some free electronics "trade journals" for the recently-formed MIT student electronics club (MITERS), but all the forms wanted a person's name. So we used the name "Charles R. (for River) Basin" Of course, we promptly started receiving the industry version of junk mail for Mr. Basin.

We were particularly amused when Mr. Basin received a letter citing his "... outstanding reputation in the electronics industry" and inviting him to submit his biography to appear in "Who's Who in Science and Industry" or some similar vanity publication. We submitted a suitable fake biography -- a home address on Massachusetts avenue (in the middle of the river), parents (Washington Basin and Mrs. S. P. River Basin), etc. -- but since we of course didn't actually order a copy of the book I don't know if they swallowed it.

I recently ran into a current member of MITERS, who said they are *still* receiving magazine subscriptions -- and junk mail -- addressed to Mr. Basin, 35+ years later.

#170 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 08:38 AM:

In re computers shaping future naming practices, I'm surprised the Chinese case hasn't been brought up yet ... In Chinese, many different visual character representations can serve the same underlying sound. To probably grossly oversimplify, for centuries Chinese families have had access to the full, rich, deep set of characters to name their children, even the really weird archaic ones that are only ever seen in classical poetry and the like.

The government decided relatively recently that all official documentation (identification, passports, etc -- previously they had names hand-written on them) will be limited to a very specific, strict, 'modern' set of characters, with all names written in older characters switched to some modern character that sounds the same.

This is leading to a lot of people insisting that That Is Not My Name, and so on. I don't think they have much chance of winning against the Chinese bureaucracy, but I strongly sympathize.

(there were several news stories about this when it happened, but Google is failing me -- one focussed on a woman whose name is properly written with a stylized three-streaming-horses glyph and now has to be written more simply)

#171 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 08:41 AM:

Aha! Found the New York Times story from April 2009.

#172 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 08:56 AM:

re 135: I somewhat sympathize. The flip side of "I can name myself anything I want" is everyone else's "we're going to come up with some name for you that we can actually deal with." In the systems that I work on, the stuff is going to be stuck in a database and eventually be printed on a form that does not have unlimited space on it, so while we'll allow essentially any printing character to be used, Jugemu is going to have to be satisfied with something shorter than his full name, and not in Kanji or any other Japanese character set.

#173 ::: SarahS ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 09:01 AM:

I, on the other hand, love allowing computers to handle my last name. They do just fine with it. On the other hand, it breaks human brains into tiny tiny pieces.

There's something about a name that begins with three entirely unexpected consonants that induces mental shutdown. From a very early age I have responded to being called on as "Sarah...(long pause) Sarah....(befuddled look)."

#174 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 10:46 AM:

Sarah @173:

Three unexpected consonants in the middle breaks a lot of people's brains.

I have a perfectly good German Jewish name. People who can pronounce or spell it either speak German or Yiddish, or have run into the name before (most of the latter are from the New York City area). The rest of the world mispronounces and misspells it in consistent ways: it's not just that they drop a consonant, it's that almost everyone drops the same one.

My surname is "Rosenzweig." I can leave a phone message saying "This is Vicki Rosenzweig. R-o-s-e-n-z-w-e-i-g" and get a call back a few minutes later from someone who hesitantly asks for "Ms. Rozzen-wig." I can sort of see why that consonant cluster in the middle is difficult for native English speakers, but why do people who could handle a name like "Rose" or "Rosenberg" have so much trouble with my long o?

Computers can handle my name when I enter it myself; if the data entry is done by someone else, the person's brain often drops the z in the process.

#175 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 11:23 AM:

My stepfather's surname (Mierzwa) was very reliable telemarketer-ID. We got everything from "muh-ZEER-wah" to "moomy-zoomy", rather than the correct "MEER-zwah" (like meerkat, only not).

#176 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 11:32 AM:

My debit card had a 8-character limit on the first-name field. When I bought the ticket for my Christmas trip (ultimately paid for by someone else, of course) the airline site insisted that the name on the ticket exactly match the name on the card. So if they call me to the ticket counter they will ask for "Christoph" and I will have less chance of alerting to it.

#177 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 11:33 AM:

And then there are street names in Central Ohio...

There are two rivers in the area the Scioto and Olentangy. In my neighborhood there are three variations on the latter within 5 minutes drive from my house.

Olentangy River Road is on the west bank of the river, is the largest and has hotels on it. Olentangy Boulevard is on the east bank and is residential. Olentangy Avenue is several blocks east of the river, allows parking on both sides, and feeds into one of the main arteries, High Street -- and is also pure residential housing.

I've lost count of the times I've had to tell drivers on Olentangy Boulevard that they need to cross the bridge (Henderson Road) to reach Olentangy River Road. And one evening when I was driving out of the Giant Eagle on High Street I was startled to see a pair of HUGE tour buses trundling down Olentangy Avenue -- and then it dawned on me that they must be using a GPS, and didn't know there was more than one Olentangy.

#178 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 12:38 PM:

Patrick, #142: Yay!

Brooks, #157: Given the number of stories I've heard about people having their pets pre-approved for credit cards, etc., this doesn't really surprise me.

Josh, #162: I really have no objection to being required to enter my phone #, or my credit-card #, or to create a password, using a particular set of rules. What I do have a very strong objection to is not being told what those rules are until I've done it wrong. You want my birthdate in mm/dd/yyyy format, or a password that must be 8-16 characters long and include both upper and lower cases, you bloody TELL me so on the form.

Bill, #163: The first SCA group I belonged to took the "there was no standardized spelling in the Middle Ages" thing very seriously. I remember one occasion when all the members had to submit forms about something, and there were about 2 dozen forms with no two of them using the same spelling for the group name! (They did fall loosely into two categories -- the one-word vs. 2-word schools.)

C. Wingate, #172: The canonical example of this would be The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, when he went thru his "my name is [squiggle]" stage.

("O Knights who formerly said Ni...")

Sarah, #173: Would your consonant cluster happen to be "Szy"? I had a high-school classmate whose last name was Szymanski, and boy, did she have some stories.

Vicki, #174: Your name doesn't seem weird at all to me. But then, I grew up in an area where Polish (and some Czech) names are very common, so encountering a Z in the middle of someone's name is nothing new (see immediately above).

#179 ::: Tracie ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 12:45 PM:

For those times I want to sign up for emailed coupons, ads, specials, etc., but don't want my "real" email addresses cluttered up, I created a free account for adsfortracie. Works.

#180 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 12:51 PM:

Fade Manley @73: Now, my first name? That I changed legally, and had to go through the usual hoops for, as the Free Name Change that the marriage license office said I could get turned out to only be last names, and only if I was changing it to match my male spouse's. To which I said bah.

I say bah too. Fortunately, the state of Minnesota didn't seem to mind that I changed my last name when Juan and I got married, but didn't change it to his name, or to any last name incorporating his name in whole or in part. I changed it to the last name I was published under. Seemed to make sense to me.

The passport people threw a fit, years later when it came time for me to renew, and I had to send in some sort of paperwork that said I wasn't doing it for nefarious purposes, but I did eventually get my passport in my proper name and have done so ever since. (I think the form might have involved a notary and a copy of the marriage certificate, but I disremember.)

Lila @79: Victor Raymond used to live at the corner of Raymond and Raymond in St. Paul. He said something about it being inevitable as soon as he went over to look at that apartment the first time.

Ginger @105: My brain keeps trying to make FG into various things. Favorite Goddess? Finicky Geologist?

Xopher @110: Anyway, Carolyn Unting didn't think much of her ID...I swear I did not make that up.

Everyone understood why our high school teacher Miss Bubolz wanted to change her name when she got married. We weren't sure that becoming Mrs. Klitz was that much of an improvement, though we all agreed that hyphenation would probably have been worse.

#181 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 12:52 PM:

Lee 178: The canonical example of this would be The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, when he went thru his "my name is [squiggle]" stage.

Oh, it was worse than that. When people complained they couldn't print his name glyph and that the printable name was too long, he decided that thenceforth he should be known as "The Artist."

A critic at the time suggested (given the quality of the album he was reviewing) the name 'Formerly' would be more appropriate.

#182 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 01:01 PM:

Xopher @176: That's weird, and seems like it would conflict badly with HSA rules that you have to get the plane ticket in your as-on-legal-ID name. None of my credit cards have my legal first name on them. (This means the "use your credit card as ID to get your boarding pass" thing doesn't work so well!) But what they typically end up printing on the tickets is some concatenation of my first and middle name, or first name and middle initial, anyway.

Lee @178: For rather a while, the AT&T website would complain if you entered your phone number with "incorrect" punctuation -- but then the complaint's explanation of the rules was also wrong!

They've now fixed it. The entry field ignores everything but numerical keypresses and inserts the punctuation automatically, so it gets entered in their desired format no matter what you do.

#183 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 01:04 PM:

elise @180: The high school that my wife and I went to uniformly assigned computer logins as the concatenation of first initial and last name -- and she had a classmate named Brian Utt.

The students also had a habit of using login names as nicknames for people....

#184 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 01:09 PM:

Brooks, you're right, it was my ID. My New Jersey ID is the one that had only 9 characters for the first name. My debit card has all the letters!

#185 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 01:17 PM:

Xopher #156: Your rot-13 has invoked the Spirit of the the Bronx. Beware!

