Do You Assume Too Much About Names?

Jul 30th 2010

A tech blogger recently made this dramatic claim about personal names: "I have never seen a computer system which handles names properly and doubt one exists, anywhere."

The problem, the writer explained, is that programmers make lots of false assumptions about names. He listed a whopping 40 assumptions, from the technical ("People’s names are all mapped in Unicode code points") to the fundamental ("People have names").

I'll leave it to the tech sites to debate the implications for systems design. Around here, the long list of assumptions reads like a challenge. Can you think of major counterexamples -- preferably groups, not just outlying individuals -- to each of these generalizations?

- People have, at this point in time, one full name which they go by.

- People’s names fit within a certain defined amount of space.

- People’s names are case insensitive.

- People’s first names and last names are, by necessity, different.

- People have names.

Comments

1
By Sara no h signed in as guest (not verified)
July 30, 2010 10:37 PM

I just saw Inception. This is way too much out of the box thinking for a Friday night!
I look forward to reading everyone's responses.

2
By Newlywed (not verified)
July 30, 2010 11:09 PM

"People’s names fit within a certain defined amount of space."

This one particularly bothers me... Before I got married, my name could not even fit on my driver's license. I had my first and middle initials on my license instead of a name. This led to some serious problems with not being able to use my license as a valid form of id.

3
By C C & B's Mom (not verified)
July 30, 2010 11:16 PM

"people's names are case insensitive"

What about compound names - JoAnn vs. Joanne? LeAnne vs. Leanne? I think the uppercase in the middle gives a different feel to the name.

4
By kt (not verified)
July 30, 2010 11:20 PM

People’s first names and last names are, by necessity, different.

There were several Lebanese students at my high school who had the same first and last name because it was family tradition to do so. I realize this is an outlying example, but it would leave me to believe that if there were several at my admittedly not very diverse high school, it may be a not uncommon practice.

5
By C C & B's Mom (not verified)
July 30, 2010 11:20 PM

another one: a friend of a friend is named Morgan Morgan. The last name Morgan is her married name - typically she lists her name with her maiden name in the middle to break it up. Personally, I'm not sure I would have changed my name in that instance. speaking of changing/not changing names, some computer systems do not like the fact that my husband and I have different last names. We always run into trouble at our dentist's office.

6
July 30, 2010 11:21 PM

Yes, in parts of South India people don't use surnames (see http://www.kwintessential.co.uk/resources/global-etiquette/india-country-profile.html or http://www.happyschoolsblog.com/no-last-name-us-universities/). There is a professor at my school whose name is simply Arvind... just Arvind. He seems to do alright without a surname - he's got the first Google hit for 'Arvind', publishes under Arvind, etc. Don't know how he fills out online forms, though.

7
By Guest (not verified)
July 30, 2010 11:26 PM

Re one full name: my Sudanese friends' names consist of their name, father's name, grandfather's name, etc. There's no canonical form because you might go back a different number of generations depending on context. This also results frequently in first and "last" name being thqe same., eg, Mohammed Mohammed.

8
By JMT (not verified)
July 30, 2010 11:37 PM

was just thinking about this today with a student (i'm a dept admin at a university). her name is russian and in our recent email correspondence occurred as Katya, Kattya, Ekaterina, and Yekaterina depending on how it comes through from Cyrillic, I'm assuming. this is "People have, at this point in time, one full name which they go by." btw

9
By Philippa The First (not verified)
July 30, 2010 11:39 PM

I guess the extension of "people's first and last names are different" is "people *have* first and last names". Some people only have one: like the footballers Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. According to this article (http://www.slate.com/id/214340) about the previous (2006) World Cup, 17 of the 23 players on the Brazilian squad had only one name. And so did several others playing for Portugal, Spain, and Angola.

10
By Philippa The First (not verified)
July 30, 2010 11:43 PM

Following on from "first and last names different" and "case insensitive", what about people who have one last name with a break in it somewhere? Like, da Silva or de Costa? The name isn't Dasilva or Decosta. What about people with a last name that is two names. Mary Smith marries Mike Jones and is now Mary Smith Jones. What's her last name?

