Stef (firecat) wrote,
Stef
firecat

One size does not fit all (a continuing series)

Sent to me in e-mail by webmaven:

"Falsehoods programmers believe about names"

Excerpt:
I have never seen a computer system which handles names properly and doubt one exists, anywhere.

So, as a public service, I’m going to list assumptions your systems probably make about names. All of these assumptions are wrong. Try to make less of them next time you write a system which touches names.
Shall I discuss why this is a continuing series, or do you already understand what I mean?

I consider myself to have a pretty simple name history. I was given 3 names at birth, which is traditional in the culture I grew up in and live in. I live in the US and the names I got were pretty standard WASP names. I changed my name three times: once to shorten my first name, once to change my first name, and once to change my last name. One of these changes is legal (i.e., my new name appears on legal documents).

Despite this simple history, I sometimes have to deal with the following falsehoods perpetuated by computer systems or organizational records (out of 40 listed):
1. People have exactly one canonical full name.
2. People have exactly one full name which they go by.
3. People have, at this point in time, exactly one canonical full name.
4. People have, at this point in time, one full name which they go by.
5. People have exactly N names, for any value of N.
7. People’s names do not change.
8. People’s names change, but only at a certain enumerated set of events.
20. People have last names, family names, or anything else which is shared by folks recognized as their relatives.
32. People’s names are assigned at birth.
33. OK, maybe not at birth, but at least pretty close to birth.
34. Alright, alright, within a year or so of birth.
35. Five years?
36. You’re kidding me, right?
37. Two different systems containing data about the same person will use the same name for that person.
39. People whose names break my system are weird outliers.

Most of the time it's easy for me to deal with these things, but it's still annoying to have to deal with them.

I also have had to deal with this falsehood as far as computer systems and organizational records are concerned:
Two family members never have the same name.

I won't even start on the falsehoods that people in general (as opposed to people who program computers) have about names and my names in particular.

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