#186 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 01:18 PM:

Brooks Moses (182): Expedia thinks my first name is 'Marya', and Travelocity thinks my first name is 'Maryaileen'. Neither matches my driver's license, which has me as 'Mary A'. I usually forget the problem until after a ticket has been issued and it's too late to change it. When I flew last month, for the first time since airport security has gotten so strict about name matches, I expected trouble with a ticket for Marya, but no one so much as blinked.

#187 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 01:34 PM:

#135 ACW: Yes, there are times where there is going to be a problem, and some people will have to deal with it. However, if your entire programming base is people like Michael James Bolton, goes by Mike, "times" will be much more frequent, and it's oddly enough almost always Mike Boltons who say "customers need to thicken up and deal." - because *they* never have had to.

I am *not* implying that you are one of those; what you say (about the modest restrictions) is absolutely correct. But most of the issues here are 40 years in the making (if not 400, but we english-speaking countries are somewhat insular), so the people programming most of these things have lived their entire lives with children with different last names from their parents, hyphenated names, spanish "Villar y Villar" style names, people who go by something other than their first name, leMassonet (and le Massonet, LeMassonet, etc.) There are, as you say, times; but these names shouldn't be those times.

There are people telling me that I can and must space-delimit names for parsing into email addresses, user ids and the like *now* (last example, a month ago).

Elliott, 113: Sorry, I forget not everyone's Canadian sometimes; should have provided more context. This one's not a name change (well, not *just* a name change), it's a very political fight. M. Levesque was Québec's most notable separatist politician (and responsible for the "langauge law" and "language police"); Montreal is the least separatist city in Québec (also the most Anglo; also the most immigrant). So when the city council decided to honour M. Levesque with a road, two of the heaviest Anglo communities (Westmount, Montréal-Est) said basically "Screw that." So travelling along Dorchester, it becomes Rue Réne Levesque for most of its length; then pointedly becomes Dorchester Blvd. again.

#157 Brooks Moses: I went to university with a Calvin Jim. He knew for a fact that several prospective employers thought he was too stupid to read their form - because they told "Mr. Calvin" that when they interviewed him - and was pretty certain that others just roundfiled his application for that stupidity.

#166 Cal Dunn: (re: 1770) I went through Wonowon, BC on my trip up the Alaska Highway many years ago. It was the second town on the highway (third if you count the starting city); as a result the idea that "the U.S. Corps of Engineers decided that fuel dumps for their vehicles needed to be every 50 miles" was made clear in my head.

#167 Jordin: The ζψ fraternity at my university had a credit card in the name of "SADIE PSI". It was their beer machine. It actually worked very well, as they could easily pull out their alcohol purchases from the general finances to see how things were going.

#173-175: We have a Romanian at work, named "Mircea" (MER-cha, "Mark" cognate). It's easy to pronounce, unless you're looking at it and haven't heard it. The calls starting "I got an email from M... Meer... My..." "Mircea. I'll pass you over." were legion.

#177 Lori Coulson: Please tell me there was a mall at the confluence of Scioto and Olentangy, and a little shopfront offerring "Free Personality Tests".

In general, for business sites, they can do what they like - if the first thing they do is insult their customer, or make it impossible for them to actually buy something, all it does is harm their business. But when anything official causes these issues, there's a real problem. And all this stuff that the TSA has put in to play, with "all documentation must match exactly" makes it all the worse.

I've actually thought for many years getting Mycroft (a "nickname" awarded me by a friend 25 years ago) legally added to my name. If I did so, it would be my first name. I would still go by my real first name, usually, though. I've demurred simply because of all the problems (of having two middle names, of going by the second, and all the rest). But I'll probably still do it someday.

#188 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 01:52 PM:

Mycroft, is the friend who named you someone who you called "Sherlock," by any chance?

#189 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 01:56 PM:

Lee #178:
C. Wingate, #172: The canonical example of this would be The Artist Formerly Known As Prince, when he went thru his "my name is [squiggle]" stage.

My understanding is that Prince used the glyph as a dodge around a music label contract that said that he could not record elsewhere as Prince or any other name, and went back to Prince when the contract expired. I'd kinda like to see the current iteration of that contract boilerplate.

#167 Jordin:
I worked at a place where we had a voicemailbox for mythical person with a gender-indeterminate first name to forward nuisance calls to. We would have people call back and tell us that that person referred them.

Xopher #156:

I was with you until you brought Oklahoma into it!

#190 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 02:01 PM:

jnh, I used to correspond (in the days of letters on paper enclosed in envelopes and sent via the United States Postal Service, no less) with a guy in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He always put the last line of his return address as "Tulsa, OK?"

#191 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 02:08 PM:

The story mentioned by Eliott Mason@171 is discussed here on Language Log—that's where I first came across it. A more recent discussion of the That Chinese Name Does Not Exist Syndrome is here. The Chinese and Japanese attempts to simplify characters (generally to reduce the number of strokes), and to restrict the number of characters in common use, have caused all manner of awkwardness, with several standards having been defined at various times, and Unicode doesn't entirely fix things.

#192 ::: Steve with a book just got a comment Gnomed ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 02:09 PM:


#193 ::: ACW ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 02:29 PM:

Mycroft W. at 187: I agree with everything you say about the particular cases you enumerate: compound, variously-delimited names definitely need to be in bounds. My only point was that some things are out-of-bounds, and maybe even some fairly parochial rules are justified.

On what side of the line do the following cases lie?

1. Suppose mechanical engineer Chén Shíyī had wanted to keep the tone marks on the Pinyin spelling of his name when he immigrated to the US?

2. How should Princeton's Vamık Volkan be treated with respect to his dotless i?

The conlanger in me is clamoring with fanciful hypothetical extreme cases. Darmanuyezga's name contains the clan prefix "Darman", and her personal name, "-ezga", is not considered by her to be a separable word. When she comes through the Gate and settles in Des Moines, what consideration should she feel entitled to from the Iowa Department of Transportation with respect to her driver's license?

#194 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 02:29 PM:

#171 & #191: There are some different issues being conflated here.

1. Ignoring tonal distinctions for the moment, Mandarin only has ~140 different sounds in the entire language. (As a kid in Taiwan, you learn all the initial, medial, and finals the way Americans learn the alphabet.) This is as opposed to who knows how many different characters. To say that the language has a lot of homophones is an understatement. It's not a matter of just names.

2. Somewhat related are the writing reforms adapted by the mainland Chinese. (The Japanese adopted similar but not identical changes.) Some characters now take fewer strokes to write. Some characters have been merged with other characters (possibly along with being simplified.)

This means that at the time those reforms were instituted, some people found their names written differently. I don't know that this is a huge issue now because encoding systems that contain both traditional and simplified characters exist. (e.g., in Unicode, they are different glyphs, not different representations of the same glyph.)

3. None of the various encoding systems (e.g., Unicode) for Chinese characters contain all the characters ever invented for the Chinese language. This is probably the most on point for this thread. If you're name can't be represented in Unicode, that's a problem.

#195 ::: duckbunny ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 02:32 PM:

My name is variations-on-the-theme-of-Bunny. Has been since I was a baby, though "bunny" bears no resemblance to the birth name I've now abandoned. My social circle generally copes with this fine - after all, we know a Harry (short for Margeret)*.
There's a long form of it, which is what's on my deed poll, but if you're calling me that then you don't know me. It's not my name. It's just a convenient lie for purposes of looking like a grownup when I fill in forms. Bunny has been much more happily accepted as a name when I claim it to be short for Bryony than when I truthfully explained that it was a nickname and I didn't use my "real" name, which fact distresses me somewhat.

Of course, being an Internet Denizen, my name is also duckbunny (all lowercase, for preference). Of the ten people I interacted with offline today, nine of them are filed in my memory primarily by internet handles, including one who explicitly prefers their handle and one who uses it for disambiguation.

Being a larper, I will also answer to a half-dozen other entirely unconnected names, and call people by names that properly belong to a different universe.

The world outside my happy larper internet bubble is less good at names. And pronouns. Apparently having four different names in your real-world life, plus at least one more for each alternative universe you inhabit, isn't normal. I don't expect any system to be able to handle that complexity, but it would be lovely to let people who know me as duckbunny post things to me as duckbunny, rather than introducing an out-of-context name.

*Not the real nameset, but a close equivalent to it.

#196 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 02:49 PM:

duckbunny @195 said: it would be lovely to let people who know me as duckbunny post things to me as duckbunny, rather than introducing an out-of-context name.

Only passingly relevant, but I've just solved some of this conundrum in my own case -- my official name on Facebook is now the same as the one I post under here.

This should be much less confusing for everyone I've met in the past four years, though possibly moreso for, um, a few others. Oh well. Conversations upcoming, one presumes. :->

#197 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 02:53 PM:

Abi@115: the name 't Hooft always struck me as a useful test case for scripts that must deal with Names Not Formed The Usual English-Speaking Way—quote mark, lower-case letter, then a space, then a capital. (Gerard won a Nobel Prize some years ago. Some academic databases have difficulty with his name.)

#198 ::: pxd ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 02:53 PM:

Luckily my name doesn't contain ä, ö or å, so it's not a problem for computers. But foreigners tend to mangle my first name - a cognate of "Basil" - into a female reproductive organ...