11
July 31, 2010 3:01 AM

The two last names without a hyphen situation is definitely a conundrum for forms, as are multiple middle names. One can solve this problem by just putting multiple names into the "first", "middle" or "last name" slot, but most systems aren't equipped to handle long names, either, so that doesn't work very well. The fact that these things are not accommodated by forms and databases has affected naming decisions we made for ourselves and for our child as well, so I am very much in agreement with the original linked blog in that there's a lot of need for change.

From the previous thread - Guest the II, I really enjoy the start of that sibset, because there's no more surefire way of generating a list of girls names I like than picking ones ending in "ina". But the same parents chosing Ruth after all of those "ina" names and a very Spanish boy's name, is definitely a bit unexpected. I'd find it less surprising if there had been 5-10 years between the next-youngest sibling and Ruth, because people's tastes do change, but two years is not enough to explain that big leap. My immediate thought was that the family became much more religious over the past two years, or that there was a relative named Ruth who died over the past two years that they wanted to honor, or perhaps that the new little one is not a biological full-sibling to the rest (e.g. she was adopted with name already bestowed, or a new partner brought in a very different naming style).

However, seeing that sibset makes me quite sure that the spouse and I will have to pick ONE of the many ina names on our list and then bid the others farewell. (Just tonight, she said over dinner, "Hey, what do you think about Rowena?" and after rhapsodizing about it for a few minutes I then with a sinking feeling realized that ending in "ena" is STILL A PROBLEM if it's pronounced the same way.

12
By byzanne (not verified)
July 31, 2010 2:11 AM

Having an Irish surname which starts O'D-, the apostrophe can be a problem for computers. Much less so these days but can still end up with O/D-, or O. D-, or worse still, Od-

Also I have three given names, one of which is Elizabeth. Most forms don't give me enough room so I stopped using the third name, a short one but one I dislike.

Must be so much worse for people with less well recognised name formats.

I think there is a danger of homogenising naming practices along the lines of those assumptions. I hope it doesn't happen.

Really interesting!

14
By DEH (not verified)
July 31, 2010 3:19 AM

My husband's name is Christopher. Many systems only allow ten letters for a first name, so we often receive official mail addressed to Christophe .

Christopher is such a common name, I'm surprised this still happens. It's not like there are only a few out there!

15
July 31, 2010 5:08 AM

Hello fellow Name Enthusiasts!
I'm now facing the daunting task of choosing a name and I would like to solicit your help.
I'm looking for a boy name (we already have a workable list of girl names though we haven't made a final choice yet).
Our little boy will live between the US and Germany so therefore
we are looking for a name that sounds fresh and classic in both countries.
Our last name is something like Cormott.
In terms of flavor I imagine a name that is Latin based or Germanic though you're welcome to
surprise me with other options that you think might fit.
We're hoping for a name with a long history that has fallen out of use.
Here are some names that we've considered to give you a feel for our style:

-Felix - this would be a great choice if it wasn't the #8 boy's name in Germany right now... #8 is really too popular wouldn't you say?

-Oscar (I like Oskar better but since our last name begins with "c"...) of course there is the grouch problem.

-Caspar (I like Kaspar better but since our last name begins with "c"...) I'm not sure if the alliteration of Caspar Cormott would be cute or over the top. Is the friendly ghost association dead yet?

-Anselm - due to a family taboo it's probably unusable but otherwise it would be my favorite

-Crispin - I feel like English speakers will immediately read "crispy" and again, too alliterative?

-Anton - seems a little too commonplace

-Pascal - this is a front runner right now though i don't like the nickname cal

-Arden - I'm afraid it will blend in with Jayden and Cayden and lose its Latin charm

-Magnus - the pronunciation variation with [mawnus] makes me think it would be better in the middle name slot

-Ferdinand - I can't shake the inevitable nickname of ferd, sounds like pferd = horse

-Valentin - too corny? valentine's day may have ruined this name. Plus Germans will pronounce it falentin.

-Orson - I'm still deciding if I like this name

-Hartmut - I like it but dh doesn't

-Ansgar - I like it but dh doesn't

Thank you so much for your help and I'm eagerly awaiting your feedback ;-)
@cormott

16
By Jill Q (not verified)
July 31, 2010 6:43 AM

I believe some Indonesian people only go by one time. A famous example would be Suharto, but I've also heard of just one name like "Robin."
My dad works with programmers and they had said problems with assumptions about names when creating computer forms. They were going to create a last name field and it needed a minimum number of characters. Someone suggested that they go with 3 characters, b/c everyone's last name is at least 3 characters long.
Except that's not true.
There's Li, Ng, and Wu and many many others! It got caught right then, but I think that it was my first lesson in "name assumption."

17
July 31, 2010 7:07 AM

In regards to the link, I read through most of the comments and was surprised to find so many programmers writing off these complaints as merely whining or self-absorbtion, as if people whose names are too "complicated" purposely picked some kind of gratuitous name for themselves just to be special. I didn't think people could be that narrow minded when it comes to respecting something as personal as a name.

18
July 31, 2010 7:24 AM

My husband was born in Russia. When he was a small child, his family moved to the U.S. and his parents chose to Americanize their names to a certain extent. Part of this was dropping the traditional Russian patronymic middle name. My husband thus has no legal middle name. But he still insists that Vladimirovich (his patronymic) is part of his name. He actually goes further than this. He claims that everyone, Russian or not, has a patronymic that is inherently part of themselves, whether they know it or not.

19
July 31, 2010 11:31 AM

When I got married, I decided to make my middle (Galante) and maiden (DeAngelis) names into a hyphenated middle name and take my husband's last name as my new surname. Unfortunately, "Galante-DeAngelis" is 17 characters long and Social Security only allows 16 characters. The SSA office told me I could lose the hyphen or the last letter. In order to conform to SSA's formula, my legal middle name is now Galantedeangelis, rather than the correct (and comprehensible) Galante-DeAngelis.

Ha ha — I'm having trouble publishing this comment because the commenting form will not recognize my initials — CGDH — as a valid name and is refusing to publish my comment!

20
By Stef (not verified)
July 31, 2010 11:55 AM

I thought this post was really interesting. I think it would be a shame if these issues influenced naming customs and eradicated traditions. I suppose they already have for some, but I don't think I would let it stop me from giving a name I wanted to use. The programs should accommodate naming realities. Namers should not have to bend to the confines of computer programs, IMHO.

A lot of issues can result when a programmer and a user are from different cultures:

In some cultures, like Korea, the family name is expressed before the given name. So for example, Moon Sung-Hee would have a family name of Moon and a given name of Sung-Hee, which is contradictory to the typical Western naming convention, where "first names" are given names and "last names" are family names.

In Spanish-influenced cultures, the naming convention results family members having different "last names" from each other. I have never been able to memorize the rules for that, so if anyone can explain it, please do!

Also, a friend in Denmark took his wife's name when they married, and their kids use that name as well. That isn't the traditional way there, but it isn't shocking either, given the Scandinavian climate of gender equality.

I have personally run into trouble with people not getting the case right in my McB---- maiden name, having 2 middle names now after marriage (like my husband has for his whole life) and my husband having an apostrophe in one of his middle names.

21
By juggler The (not verified)
July 31, 2010 12:01 PM

I was going to mention the Indonesian example--plenty of people in the world (and even more in history) only have one name. You can force a surname by adding a placename or patronym, for clarity's sake, but it's not their actual name.

A similar case: royalty. Admittedly a rare case, but if you're a princess who wants to compete in the Olympics or a prince who needs a military ID, you might need to craft a first name-last name for yourself, because your legal name doesn't work like that.

Constantine II of Greece refuses to get a legal surname, and on that basis has been refused full Greek citizenship:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantine_II_of_Greece

22
By ClaireP (not verified)
July 31, 2010 1:26 PM

My daughters have two middle names - a given name, and one of their parents' surnames. This has given various computers terrible fits.

Further, the girls' surname is one that is highly unusual. It used to be that only our relatives had it; recent immigration has brought about four more families with this surname into the US.