#199 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 03:03 PM:

re 187: Of course if you're forging papers it's a lot easier to make them all match exactly!

My worst experience with arbitrarily assigned names: years and years ago when I sang with the Slavic Male Chorus of DC, we went up to sing at the Johnstown Folk Festival. While we were up there we supposed to go to someone's house up there for a get-together. This was in the early days of MapQuest, before Google Maps, and we had directions with street names on them and everything. Well. Johnstown has a few small sections of rectilinear street grid, by the river, surrounded a hideous snarl of roads and streets which snake back and forth along the hillsides. Of course, our destination was to be found in the latter. We headed up into the hills, getting lost quickly because there were no street signs anywhere outside of the downtown area. So we stopped and asked some people, and they couldn't help us either because as far as they were concerned, none of the streets had names. Apparently all the street naming was something that had been done quite recently, and nobody who lived there actually knew what the street names were.

#200 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 03:05 PM:

pxd @ 198: "ä, ö or å"

Size Matters (äöå)

A whole song on the extra three letters in Nordic alphabets.

#201 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 03:27 PM:

Per Jo's plaint at #53, I have a similar problem even though I do have a post code.

See, I live in an apartment. In Scotland.

The Post Office hereabouts recognizes two forms of address for apartments. The first is,

X/Y Any Street

Where X is the flat number and Y is the street number; the second is:

XFY Z Any Street

Where XFY means "X'th apartment on Floor Y of street number Z"

Both these formats make no sense whatsoever to your average crappy javascript address validator routine, which complains about the slash ("only numbers and letters are permitted") or the bizarre-looking XFY Z format.

Luckily my postie understands "Flat X, Y Any Street" as long as the post code is correct (so that it goes to the right delivery round). But that's not actually a valid address format in Scotland. And it's astonishing how many multinationals who want my trade refuse to recognize that their "logical" constraints on address formats are not actually universal.

#202 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 03:55 PM:

On the alternate side of things, I came across a very good example of address validation for a recent online order. I typed in my address in the usual form, and it decided that it was problematic because it couldn't cross-correlate it with the Post Office database. (I'm not sure why; other sites seem to have no trouble.)

Instead of rejecting it, however, it popped up a little message: "This doesn't match anything in the Post Office database. Are you sure it's correct?" And there were clear and obvious options to either edit it or to click a "yes, I'm sure; use it anyway" button.

#203 ::: SarahS ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 03:57 PM:

Lee @178


I *wish*.

#204 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 03:59 PM:

Coming to this late.

Having read Patrick's rant to jan, he adds two issues: three names, jan howard finder, and lower case.

I add the phone number thing: if you want a phone number in a particular format, show me. I have run into websites that wouldn't take dashes or parens. When I wrote a bitchy letter to tech support saying their website was broken (I keep doing that in hopes that one of them will give me a job), I got back that the phone number was to be entered as just numbers. I wrote back a nastygram saying that if they wanted a phone number in a non-standard format, it behooves them to state what that format is, not just big red letters that said "INVALID FORMAT" over and over. Unless, of course, they really didn't want anybody to sign up.

My ex's full name is James Stephen Daniel. The number of times he had to have staff look up his records under lastname: James was legion. And was finally trumped by the company that had his last name as Stephendaniel.

When I married, I took Jim's last name. I wanted to get away from all the misspellings and mispronunciations I got being a Flude. BAHAHAHA That did not work out as well as I'd hoped. Daniels with an s being the least of it. Someone we knew entered us in her database as Mcdaniels. We could always tell when she sold it because we'd start getting a rash of junk-mail-related-to-her-product-line to The Mcdaniels family.

#205 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 04:05 PM:

elise @180: "Fabulous Girlfriend", although I suppose that I could change that to "partner". It has been two years now (my, how time flies!); even the Ex has her own new girlfriend.

#206 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 04:07 PM:

Obviously, the NYT has no subscribers of Spanish or Spanish-speaking Central or South American descent whatsoever. //sarcasm

Not all Latino/a-Americans use both maternal and paternal surnames, but those that do encounter endless Anglo confusion.

Some Latino/a-American students have taken to hyphenating their last names no doubt to convince the educational bureaucracy that both maternal and paternal surnames are valid.

#207 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 04:10 PM:

Can anyone explain "Highway Ah" in Montana? Are highways in that state named like a geometry exercise (line AB, etc.)? Or is there another reason for it?

#208 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 04:16 PM:

On the odd conglomeration of letters in a name, I offer the name of a man I once met:
which is perhaps a variation of
which is what Google offered as a correction. Or maybe I just misremember after 40 years...

#209 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 05:26 PM:

sara (207): No, but I can add that Casper, Wyoming has a CY Avenue (pronounced 'see-why', not 'sigh'). It also has an M Street, an N Street, and an Elm Street, which causes no end of confusion on the phone.

#210 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 05:28 PM:

Oh the Poles - perhaps no other naming scheme has been so badly treated in English-speaking world.

The quintessential case in my experience is Jacek Pszczoła - a world champion bridge player. Because no non-Polish speaker has a hope, and because we in North America are somewhat insensitive, he is now known as "Pepsi" (as the closest us Anglos could seem to get is "pepsicola").

I try. I'll ask for help. I figure if I get "close enough for a Canuck", I'm doing well. If that's still not close enough that it annoys, I'll use whatever "poor Canadian, doesn't know how to speak" name the person has chosen to accept.

Xopher: No, the person giving me my nickname was reading Heinlein. Now everybody knows my given name, and also what version of that name I refuse to answer to.

#211 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 06:14 PM:

I hear you and feel your pain, Patrick. Ever since the Powers That Be decided that real people don't go by their middle names, I've gotten more angry every year.

Signed, James Michael Roberts. Dammit. (At least the government and your bank permits you to use your real name.)

#212 ::: Kate Shaw ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 06:21 PM:

My given name is Katherine, and last week at work I had someone ask me what I prefer to be called. I said (as I always do), "Anything but Kathy" (because I have an Aunt Kathleen who goes by Kathy, so to me that's a different name entirely). The woman was quite insistent that I give her an actual choice, so I told her to call me Katherine. That was the first time I realized I truly have no preference. My various co-workers call me Katherine, Katie, Kate, and Kat depending on which name they like. I'll answer to any of them (and also "Okay" if I only hear the K sound).

Regarding place-names and the like: Last year I bought a house in the small town where I grew up. We don't have home mail delivery; instead, everyone in town has a P.O. Box, which means whenever I run out to get the mail on Saturday in raggedy jeans, a dirty T-shirt, and crazy hair, I'm sure to meet everyone I've ever known. The credit union who issued the mortgage couldn't quite grasp why I had a P.O. Box, even though they're located in the next town over and surely know the mail situation. I had to write a formal letter, included among all the house-buying documentation, explaining why the mailing address on my pay stubs didn't match my actual home address.

Then I tried to buy homeowner's insurance online. When I entered my zip code, Geico politely informed me that that zip code was for a P.O. Box. Why yes, it is! And it's also the only zip code my town has. I called and explained the situation to a representative, who just laughed and signed me up with no hassle.

#213 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 06:37 PM:


Thank you very much for mostly avoiding the worst pitfalls in my List Of Falsehoods That Non-programmers Believe About The Software We All Must Use. I think enumerating that list [it's incomplete], or linking to it from here [it's not published], would be a distraction from the fine rant and the ensuing discussion here.

This is just to say, "Well done."


#214 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 06:45 PM:

Michael @211: I mostly solve that by not telling people my first name until they really need it.

(In college, that meant waiting until it was, "Oh, by the way, here's the name I want on my diploma." I must have told the graduate school the legal name to put on their financial stuff for my stipend taxes, but my transcripts and diplomas are all just under Brooks Moses.)

I did have to send back my corporate 5-year service certificate, though, with, "Could you please reprint this with the name people know me by?" To H.R.'s credit, there was no objection at all.

#215 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 06:46 PM:

re 210: Well, there's that Balkan country whose name has one more vowel in English than it does in its native tongue.

#216 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 07:21 PM:

Xopher @181: Oh, it was worse than that. When people complained they couldn't print his name glyph and that the printable name was too long, he decided that thenceforth he should be known as "The Artist."

I forget who suggested it, but when he went to the glyph, we referred to him affectionately as Dingbat. (Well, I meant it affectionately. I like his music, and I like typography. Dingbats are cool.)

#217 ::: Nicholas ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 07:57 PM:

Sara @207, if it's in Missouri (postal code MO), then they letter their smaller highways - and once they ran out of letters, it cycled around to Highway AA, Highway AB, etc. From there, I expect Highway AH suffered overenthusiastic capitalization "fixes". Abi can probably tell us tales of maps that claim Amsterdam lies along the Ij.

#218 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 09:16 PM:

The next town over from where my parents lived, in west Texas, is one where they only have PO Box mail delivery, although the houses all have street addresses. Up until a couple of years ago, the mailing address at my parents' house was a box number on a rural route - everyone delivered there, it just required accurate directions for new non-USPS drivers. The area now has actual house numbers on the farm roads.