One time, our health insurer issued cards for the kids, with them reading
[first name] [first middle name's initial] [surname]. I called them up and said that they had two middle initials. They could not accommodate more than one middle initial. OK, I said, then I want it to be the second middle initial. No can do. So then I said, "look, how many Rose [unusual last name]s can you possibly have in your records?" (in fact, as far as I can tell, she is the only Rose [unusual last name] in the US, and for all I know, the world.) They admitted that she was the only one, and so I said, since you can't do the middle initial that is the most appropriate, I'd like no middle initial. The card was reissued per my request.

When new cards were mailed again, a year later, she was back to Rose [first middle initial] [unusual last name]. ARGH! At that point, I just gave up. Who cares. Geez.

23
By Arabist (not verified)
July 31, 2010 1:54 PM

I enter Middle East names into the U.S. government security background check system. I have to agree with the original link's author that every single assumption in his list of forty is wrong.

Someone might be Mohammad. He pronounces it, however, as Mahmood--it's his choice since Arabic doesn't write the vowels. Once he has a son named Mazen he might never call himself by his first name, but instead will ask everyone to call him Abu Mazen (Father of Mazen).

Let's say his father is Yazan. Our man might use Yazan as his last name, unless he inherited a tribal name or a genuine surname (or he'll take his pick if he has all three to select from). What's the difference between Yazan, Al Yazan, and Alyazan? In his eyes, none. Note that he might have his grandfather's, and maybe even his great grandfather's name in his documents as well.

Don't get me started on barely-literate civil service clerks who spell names incorrectly in documents. It's common for all of the above confusion to be present, and then the person says "But that's only what's in my documents. Do you want to know my real name too?"

This is all perfectly normal and acceptable in Arab culture. They therefore look at us with bewildered wonder when we ask "What's your last name?"

24
By Red Keds (not verified)
July 31, 2010 2:36 PM

This is so interesting...I never thought about how something as seemingly simple as a form could actually cause shifts in our naming cultures!

I'm a frequent lurker on this board, but I heard a funny naming story from a new friend that I just had to share.

My friend has four siblings, with the first four all born pretty close together. The fifth child was born ten years after the fourth, so by the time he came around everyone in the family was old enough to have an opinion about what he should be named.

Shockingly enough, it was hard for six people to agree on a name, and for some reason (I didn't ask why), the parents didn't exercise their dictatorial rights to just pick a name and be done with it.

So for the first TWO MONTHS of this kid's life, everyone in the family called him something different, presumably hoping that their personal favorite would catch on. Finally they quit and called him Andrew, a name which was nobody's favorite but that nobody hated.

It's a funny story now that everybody's grown up and everything appears to have turned out OK, but that must have been a crazy two months at that house!

25
By Guest B (not verified)
July 31, 2010 3:57 PM

numeralmum - That's really interesting - how do we know what our patronymic should be? My father is German, and I don't know that patronymics were ever common there, and then I'm anglophone, so I wouldn't know how to come up with a patronymic, but now I want one.

Ideas for Cormott (I'll leave recognizing which names are too stuffy in Germany up to you):

Till
Emmerich
Laurens
Cedric
Rudy Rudyard
Schuyler
Alden
Ambrose
Ansel
Casimir
Jasper

26
By Philippa The First (not verified)
July 31, 2010 4:02 PM

Numeralmom and others: Ah, the patrynomic name! I know this is the practice in Iceland, as well. Everyone in the family has a different last name. Jon, son of Eric, would be Jon Ericsson. Suri, daughter of Arne, would be Suri Arnesdottir. While Jon and Suri's children, Thor and Ana, would be Thor Jonsson and Ana Jonsdottir.

I have a friend from Iceland whose family traveled to the US when he was a child. His whole family was issued passports with the father's last name just for the sake of simplicity. I guess the Icelandic government is sympathetic about things like that! As an adult, he uses his true, patronymic surname.

27
By Eirian (not verified)
July 31, 2010 6:30 PM

@Philippa The First

Those footballers don't *have* one name, they're *known* by one name. They have a first name and a surname like everybody else in their countries of origin (two surnames, actually, in most cases).

Ronaldo (Brazil) is Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima on paper, Ronaldinho (Brazil) is Ronaldo de Assis Moreira, Xavi (Spain) is Xavier Hernández Creus, Tiago (Portugal) is Tiago Cardoso Mendes and so on.