#219 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 09:35 PM:

Mycroft, #210: My first approximation of Mr. Pszczola's name would be "pz-zola" (the hyphen represents a very slight pause). How close is that?
(Pepsi-cola?! In most of the "cz" combinations I've encountered, the C is elided or glossed over.)

#220 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 10:14 PM:

At work (where I log in as SABeatty), I spec and test back-end systems to clean up data like this that someone else (usually in another company) has miscollected. I'm fairly sure that we avoid most of these pitfalls as long as we remain in the US-ASCII character set. Juan Ramon Garcia Lopez? Two words in the last name. Nielsen Hayden, Patrick? You gave us a clue with the comma and we'll take it. John O'Hara? Some farther back back-end system might change it to John Ohara but I won't. But I wouldn't be too terribly surprised if we turned Jennifer 8 Lee into Jennifer Lee VIII.

Phone numbers? You can put in 1-800 MATTRESS and we'll transform it to (800) 628-8737.

Addresses? It's been a solved problem for a quarter century. Your street name and town name are what the US Postal Service or your country's equivalent says it is. If you think they spelled it wrong or have a completely incorrect name, take it up with them. (At a previous residence I occasionally had to explain to mail-order merchants that Lincoln Way is the same as L Avenue.) We briefly experimented with allowing your city name to be whatever you said it was rather than looking up the zip code, but this resulted in occasional garbage going out on mailing labels.

Well, if we're not sure what country you are in, the phone number and city name can be misleading. We moved Vienna, Austria to Vienna, Texas because of a 10-digit phone number starting with 432. 43 is the country code for Austria but 432 is an area code in Texas, which does have a city named Vienna. Similar fun and games for Hamilton, Australia and Hamilton, Ontario.

Email addresses? Pro tip: if someone offers you a regex purporting to validate email addresses, it is sure to be WRONGITY WRONG WRONG. The part before the at-sign can have apostrophes, underscores, and quite a wide variety of other characters. The part after the at-sign can have more than one dot, and there can be more than 2 or 3 letters after the last dot: john_o'

We're not bothered by the Bobby Tables problem. The Heywood Jablowme problem is another matter—there were emails going back and forth last month about whether anyone was really named Mike Hunt, for example. I searched LinkedIn (because it's used for professional networking, there are probably fewer fake names than in Facebook) and found several people with that name having regular profiles that did not seem to be made up, so we still allow Mike Hunt.

Then there was the dispute about whether Addison is a boy's name or a girl's name....

These are not necessarily my employer's opinions and are presented for your amusement only.

#221 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 10:15 PM:

Is it pronounced Psh-chola?

#222 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 10:16 PM:

J H Woodyatt at # 213: I'd be interested to see your list.

#223 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 10:57 PM:

Now you've got me earworming "please enter a valid last name" to the tune of Stars and Stripes Forever. That forces me to write this:

Please enter a valid last name
It can't have a space or a hyphen
Please look like a regular guy
So the entry won't go awry

Don't use any strange accent marks
So you look like a regular fella
And surely your name must not start
With van or von or Mc or O' or de la

#224 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 13, 2012, 11:15 PM:

Erik, you win da intarwebz. Thank you for that.

#225 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 12:35 AM:

I'm pretty sure that "Psh-chola" is right.

At the Houston Regional earlier this year, I kibitzed two other Poles, Balicki and Zmudzinski. I asked one of them to say his name for me, hoping it would be Zmudzinski; alas, it wasn't -- I already knew how to say "balitzky".

I recently saw "Pepsi" used in a tournament report in a magazine! Which I think is really going too far. I think it was this month's ACBL Bulletin, but I can't find my copy, to check.

#226 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 01:55 AM:

[And as long as your URL link includes the string 'index.php' it will continue to be gnomed, every time. -- JDM]

That is utterly new to me. Truly, the wisdom of the gnomes is mysterious and wonderful!

Grateful and enlightened, I resume catching up on the thread.

#228 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 03:24 AM:

PJ Evans @218:
The next town over from where my parents lived, in west Texas, is one where they only have PO Box mail delivery, although the houses all have street addresses. Up until a couple of years ago, the mailing address at my parents' house was a box number on a rural route - everyone delivered there, it just required accurate directions for new non-USPS drivers. The area now has actual house numbers on the farm roads.

This is the reason that the geocoder I'm currently working with returns both the US Postal Service address and other address data, where available...and recommends that the other address data be given priority where the two aren't the same. USPS is focused purely on where the mail for a place gets delivered, which doesn't always match where the place actually is.

As with much of the name data in this thread, there can be some real gaps between the Official Truth and the Ground Truth. Sometimes the Official Truth can be broadened; rarely is the Ground Truth changed; and often people just have to bridge the gap between the two.

The problem mostly comes when the Official Truth assumes it's the Only Truth, so that no space is made for the work of bridging. Telling Daniël to both enter his name as it appears on his passport and not use diacritics is like telling everyone in that town to move to their post office boxes.

#229 ::: Linda ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 04:31 AM:

@Mycroft 210:
There was a guy in my class in college who had what seemed to me a novel approach to a "difficult" name. He used an apparently transliterated spelling of the original ("Szentgyorgyi" or thereabouts) but pronounced it with the meaning in English ("St. George").

The class was big enough that I didn't know him personally, so never got the chance to ask how or whether that approach actually helped interactions requiring a last name. But as someone with a last name that causes most people to pause at the first letter (I do answer to "Linda H...uh?"), I thought it was kind of cool.

#230 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 08:14 AM:

I didn't take my husband's name when we married - I have papers etc. published under the other name, and didn't want to confuse matters (besides, it's a perfectly servicable Anglecised version of a Jewish Germanic name; why should I change it?). I have no objection to our being "Mr & Mrs [his last name] for some social functions (and he finds it mildly amusing occasionally being addressed as "Mr [my last name], but I do object to being "Mr & Mrs [his first name or initial] [his last name]. I am a person in my own right, not an appendage, and he's married to me, he doesn't own me.

An unexpected complication arose when we got a cheque addressed to us both with the same surname, because our joint bank account is under [my last name] and [his last name], so a cheque to [his last name] & [his last name] wasn't valid - luckily the bank manager was there and, having seen us when we were getting our mortgage, was able to certify that I was indeed me and we were not doing any money laundering. They won't however, allow us to put both versions on my name on the account, which I still find stupid and frustrating (I know some banks and building societies -do- allow it, so it's just how this one is interpreting the rules).

#231 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 08:58 AM:

deb, #230: I do object to being Mr & Mrs [his first name or initial] [his last name]. I am a person in my own right, not an appendage, and he's married to me, he doesn't own me.

As you're doubtless aware, the reason it used to be that way was that until fairly recently (historically speaking), he did own you, having bought you from your father by virtue of that marriage certificate.

Last month I was at a dance weekend which was held in a large, ornate building dedicated to several of the major women's clubs in Texas. All over the building there were pictures of women who had been prominent in these clubs -- all of them movers and shakers in their own right, many of them socially and/or politically active -- and every single one of them was identified as "Mrs. Hisname". It was unutterably sad.

#232 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 09:08 AM:

It really surprised me, several years ago, to see my grandmother sign a social letter "Mrs. Paul Beltz," not only in this day and age but years after he died. She really did self-identify that way in formal situations, though Pat was her personal nom.

Actually, funny story -- her name all through tiny-childhood was Patsy Ann, with people starting to call her Pat as she got More Grown-Up. When she went to school, the teachers asked her mother what her name was, and her mother said Pat, so the teachers wrote Patricia.

She was, unknowingly, Patricia Ann Lastname on all her school paperwork right up until high school, when she got a diploma that said Patricia on it and suddenly discovered she'd have trouble getting a driver's license with anything ELSE on it, as all records apparently said Patricia.

She didn't care, so she defacto changed to Patricia Ann at that point. It also (West Virginia) had the later benefit of not making her seem 'hillbillyish'.

#233 ::: Ingvar M ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 09:29 AM:

Mary Aileen @ #186:

Hahah. Hah. H... *sobs*

Imagine how FUN it is to go through life knowing EXACTLY what your first name is, move and then spend 10 years being told that you, your parents and the whole of your birth country are wrong?

Yeah. I may be GI, but the G is a patronymic (really).

Michael Roberts @ #211:

I feel your pain. I really do.

#234 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 09:50 AM:

Michael Roberts #211: En famille and among people who knew me before I was 13 I am known by my first middle name. If I'm addressed by it these days, I know that the person so addressing me is either my mother, my baby brother, or someone who remembers me from my childhood.

#235 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 10:16 AM:

Fragano @234: My mother's Very Best Friend from childhood's given name is Francis Xavier IrishLastName. When she knew him, he universally went by 'Nicky' (partly because their neighborhood had a nontrivial number of F.X. VariousIrishLastName boys).

When I was in high school, we visited him, and I was kind of taken aback to find that this person who was in all the stories as Nicky is actually now Frank to almost everyone except my mom. :->

#236 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 10:43 AM:

Re Lee @231 and Elliott @232 on Mrs. Hisfirstname Hislastname

I think this is both a generational and a regional (i.e. southern) thing. A shift is taking place and I think it's an excellent one. But, channeling my inner Miss Manners, I also think we should call people what they want to be called, with perhaps a bit of deference to an older generation. We've been discussing names as identities here. I do not think we have the right to tell these women "You are wrong to say this is your name" any more than they have the right to say the same to couples who make other choices. There's certainly plenty of ammunition to view it that the husband "owned" the wife or was the only one who counted in the marriage. But I think there were many cases where both parties viewed the life they built as a partnership, almost like being incorporated under his name, and telling her she shouldn't use that name is like denying her identity as half of that partnership.

#237 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 10:54 AM:

I have a Czech last name that, unusually, has an overabundance of vowels, rather than the usual shortage. (Perhaps my ancestors were vowel hoarders?) People still stop and stumble over it. It's like they've never read the word "soup". (Amusingly, my cousins pronounce the first syllable "so", as in to sow a field, or to sew a sleeve.) Back in the old country, they pronounce both the vowels in a way that my midwest mouth probably can't deal with. Of course, back in the old country, I'd be a Soukupova. Or a Husbands-Name-ova.


My mother-in-law is often kind enough to send me a check for Christmas; she invariably makes it out to "Cally Husbands-Last-Name". Neither of which are the names the bank knows for me. I've never had a problem depositing it.

#238 ::: Hob ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 11:32 AM:

Lee @219: "Pszczoła"

IANAP, so the following is just from neighborhood osmosis and my Polish friends' best efforts to teach me:

The "sz" and "cz" are (more or less) just the same initial consonants as in "shoe" and "chew", so you can get pretty far by just mentally replacing the Z with an H. There's no Z sound in either of those. (But "rz" is a different story - it's roughly equivalent to "zh").

The combination "szcz" is elided slightly so that there's no stop between them-- you don't say "shuh-chuh"-- it sounds more like a "sh" that just became a little bit more biting toward the end. Similarly, the P in "Pszcz" gets softened/slurred just enough to let you say them all in a row pretty quickly.

Finally, the L isn't an L, it's a ł, which is pronounced like the English W.

#239 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 11:35 AM:

Lee, Allan: having asked a couple of local Polish Club players to pronounce it, the closest I can hear is transliterating it into Пщо'а - with the only syllable break being the tick between the two syllables (the 'ł' being a 'w' sound (and yes, Polish has an 'l' which is an 'l' sound)). I think he'd accept PSH-cho-wa, as "close enough for Anglos". It means 'bee' (which is enough to convince me of the impossibility of my learning Polish).

Now that he lives and works here, however, I think he's just dealing with it. I think however, that headlines can be "Zia (Mahmood) and Pepsi", but the name in the article should be the real one. What it should be on the bidding diagrams (where they sometimes cheat for space, like Hyordis Eythersdottir being E'dottir) I don't know.

Heh, that's the only other name I know of in bridge which is universally not used - but at least in her case, they go with the common familiar "Disa" rather than inventing something. David, can you think of another where the print articles will not use lastname?

#240 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 01:01 PM:

Lee @231: Exactly; that's why I object to it so strongly.

OtterB @236: I also think we should call people what they want to be called, with perhaps a bit of deference to an older generation. Yes-and-no. Courtesy should go both ways. If a member of the older generation (UK, not southern USA) isn't willing to do me the courtesy of using a name form I don't find objectionable, when addressing me, why should I bend over backwards to use one which they like but I find objectionable, when addressing that person? Particularly when there -are- alternatives which are fairly neutral.*

Kate Shaw @212: I on the other hand -do- have a prefered form of my name: the full name, "Debra". However, people often automatically call me by a diminutive form of this (usually Debbie, sometimes Debs)- without asking me - or will ask me which I prefer then, after I have expressed a strong preference for the non-diminutive form go ahead and call me by the diminutive anyway. So why ask, if they're going to ignore my stated preference? And then there's the problem of spelling. In the UK the spelling normally used is "Deborah". My mother told me she'd spelled it "Debra" to make it easy when I was learning to write my name - it would be spelled like it was spoken (two syllables). The consequence is that I've spent the rest of my life saying "Debra. That's D-E-B-R-A. No "O" and no "H""

*I have the right to be treated with respect and consideration.

#241 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 01:15 PM:

All you people whose small towns have only PO Boxes -- do you not have fire numbers? Or how does the fire department find your house if you should need them to do it quickly? (You don't want them to wait until they can see the column of smoke and flame.)

I delivered mail for over thirty years in just such a small town. The fire numbers gradually became addresses, even replacing the Route-and-Box-Number addresses on in the countryside. Just in time for the big change-over to county-wide grid addresses. Some people were kinda cranky about the several changes they had to make to their stationery.

#242 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 01:28 PM:

dcb @240, I agree completely that the courtesy should go both ways.

#243 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 01:37 PM:

Someone who calls me [shortform] gets "[longform], please". If they can't do that for some reason (I have had people who tell me "I have an 'Uncle [shortform] who hates [longform] and I can't uncorrect" or "there's a [longform] in my life that [was horrible]; I can't say that name without thinking of him") then "Okay, let's discuss a name". And so I'm Jim to some people, and Mitch to others, and, well, that's how I got Mycroft.

Oddly enough, I'm happy with certain other [shortforms]; the Russians and the Poles can shorten my name, no problem.

I work very hard to call people what they ask me to be called. Effectively I know that I am disrespecting them on a fairly basic level if I don't (which is something that most people don't really see, as "standard nicknames" seem to be "everybody should be happy with them" in this society, or even "we're friends, aren't we? Why are you asking me to be so formal?" Not allowing "Jim" by friends of James seems to be something of an American vousvouyer.

If someone insists on using their rules for me calling them, fine. If they insist on using their rules for them calling me, as well, unless there's a context (for dcb's specific case, imagine she and her husband being invited to a "formal Edwardian" themed dinner, or our church's "100th anniversary service, done with the 1912 forms, just to show us how much we really have changed") then they have earned the respect I now choose to give them in future.

And in specific, were I a Debra, you would only be allowed to call me "Debs" if you were actively sleeping with me. I mean, in bed at this current moment. Ick.

#244 ::: ErrolC ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 01:52 PM:

In many rural diary-farming areas in New Zealand, the milk co-op's supplier number (on a sign on the road where the tanker driver can see it) operated as a de-facto road number. This is becoming less common as distance-from-end-of-road numbering for emergency services benefit gets applied.

#245 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 01:59 PM:

Xopher @ 92

A bit of both. They aren't used in Turkish, are used in Kurdish, and given names of Turkish citizens have to be from an approved list, which doesn't (or at least didn't) include Kurdish names, even if they don't contain the offending letters. And local definitions of what counts as 'supporting terrorism' are extremely (and in my view problematically) broad.

#246 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 02:05 PM:

I had a college classmate named John who insisted on calling me 'Mary' despite my repeatedly telling him that my name is 'Mary Aileen'. He insisted, that is, until the day I very pointedly called him 'Jack'. ("My name's not 'Mary', Jack." Said in a nasty tone of voice.) After that he got it right.

This is the same classmate who persisted in referring to the head of the university math department as 'Mrs. G---' instead of 'Dr. G---' or 'Prof. G---'. He called all the male professors 'Professor'. General, all-around, sexist jerk, in other words.

#247 ::: jnh ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 02:15 PM:

Mary Aileen #246:

I hope, hope, hope he was a math major -- and thus torpedoed his own career.

#248 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 02:22 PM:

That should obviously have been Xopher@110

#249 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 03:38 PM:

Older @241: Well, that's the trick, isn't it? For my mom's house, it would have been "Up past Norris's on 601, where it goes to gravel. Yeah, the old Clyde Carter place." (Clyde hadn't owned it for twenty years. But Norris was on the rescue squad; everyone knew him.) This is why they did a county-wide initiative to name all the roads and give everyone street numbers -- so 9-1-1 dispatch could find them on a map.

I also think some people may be confusing post office boxes and rural-route boxes. Our formal address was "Route 1 Box NN" -- which referred to the box at the end of our driveway, not down at the post office -- and UPS, FedEx, and everyone else delivered to it without complaint. Occasionally we'd see a new UPS driver go up the road past us (there are no houses up there), and come back and try to give us a package for NN+1, and we'd have to tell him where the next set of numbers were so he could give it to the right people.

For further confusion, well before I was born they renumbered all the houses on the route; we'd been 150A, but became a two-digit number. Two decades later, the occasional mail from a relative who could not remember to update their address book would still get delivered to us despite being addressed to Route 1 Box 150A. I half expect it still would.

#250 ::: Fragano Ledgister is back in Gnomeland ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 03:39 PM:

Elliott Mason #235: Some years back I encountered an old acquaintance from my youth, who was practicing medicine in upstate New York. In our mutual youths he was known by his middle name. Having moved to the US he had become Dr Firstname. Rather disconcerting.

#251 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 04:04 PM:

jnh (247): I don't remember what his major was.
My previous residence was Apartment F1 (although on my door it was 1F). Then the local post office insisted that all the apartments in the building be relabeled in numerical sequence, because A1, A2, B1, B2, etc. was "too hard". (Yes, they admitted that their mail carriers were illiterate. That was--and still is--a very bad post office.) So my mailing address changed to Apt. 11. Unfortunately, although the mailboxes were duly relabeled, the apartments themselves were not. When I ordered something, I had to know whether it would be shipped via USPS, (and go to my mailbox) or via some other service (and be delivered to my door) so that I'd know what apartment number to give. One of my neighbors routinely gave her address as "Apt. B1, Box 3". I don't know how the fire department coped.