28
July 31, 2010 6:47 PM

One thing that is missed on the list the programmer mentioned is that many times (for email addresses or account addresses) the system assumes that a truncated form of your name is as unique as a non-truncated form (which also may not be unique).

"W" is my common last name. Even in a small institution, there are likely to be others. If you use only my initials with "W***" there are likely to be duplicates. (I worked at a large hospital once with a Dr. Michael "W". I got his sensitive email all the time.)

29
By JRSR (not verified)
July 31, 2010 7:06 PM

This has been mentioned briefly already, but the hispanic last name tradition really doesn't map onto the anglo one. I am anglo (well, Swiss-German) and married a Dominican, and we run into problems frequently. He has no middle name, just a (pretty long) first name, his dad's last name (which is his "real" last name, the one he goes by and the one I took), and then his mom's maiden name (initials MRG). Those names, in that order, are his formal name, but this can be confusing (unsurprisingly, I guess) for people unfamiliar with him - at his college graduation, for example, he was seated in alphabetical order according to his mom's name rather than the "real" one, which confused people who would have expected him to be with the R's and didn't know where the G even came from. When we got married, I followed his tradition of keeping my whole name and adding his at the end (technically with a "de" in the middle of that, though I just took the name alone) so now I have (sort of) two middle names, which can be confusing when I'm asked for a middle initial. But now that we have kids, we've done the dad's-last-name mom's-last-name thing, and that causes no end of trouble [so why do it? just the principle, I guess], starting with how to fill out the birth certificate (b/c his last name looks like a middle name, but it's the "real" last name). Then our insurance got a little prickly, demanding to know where this kid came from and who he was related to (at least, that was the essence of the question), since the "last" name wasn't the same as ours... Anyway, I guess that's another way that the "usual" format differs from a lot of reality - what you would assume is the last name, by looking at the whole formal name, isn't the true last name.

31
July 31, 2010 7:27 PM

I remember there was some drama with Facebook not accepting Native American names that were multiple words or something like that.

cormott: I love Caspar for you. I love it period but it seems appropriate for you too. Instead of Anselm, would Ansel or Anson work? I think Arden may be used for girls, if that would bother you.

32
July 31, 2010 7:27 PM

So much to comment on! First, I came across a great name today: F3lder Sh@cklef0rd. Sounds so distinguished.

Secondly, I just saw "Inception" and was pleased that the little girl's name, Philippa, was pronounced correctly.

Arabist, thanks for sharing. That's fascinating.

I used to work as a volunteer interpreter for Spanish-speaking patients in the hospital. As JRSR mentioned, the Hispanic naming system is quite different from the standard US one (although ours is shifting). The names typically go like this:

Miguel Móntez García. "Móntez" comes from the dad; García from the mom. Miguel will keep his dual surnames his whole life regardless of his marital status. His name should be alphabetized with the "M"s. (It drives me crazy to see books by Gabriel García Márquez alphabetized in the "M" section!) In the US, Miguel may well introduce himself as Miguel Móntez, and should be addressed as Mr. Móntez.

Miguel's wife is named Luisela Zelaya Calderón. If she is a traditional woman, she will be Luisela Zelaya de Móntez, and will be known as Mrs. Móntez. Many women do not take their husbands' names, however.

Their son will be named José Miguel Móntez Zelaya.

In the US, patients sometimes have hospital ID cards in two or more names, not because they're trying to game the system or avoid the INS (although I'm sure that does happen on occasion), but simply because the person registering them doesn't understand the system and enters them under the wrong name. This can cause problems when patients are prescribed medicine under two different names. Front desk staff need to be given cultural and naming tutorials!

33
By Valentine Baby (not verified)
July 31, 2010 11:13 PM

@Cormott:

I love the name Caspar. My husband and I just named our second son "Rex Casper." Yes, people think of Casper the Friendly Ghost but that doesn't bother us.

We had planned on naming him "Simon Caspar" throughout the last trimester of pregnancy if he were a boy. And he was!