#252 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 04:22 PM:

OtterB @242: Apologies if I snapped at you. I've been too much on the receiving end of being expected to be courteous while not being given basic courtesy in response, so I'm triggery about this.

#253 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 04:37 PM:

Here in Hoboken there was a woman running for school board who had never used her husband's name. The corrupt political machine tried to put her on the ballot under her husband's name, not (particularly) because they were sexist (though we certainly attacked them on that basis) but because her name was Italian and his wasn't, and they knew she'd get some votes just for having an Italian name.

She did. She won the election, getting more votes than any other candidate (it was a choose-three-out-of-dozens ballot).

dcb 240: I have that problem too. People call me Chris all the time, if they don't know me. I had a friend once who called Patrick "Pat" and Teresa (I shudder even 30 years later) "Terry," if you can believe that. She got over it and is now a fine person.

It does have an advantage, though. Salespeople try to make you think they're your friend by using the familiar form of your name. By doing so they remind me in nearly every sentence that they do NOT know me and are NOT considering my wishes. Improves my sales resistance no end.

pgbb 245: Yeah, it's a fairly standard way of attempting to destroy an ethnic identity; linguistic ethnic cleansing, if you will. The French did the same thing to the Bretons; there were no Breton names on the allowable-name list. This may still be so, for all I know.

There sure are a lot of evil bastards in this benighted world.

#254 ::: Don Simpson ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 04:53 PM:

By coincidence, I was just reading that William Lancaster Gribbon got his pen name of Talbot Mundy through having claimed to be named Talbot Chetwynd Miller Mundy, and "Willie even knew enough to write Miller Mundy without a hyphen, one of the few old English double-barreled names that is so written". This was in Donald M. Grant's _Talbot Mundy: Messenger of Destiny_.

#255 ::: Eric K ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 05:02 PM:

As a programmer, my default rule is "Please give me a non-empty string of Unicode characters that I can call you by; I'll remove any spaces from either end, and probably normalize any other whitespace, because names are not improved by thin spaces or newlines." I then whittle this rule down as much as necessary to deal with client requirements, legacy systems, credit card gateways, and so on. This means that if you want to name yourself using runes, Egyptian hieroglyphs or an entire Japenese poem (thanks, Wingate @172), you can go right ahead, unless there's a reason why that's just not going to work, or I make a dumb mistake. But the hieroglyphs are usually in my test suite, because they're the only characters above the 16-bit mark in Unicode that I can type without taking my hands off the keyboard.

Which brings us to Patrick McKenzie's list of false assumptions about names:

10. People’s names are written in any single character set.

11. People’s names are all mapped in Unicode code points.

This is where I stop trying to get it right. There are at least 110,000 characters in Unicode, and the number is constantly growing. If your name can't be represented in Unicode, please speak to your national government, and have them propose the new characters at the next ISO 10646 meeting.

I know that it would nice to allow names consisting of arbitrary pictures (if only for the artist formerly-and-currently known as Prince, and those people using ideograms that aren't recognized by their own governments), but that always makes the database code much more complicated, and there's no way anybody's ever going to be able to search for your name. And I'm going to have provide some way for people to upload or draw pictures. So if your name doesn't fit in Unicode, you're probably going to need a workaround.

The problem with Patrick McKenzie's list is that there is no easy answer that will work for everyone. The Right Thing is both difficult and surprisingly ill-defined. And there are often conflicting priorities, such as "Will the credit company bill this name? If we let somebody enter a 5-line poem as their name, will that make the website look amazingly ugly every time they post? What fonts do we have a prayer of printing onto envelopes? Can the data entry team type those characters?" Spaces in names are easy, but the general case is frightfully hard, and the people will often have problems long before the software does.

#256 ::: Steve with a book ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 05:07 PM:

Xopher HalfTongue@253: It does have an advantage, though. Salespeople try to make you think they're your friend by using the familiar form of your name. By doing so they remind me in nearly every sentence that they do NOT know me and are NOT considering my wishes. Improves my sales resistance no end.

When I used to do inbound telesales, it was tricky to address customers whose names we didn't yet know. 'Sir' is just about acceptable when talking to a man, but it's easy to end up slipping it into the sentence three or four times and coming across like Uriah Heep. 'Madam' is even more problematic.

#257 ::: kimiko ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 06:45 PM:

Well, I've got a winner here. I tried to prevent one of my kids from having Patrick's problem.

Call us Ms. Kimiko and Mr. Ishmael. We had two daughters, named on this pattern:

Girly-firstname Girly-middlename Kimiko-middlename Ishmael-lastname.

The goal was for the human-parsable version to seem like "Firstname Middlename Lastname Lastname" like the Nielsen Haydens, but for all the official records to show a single lastname, Ishmael, to avoid the very problems mentioned in this thread.*

This has worked well for daughter #1. Alas, we have discovered a failure condition. The IRS doesn't like daughter #2's last name because it doesn't match the one on her social security card. In what way does it not match? Well, the SSA thinks she's a "Kimiko Ishmael", instead of just a "Ishmael". We were too clever by half, and when we were sent her birth certificate and duly proofread it during the window for free changes. However, we couldn't see which field the computer had used to populate the document: "Firstname Middlename Kimiko Ishmael" and "Firstname Middlename Kimiko Ishmael" of course, being identical.

*and also, so that our daughters, if they chose to change their surname on marriage, could automatically keep their mom's instead of it automatically being replaced. Meanwhile if some officious busybody bureaucrat ever questioned if Thing #1 and thing #2 belonged to both of us, the names would at least make it plausible.

Anyway, we thought a long whole name less a burden than a truncated hyphenated name, and since we had never changed names or hyphenated on marriage for the usual reasons; preexisting publications, post-feminist respect etc etc.

#258 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 08:09 PM:

OtterB, #236: My animus is addressed to the culture which required that form of name, not to the women who perforce used it (and were almost certainly happy to do so, as no other option had ever been presented to them). It should perhaps also be noted that the only women who continued to use their own names into adulthood were spinsters... which meant that changing to the "Mrs. Hisname" form was also a sort of trophy; it proved that you had indeed caught a man.

dcb also has a valid point @240, though, in that in this day and age it is remarkably rude of someone to insist on using the "Mrs. Hisname" form of address to a person who does not want it, and that by doing so they forfeit a certain amount of my care for their preferences.

Fragano, #250: Back in high school I had a classmate by the name of Frank K. Forty years later, we have both ended up in Houston and reconnected -- and now he is known as Franz K, with quite a distinguished career under that name. I asked him about it once, and he said that Franz was his father's and grandfather's name, which had been Anglicized when naming him, and that he had reverted to it as his professional name for sentimental reasons. No problem, I simply adjusted.

#259 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 08:41 PM:

I suspect one reason they put in real house numbers was that Lloyd-the-mailman retired after 40 years of driving rural routes (two accidents in all that time).

#260 ::: Fragano Ledgister is back in Gnomeland ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 09:15 PM:

On the Mrs Hisfirstname Hislastname issue.

When my firstborn son was born my then wife and I were disconcerted to receive in the post shortly thereafter items address to Mrs Hisfirstname Hissurname. Apparently the Maternity Center Association had sold his name to some company and somebody had assumed that he was the male parent and old-fashioned at that.

Our first response was amusement that our newborn son had got married without bothering to tell his parents.

(We were to learn some time later that little pitchers did indeed have big ears. We had the habit, when he'd cling to his mother, of calling him 'Little Œdipus'. We were visiting her mother's over Christmas when he informed us, when we were asking him not to do something, 'My name's not Roger, it's Little Œdipus'. I don't think that he expected to see his parents reduced to giggles like that.)

#261 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 09:55 PM:

P.J. @259: A good theory, but no -- this was countywide for a county of about 17,000 people (my gosh; is that all? Wikipedia says so; I assumed rather larger!), so there were probably several dozen mail-delivery people in the county. And our local long-time mailman retired after that. It was definitely and specifically connected to emergency-services dispatch.

My understanding is that that naming of numbered roads and giving people street numbers for purposes of emergency dispatch was a general thing through a lot of the rural U.S., or at least through a lot of rural Virginia, around the same general time.

Anyway, I doubt the new numbers make things much easier for a regular mail-person to find. They have to drive a set route through all the winding roads anyway, which is going to basically match the order of the box numbers, so being able to figure out the fastest route to box 63 or 92 doesn't matter. It's the UPS and FedEx drivers who are just going to a handful of places on the route that have problems. And electronic mapping services, which seem to be able to cope with regular addresses but not rural routes for some reason, maybe because there's an actual electronic database (see also emergency-services dispatch!) associating the new addresses with coordinates.

#262 ::: Carter ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 10:26 PM:

Beware the NYT subscription department, even ye with "acceptable" names. About ten years ago I paid online for a one-year subscription by credit card. Weeks passed, no paper did I see. Called, I did. They said they were fixing it, wait. More weeks passed, no paper did I see. Called again. Wait, fixing, they said. This is sixty days out. I contested the charge. I got some of it back. The NYT still owes me $25, and I never received a single paper. Now I am happy whenever I read it online for free.