I preferred the spelling Caspar with our last name but the name was to honor my dad's aviation platoon when he was in the military and flew reconnaissance & rescue missions in Vietnam. (Casper Aviation Platoon). Casper the Ghost was painted on their helicopters. :) When I mentioned the spelling change to my dad I could tell it took the wind out of his sails so we chose to spell it with the "er" ending.

Once he was born I just couldn't name him Simon. It didn't fit. I was hesitant about Rex because, combined with Casper, it seemed a bit too quirky. Especially since my two year old's name is John David---and he goes by both names together like that. It almost seems like the two boys were named by different parents. Oh well! We like what we like, eh?

And my last thought is about names being "case insensitive." My name is Lee Ann and when I got married I could not be Lee Ann [maiden name] [married name] because it was too many names. I didn't know this would be a problem so I had to decide right on the spot if I would cram "Lee Ann" into one word or drop the maiden name, or hyphenate. "Lee Ann" is what my parents named me (no middle name) so it looked wrong to me to spell it as one word and with a lower case "A." So I chose to drop the maiden name which still makes me sad. I now wish I had hyphenated my maiden & married names. :(

34
By juggler The (not verified)
August 1, 2010 1:01 AM

Ha, that reminds me--my newborn son wasn't called by his birth-certificate name in any of his hospital records (stayed in the NICU for a while). They knew the correct name, but their rule is that babies' files always use the mother's surname, and they insisted on that, even though his wasn't the same as mine. So (to use fictional names as illustration) he was "Baby Boy Smith" on all the paperwork, instead of "John Alexander Jones" as his birth certificate said.

35
August 1, 2010 3:34 AM

I don't know of cultures with no names, but I do know of groups of people with no names. Looking up old censuses or birth/death records, you often run into "Infant" as a first name because no one got around to actually naming them but the record keeper had to put SOMEthing in. You especially see it in babies that are stillborn or die very young.

36
August 1, 2010 2:46 PM

Really enjoying the comments! I can't think of any cultures that don't bestow some kind of personal name at all - the right to having a name is something that's come up in lists of the rights of children, put together by the UN.

The exceptions I can think of are situations where a child was not going to be a member of a family, like the previously above-mentioned deaths at very young age, or feral children, but also historically: the Viking naming ceremony marked the decision of the family to take on the child. A child that would not have been named (for deformity or lack of resources to support an additional child) would also have been abandoned and thus not survived.

I would perhaps like to hijack the thread a bit to ask opinions of a name that the Spouse just brought up yesterday and that I've ever since been enthralled with: Wilfred. I think the reason we hadn't discussed it before is because it doesn't have its own entry in the BNW (which we systematically worked our way through). It is only listed under "Porch Sitters", and sandwiched in that company it didn't stand out when I skimmed past (mostly with the interest of picking out the least fashionable names). However, considered on its own rather than in between Egbert and Hortense [ETA: Hortense is not actually in the Porch Sitters section!] I find this name to be fresh and not at all stuffy - it makes me think much more of swashbuckling (Ivanhoe!) than retirement homes. I absolutely love the fact that it is a more unusual name with versatile nicknames, including options that are much more familiar (Will, Fred, Fritz are the ones that would be intuitive in our family). It's a bit of a surprise because the Porch Sitters section is definitely not where I would classify my naming style as coming from, but Wilfred really feels like it could be my kid. I think it helps that Fr(i)ed names run rampant on our family trees, so this is a fun twist without repeating the variants already often used. Thoughts?

37
August 1, 2010 11:16 AM

A lot of people have been mentioning names being too long for forms, governmental stuff, etc. I don't have that problem but whenever I go bowling my name goes from "Christina" to "Christ".

Lucubratix: Wilfred is so cute! There's nothing wrong with choosing a name outside your usual taste.

Cormott: I love Oscar. And Caspar. Felix too. Also, Freddie might be a nickname for Ferdinand.

38
By Allison Margaret (not verified)
August 1, 2010 12:03 PM

It's not necessarily true that people have one full name that they go by. I've run into several women who are in various states of formally and informally taking their husband's surname (for example, Emily Grace Jones marries David Wilson, legally changes her name to Emily Grace Jones-Wilson, but primarily goes by Emily Wilson to the point where most people don't even know her last name is Jones-Wilson).