#263 ::: Cally Soukup ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 11:20 PM:

Xopher HalfTongue @253

Do you mind terribly being called "Zopher"? Because I'm afraid that's my mental pronunciation of "Xopher", even though yes, I know what it's actually short for. I can try to adjust my mental pronunciation so I don't trip up should we ever meet....

#264 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: December 14, 2012, 11:46 PM:

Cally, that's how it's been pronounced since I was 9. So you're good.

The other correct pronunciation is "Christopher," of course. Incorrect ones include "Ehks-opher" and even "Ehks-topher."

#265 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2012, 01:03 AM:

Xopher @264: Oddly, my mental pronunciation tends to vary over to something like "Kzopher" -- I think because of the phantom "Ch" starting sound, plus my wife having a Greek colleague named Xenia who is very happy when people pronounce it as with the chi it really has rather than the x it's transliterated as. So I wonder where that falls on the acceptable-to-unacceptable range, and if I ought to make an effort to change.

#266 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2012, 01:31 AM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden @ #71: "If you always wanted an extra middle name, now's the time to get it. It won't cost you any more."

One of the familiar faces of Australian fandom took advantage of a similar offer some years ago, and can now say with perfect truth that Danger is his middle name.

(He also has a unique method for distinguishing between phone calls from genuine acquaintances and those from people who are calling for commercial purposes. But that's another story.)

#267 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2012, 10:30 AM:

Lee @231: Nitpicky but important clarification: the husband owned the wife's PROPERTY, not the wife. The Mayor of Casterbridge to the contrary, he couldn't sell her.

In a country that practiced chattel slavery as recently as 150 years ago, this is an important distinction to make.

#268 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2012, 03:43 PM:

Rikibeth, #267: You are right that the distinction is more than academic. But since the right not to be sold was pretty much the only difference between a wife and a chattel slave, it still strikes me as being a bit thin.

She couldn't own money or property in her own name, nor could she sign a contract; she could be locked up in isolation at her husband's whim; her worth was measured by the offspring she produced (and by her dowry, but again, that wasn't hers, it was other considerations that came with her). And a daughter could (effectively) be purchased from her father; she had no say in the matter of her marriage beyond what he chose to grant her.

That these things did not happen to every woman does not mean that they weren't an inherent part of the society of the time.

#269 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2012, 04:45 PM:

Lee @268, I'm well aware. Nevertheless... it's a distinction that should be kept clear.

#270 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2012, 05:28 PM:

In some states, women couldn't have a checking (or possibly any) account or credit account without permission from their husband. This finally ended in the 1970s, IIRC.
It might not have quite been chattel slavery, but it was certainly second-class citizenship.

#271 ::: johnofjack ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2012, 09:51 PM:

dcb @ 240: My first name is Johnathan. I distinctly recall spelling it for someone, as an adult, and being told that that was not how my name is spelled. I told the person that my birth certificate begged to differ, but really what I wanted to say was "what made you think that was your choice?"

Mary Aileen @ 246:
I go by John, and my last name is Jack. Typical conversation where I have to give my name, last name first:
"Last name?"
"No, your last name."
"'Jack' is your last name?"
"First name?"
"Your name is 'John Jack'?"
"So you have two first names."
The person invariably says this as if it's terribly witty. I might sigh audibly but usually choose not to respond to it, and instead just remind the person why we're talking in the first place.

#272 ::: Lin Daniel ::: (view all by) ::: December 15, 2012, 11:33 PM:

My first name is "Linda". Once I started going to school, I came to dislike it rather a lot. I grew up in an ethnically diverse area, but the major second language was Spanish. I am pleasant enough looking, of English peasant stock, but "linda" I am not*. But I could never decide what name I wanted to replace it with.

When in 1991 I joined a company with four Lindas already in residence, one of them my supervisor, I was told I got to pick another name. Someone at my previous job had called me "Lin", so I took it pending anything else. And found I liked it very much. It's also delightfully gender neutral, and I still smile when someone online addresses me as Mr.

I told my mother I wanted to be called "Lin". She said she named me Linda and Linda I will remain. I said I wouldn't answer to anything but Lin. Shortly thereafter, she hollered down the hall, "Linda, dinner's on!" I laughed and came to dinner. I have a number of friends acquired after the name change who get very startled when my family calls me Linda. It's also a tad jarring when the nurse at my physician's calls for "Linda".** Oh, right, that's me. I have been known to not hear it at all until the nurse calls my full name.

On the subject of Mrs. hisfirstname hislastname, I managed to avoid being called Mrs. Daniel at all unless it was by a salesman or someone I didn't like. I told everybody else, with a grin, that Mrs. Daniel was my mother-in-law and I did not want to be mistaken for her. I only ever had one instance of someone trying to call me Mrs. hisfirstname Daniel. I informed the perp somewhat frostily that I had a perfectly serviceable first name and he was permitted to use it. He used it, in part because I wouldn't give him the name he wanted. He got to call me Mrs. Daniel.

Somebody on FB tried telling jan that "Jan is a woman's name". I said, tell that to Jan Stenerud. The jerk didn't come back to argue.

* linda is spanish for beautiful.
** Legal name used on all legal documents. I didn't even take my maiden name back when I divorced, as going thru the hassles to change all documents and records and history was not one I wanted.

#273 ::: cd ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2012, 07:24 AM:

Lin Daniel, #242: what's funny is that my dad's name is Jan, so for me it's always been a male name. Jane is a female name.

#274 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: December 16, 2012, 06:01 PM:

Heck, in our family, James is a unisex name.

#275 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2012, 02:17 AM:

PJ Evans: Fair Credit Reporting Act of 1974. (I can do you chapter and verse on this, really I can.)

No argument at all about second-class citizenship. There's still a distinction.

And, Lee, as for fathers selling their daughters: in all practical senses, yes, they could, as they could create an intensely coercive environment for the daughter, in which she felt compelled to marry her father's choice, but, under the law, a marriage required both parties' consent, and she retained the legal right to say no, however impracticable it was in actuality.

This didn't exist for slaves.

#276 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2012, 02:15 PM:

Elliott Mason @175: "MEER-zwah" (like meerkat, only not).

"MEER-Ə?" :-)

#277 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2012, 03:14 PM:

Mycroft W @210: Pszczoła

Hah! I had already known that, in Polish names, the "w" is sometimes (usually?) pronounced as an "f". It was through my neighbors the Szewczyks that I learned that the Polish "sz" is pronounced (approximately?) as the English "sh," and "cz" is "ch" (as in chicken). Furthermore, my high school Russian teacher carefully schooled us that the name of that traditional Russian beet soup is not, as most Americans would have it, "borsht," as in fresh-toast. Rather, it is "borshch", as in fresh-cheese.

So, while I haven't the first clue what to do with the L with a slash, "Pszczoła" parses to me (with a little work, admittedly) as Pshchola. Integrating the P with the sh-ch sound is a challenge, I will concede.

#278 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 17, 2012, 03:26 PM:

Nicholas @217: overenthusiastic capitalization "fixes".

I once received a call from a client who was furious that his name, which displayed in our online database search as "Firstname Lastname Ii" was Wrong Wrong Wrongity Wrong despite his having called to correct it several times in the past. It was supposed to be "Firstname Lastname II."

I asked around,* and then was able to report to him that our database stores everything in all-caps, and that his name appeared as it did because the database was too stupid to do anything more complicated than to render everything in lower case, and then capitalize each first letter.

"Oh," he said. "Well, thanks. Nobody ever bothered to explain that to me before."

* I'm sure the programmers in the house can see the answer coming.

#279 ::: Sai ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2012, 12:21 PM:

FWIW: I'm mononymic — "Sai" is my full legal name.

It's represented probably a couple dozen different ways in different systems by now, some more annoying than others.

Pro: it's pretty hard to correlate me across different systems without my assistance, so some privacy gain. Also, keeps me from taking myself too seriously, and is super easy to remember / spell. :-P

Also, note for any other mononyms in the audience.

#280 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2012, 12:51 PM:

A couple of decades ago when I was helping run the weekly Berkeley Chess Club we had a regular player (he was pretty good, expert-level strength) who was mononymic. He dealt with systems that insisted on two names by giving them his father's name as his personal name and his own as his family name.

I remember once having the "different proximics" problem with him. His conversational distance was closer than mine; we were talking, I perceived him as crowding me and backed away -- of course he then perceived me as backing off and came closer. I hadn't yet read Hellspark, but I had seen a newspaper article once, and after a little bit I consciously noticed what was happening and was able to adapt myself to his distance.

#281 ::: Fox ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2012, 01:16 PM:

My own name issues are slight; my given name is occasionally misspelled but I am not troubled by this as much as by the fact that I am routinely called by another name that begins with the same letter but is not in any way my name - even by people who don't actually know anyone by that other name. My last name is Fox, and I occasionally get things addressed to Sox if someone has taken my details over a bad phone connection, so I tend to give it as "Fox, F-as-in-Frank" pre-emptively. The name Fox can be an issue when you're required to enter the first four letters of your name, though, as others have pointed out. So can originally being from Ohio (or Iowa or Utah) if the Security Question asks what state you were born in but requires all answers to be at least five letter long.