I myself go by two names. I kept my maiden name ("B") as a second middle name, so my only legal last name is my husband's ("L"). At work, and on official documents, I am Allison L (husband's surname), but informally I use Allison B L as a double last name. My initials are AMBL, but I usually write them ABL, and computer systems that only have one middle initial space call me Allison M. [surname], leaving out my second middle initial.

39
August 1, 2010 1:44 PM

"People have, at this point in time, one full name which they go by."

Um, no. In my field (academia), many women use their maiden names professionally, publish under their maiden names, have their maiden names on their office doors, have their students and colleagues call them by their maiden names, use their maiden names on grant proposals, etc. However, socially they use their husbands' surnames. For example, in all things professional, one of my colleagues might be Dr. (or Professor) Mary J. Smith, but amongst her neighbors, at her child's school, at her place of worship, at non-professional social gatherings (and probably for the IRS, DMV, Registrar of Voters), she is Mrs. Richard Smith or Ms. Mary Smith. I once arranged a wedding reception for one of my colleagues. Most of the guests were also colleagues, and it was a tricky business when it came to addressing the invitations properly.

"People’s first names and last names are, by necessity, different."

Um, no. Recently we had a long discussion here about people whose first and last names were the same.

Another class of people who have trouble with forms is the initials only folks. In some part of the US, it is not uncommon to give babies only initials instead of full names. I myself knew a whole family where everyone had only initials. Forms are set up to handle middle initials, but things get confusing when there are no names, just initials. I once was engaged to marry a man whose middle initial was J. The J didn't stand for anything; it was just J. Because it was in the middle and he had a normal first name, it didn't really cause any trouble, but if he hadn't had a first name, things might have gotten complicated. BTW the J was for his father Jason who was known as Jay. At the time I thought it was odd for an elderly man to be named Jason--it was not at all common in the early part of the twentieth century.

40
August 1, 2010 4:59 PM

Wilfred makes me think of poet Wilfred Owen. Read Pat Barker's trilogy of books (called the "Regeneration" trilogy) about Owen and WWI. A fantastic depiction of war, psychiatry, poetry, and life in early 20th century Britain.

I rather like Wilfred, but Owen is my only association with the name, and my mind immediately goes to his tragic end.

41
By Buttercup (not verified)
August 1, 2010 8:55 PM

I got my daughter's pre-k roster this morning:

Pho3b3(g)
Lu!s (b)
Pr3ston (b)
Drak3 (b)
M@ximus(Max)(b)
Any@ (g)
Vivi@n Ros3(g)
K!ncade(b)
H@rmony(g)
Edyth3(g)
Br!a (g)
Gr@ce (g)
Alexand3r(Xander)(b)
M0 (b)
!vy (g)
Av@ (g)
P3nn (b)
Georg!a (g)
Bowi3 (b)
K@te(g)

Not a Riley or Aiden in the bunch. This thrills me!!!!

42
By Cathie (not verified)
August 1, 2010 9:51 PM

On Bali, children are named for their birth order, so everyone's first name is girl or boy 1, 2, 3, 4 etc. I asked someone what teachers do and the kids are all known/called on by what we would consider the last name. It's admittedly a bit of a stretch, but I'd say this could be considered not having a true "name", at least in the sense we normally think of.

43
By Guest (not verified)
August 1, 2010 10:26 PM

I was talking to my husband yesterday about what various sibsets from church say about their parents. For example, a toddler and an infant named Ashl3y and J@son, respectively, made me feel like the parents had accidentally time-traveled here from 1985. A ten year old named L@uren and a one year old named El!za says, 'Our naming styles have changed over time.' A toddler and infant pair of Cl@ra and Elen@ speak for a taste for simple but ladylike antiques that I adore.(I also met the most adorable preschooler named Tams!n with gorgeous blonde ringlets and I have never felt the name to be more charming. I can't wait to see what they name their new baby.)

There was one family that just baffled me, since I could not see any logic or through-line on their childrens' names. Spread from 13 years old down to only 1 year old, they had a K@ylyn (g), Just!ce (b), Len0re (g), and M!cah (g). So, if I remember right, that's a bell-tone, a modern virtue name, an antique, and an Old Testament male name that's been androgynized. It's almost as though none of them were named by the same person. Strange.

44
By aligee (not verified)
August 1, 2010 11:09 PM

I currently live in Japan and Japanese do not have middle names (actually in Japanese everyone goes by [last name] [first name], but that`s another story).
My Australian friend works for an American company here in Japan and his email address is something like john.x.smith@companyname.com. When I saw his email I asked him if his middle name is Xavier, as X is an unusual middle initial. He said no, it`s Paul, but the company`s email address policy is firstname.middleinitial.lastname. Since Japanese don`t have a middle initial all employees in Japan are given `x` as their middle initial, even in instances like my friend who has a perfectly usable middle initial.

45
August 2, 2010 1:47 AM

lucubatrix: there was a wilfred at my high school. he was a popular tough guy. afaik, no one gave him trouble about his name. i don't know if anyone even realized it was unusual.

re: K@ylyn (g), Just!ce (b), Len0re (g), and M!cah (g): Len0re seems like the outlier to me. I think K@ylyn and M!cah could both be said to be androgynous and containing popular sounds. I think the boy's name fits just because ppl often have very different tastes for girls and boys anyway.

interesting names from my local listings:
Legacy
Ocirrus
Nathalia
Kalli
Ryland
Jeramyah
Seraiah
Karson
Rain (g?)
Kayzelen
Emersen

46
By Eo (not verified)
August 2, 2010 2:03 AM

Buttercup-- Interesting that there seem to be a preponderance of "hipnik"-type names in your list. I'm amused by "M0"-- wonder if it's short for anything like "Moses", or if it stands alone.

I was reading another decorating article, on Ali Wentworth --actress, comedienne, and wife of George Stephanopoulas (sp?)-- and they mentioned her little daughters "Elliott" and "Harper" Stephanopoulas.

In light of past discussions here, it was interesting that they chose the spelling "two l's, two t's". Then in the course of the article it mentioned Ali Wentworth's intrepid great-aunt or grandmother or something, whose last name was Elliott. So I guess she was honoring a real-life relative with the fashionable name Elliott.

I vaguely remember reading that they bestowed a Greek middle name on one of the girls-- could be that it was "Elliott Anastasia" or something similar...

47
By Eo (not verified)
August 2, 2010 2:10 AM

Gosh, I'm amazed by your list, RobynT. "Legacy"-- who would have thought that would be used as a name?! Why not "Trust" or "Bequest"... although my guess is they mean it to have a non-materialistic meaning-- more like "philosophical legacy" or "spiritual legacy" I would imagine...

48
August 2, 2010 8:19 AM

Guest B, thank you for your list!
My favorite from the new names you gave is Laurens... I'll have to think about that one.
Jasper is cute but Germans would say [yasper].

RobynT
That's one vote for Caspar! You're right, it is a great name.
Ansel would have the same issues as Anselm I'm afraid. Maybe Anson would work, I'll ask dh. It actually doesn't bother me to know that Arden is used for girls... but I think I'll throw it out because of the -den ending anyway.

Valentine Baby
That's another vote for Caspar! I also think I could get over the friendly ghost thing.

Thanks everyone for your help - If you have any other ideas or comments I could love to hear them!

I'm also thinking about Leander now, do you like it? Can you think of any other classic Greek names that might fit?

@cormott

49
August 2, 2010 8:25 AM

Oh, and Awkward Turtle, sorry I missed your message.

Another vote for Caspar!!! I also love Oscar and I think it flows better with Cormott than Caspar.

I would choose Felix in a heartbeat if it wasn't so overdone here in Germany.

@cormott

50
By Guest (not verified)
August 2, 2010 8:37 AM

Re: Robin's name list

Do you think Ocirrus is pronounced "Osiris"? Maybe someone heard the Egyptian god's name but didn't know how to spell it?

Eo- Legacy was the name of a popular contestant on "So You Think You Can Dance" this fall. Perhaps some inspiration there?