My sibling-in-law's surname only has two letters, neither of which is a vowel. One of my college roommates, and spouse, gave each of their children a first name and one middle name, with the mother's surname as a second middle name and the father's surname as a last name (for a variety of reasons that are not relevant here). They were careful to enter all these names on the right lines and in the right spaces, despite the length of all the names making this a challenge. The eldest's Social Security card came back with one first name, one middle name, and two last names, meaning it didn't match the birth certificate - and one grandparent suggested, apparently seriously, that it might be easier to change the child's name than to insist that the SSA produce a card with the names in the order they were registered.

My father was given two names, the first in honor of a relative, and called by the second his entire life. It was never legally changed, but the only document on which he has any legal presence by his full given name is his birth certificate. I never knew him to use that name until, shortly before his death, he made it known he wanted it on his tombstone - as his middle name. So in fact the tombstone has his given names in the opposite order to how my grandparents gave them to him.

And addresses, oy. I grew up on a street with an East prefix and we had the phone number of the guy who lived at the same address on the corresponding West version right by the phone so we could sort out when we got his mail and vice versa. (At least one of the credit reporting agencies believes that the West version is one of my past addresses. I'm not sure how to prove to them I've never lived there, or if I should care.) The name of the town is two words, one of which is unusual and tends to throw non-local people for a loop. (I'm very pleased by the advent of ZIP-code lookup where they don't even bother asking for the city name - though I'm fortunate that my addresses have always been in the ZIP codes the computers say they're in.) I live now on a street I have to spell, in Silver Spring, MD, which, as many of you who are familiar with the area know, is two words, but only one spring.

But for a winner, I once lived in a building with six apartments, which were numbered 01, 02, 1, 2, 3, and 4. I lived in #01 and I'm sure you can imagine the issues we had with the phone company, electric company, any delivery people ever, and our upstairs neighbors in #1. Mind you that was the landlord's fault, but really.

#282 ::: Fade Manley ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2012, 01:22 PM:

Fox, as someone who often gets documents made out to "Sade Manley" (and that's when I spell it for them; if I don't, it's Faith or Faye), I have great sympathy for your unusual name spelling plight. Though I am amused to note that when I'm trying to get people to spell "Fade" correctly, I usually start with "F as in Fox..."

#283 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2012, 01:39 PM:

And I, as you can see, have MultiCaps in my last name, and to me "Delaney" isn't spelt right. (We had some acquaintances when I was young who had that as their last name. Never mind the possible confusion, in this setting, with Chip, per the Spelling Reference above...)

Most of the time it isn't an issue, it seems. I know that some places store names in ALL CAPS (including the back-end at a call center I work at) and I'm okay seeing DELANEY come out of that, and know it's probably not possible to change a Delaney produced because of that. But if small letters are possible, I insist on either DeLANEY or, preferably, DeLaney.

The place this has caused the largest issue for me, actually, is on my checks. The company that prints them up CAN print DeLaney just fine, and has many times. But... it's not their default ... AND the note that's been in my account from the bank's end, since forever now, _doesn't get read_ in the check-printing process UNLESS someone from the bank calls and talks at them about it. Each time. Otherwise I get checks that are Delaney or, worse, De Laney, according to how someone feels the default should go that month. So every time I order new checks I make sure to have that call made on the spot, now.

(My brother goes by his middle name, which is one that many men wouldn't choose to, but he feels it's better than his FIRST name. I do not know of any stories of difficulty this has caused him; I think a lot of official-name-storage places don't KNOW his first name.)

And there was a guy named Brooks in my high school class, so names that aren't familiar as first names is something I've known about for some time. I'm okay with mostly whatever you want to be called, though it may take several repetitions at long intervals for me to REMEMBER it, rather than just knowing who you are and your face and talking to you without using a name...

Oh, and that call-center database I referred to above? It can have apostrophes as part of a name... but when we _search_, we can't USE an apostrophe, it gives an error. So this tends to put pressure on the O'Briens to have theirs quietly fade away... Spaces in names, no problem; numbers, hyphens, fine. Two last names? Sure. But an apostrophe messes it up.


#284 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2012, 02:54 PM:

Fade Manley @282: I usually say "f as in Frank". The big one for me was actually the B at the end of my surname; it kept turning into a D or even getting left off entirely. The routine I've evolved is "G-O-L-D, gold, F-as-in-Frank A-R B-as-in-boy." (Which does however seem to work.)

#285 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2012, 03:28 PM:

Fox @281:

My apartment building has seven floors, numbered as L (for lobby) through 6. The ground floor has a handful of apartments, along with a lobby, laundry room, furnace, and so on.

The ground floor apartments are identified as LM, LN, LO, LP, LQ, LR. There's also an apartment designated for the building superintendent, which for some reason is apartment GR (for "ground") rather than something like "LC" or "Supt."

I live in apartment 6R. A handwritten capital G looks a lot like a 6, especially if someone is expecting to see a digit. Getting mail meant for the super's family is no big deal—I just drop it in front of their door. But people ring my buzzer because they want to talk to the super. And sometimes delivery people show up at my door, and we have to find enough language in common for me to explain that this is the wrong apartment, and where to find the right one.

#286 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2012, 03:42 PM:

Fade Manley #282: My stepbrother had his last birthday cake inscribed to "Jess". His name is, of course "Jeff", which we'd spelled. Happily, he took it in good humor, making a running joke about it.

I can actually sympathize with that particular mistake -- my hearing loss, as usual, clips the high frequencies, which often leaves me guessing at siblants and fricatives myself.

#287 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2012, 03:49 PM:

Dave: Maybe they were going for something like "Jeƒƒ", and just forgot the crossbars.

#288 ::: Dave Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2012, 04:48 PM:

Jacque #287: IIRC, they were cursive "ss". Also matched by the receipt, which in our bedlam of the moment (this was also Rosh Hashana dinner) we hadn't checked when the delivery came. (Yeah, our goof there!) The receipt pretty much nailed down the point of failure.

#289 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2012, 05:48 PM:

Fox, #281: My last name is Fox, and I occasionally get things addressed to Sox

I will refrain from making the obvious joke.

#290 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 19, 2012, 06:01 PM:

'F' for 'S' and vice versa is an easy confusion to make, particularly over the phone. That's why I get 'Buff' a lot. When giving my name, I usually spell it out: B-as-in-boy, u, s-as-in-Steven, s-as-in-Steven. My parents generally say "like the buses in the street but with two esses."

#291 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2012, 09:05 AM:

Jacque @ 277: In Russian, it's borshch, but in Yiddish, it's borscht -- and the pronounciation differs slightly. Trivia: in southern Eastern Europe, say, Romania, "borshch" means any soup that is not sweet.

Fox @ 281: Do you mean to say that you are in Silver Spring (singular!) even as we speak? Small world! (I live just over a mile away from the actual spring.)

#292 ::: John M. Burt ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2012, 03:38 PM:

I remember when I received a letter which was directed to "golin" and was totally at a loss until Kathe pointed out that on my signature the loop of the capital J is usually very small, and the h very wide.
Someone else addressed me as "Joh", because sometimes the n is sloppy. I liked that one, being very fond of Metropolis.

#293 ::: Craig R ::: (view all by) ::: December 20, 2012, 06:15 PM:

For all of you who are forever having to phonetically spiel your names over the telephone, you have my sympathy.

Earlier in the year I did a short stint as a telemarketing fundraiser for a group of non-profits. (It didn't last long -- for me "sales" is convincing someone to pay for something they don't need and likely don't want.* On the other hand, working to help people find things that they *want* tickles me to no end. That is customer service)

In order to properly process the pledges, we needed to verify spelling of names and addresses. Some people were testy. But the majority responded with good graces, which was very much appreciated.

* for me, that job felt so soul destroying, because, obviously, pay scale depended on results, and pushing people to give credit card information (to get the pledge monies Right Now instead of waiting for the response to a pledge card in the mail - and so I could get a higher commission) and after a while I just couldn't do it anymore. I *did* get the sales, but it just went against my grain.

#294 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2012, 03:14 AM:

John M. Burt @ #292:

Something similar once happend to Isaac Asimov, which is how there comes to be a character in one of his novels called Asenion.

#295 ::: tykewriter ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2012, 05:10 AM:

And then there's what happens when an address is given over the phone. I once had to deliver mail addressed to "Rand House Bears". I said it to myself several times, considering a) the probable accent of the person who gave the address (North Warwickshire), b) the likely accent of the person who wrote it down (Birmingham, based on the postmark), and c) the presumption made by the person who deciphered it and fed it into the system.

Round Tower Spares it was.

The pictures in my head didn't make the task any easier. I was only glad I saw a house full of teddies.

#296 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: December 21, 2012, 09:07 AM:

I understand that Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia has occasionally gotten mail addressed to "Dobbins F O Space". I believe it.

Druid Hills High School (my alma mater) once got mail addressed to "Drufid Higls". Probably typographical error rather than mis-hearing, but my friends and I started calling the place "Droofid Higgles" with great glee. Although sometimes I say "Droodles" instead.

#297 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2013, 03:57 AM:

I wanted to post this link when the thread was active, but it wasn't available at the time. I nudged Carla to put it up, and here it is. The first time I ever saw her she sang this, and you could tell who were the people in the audience with difficult names because we were howling.

Smaller type (our default)
Larger type
Even larger type, with serifs

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