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A Thought…

There’s a place for all God’s creatures. Right next to the potatoes and gravy. — [Traveler]

I did not fight and claw my way up to the top of the food chain to eat plants. — dflak, Non Sequitur comic letters

What's in a name?

Posted on 2018-Oct-24 at 12:08:29 by Phil

In most US-centric computer/web forms, you see “First Name”, “Middle Initial”, and “Last Name” fields for your name. The problem is, this doesn’t fit in well with naming conventions around the world:

  • In East Asia (China, Japan, Korea, etc.) the convention is to give the family’s name first. “Mao Zedong” was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Mao, not Mr. and Mrs. Zedong. Asking someone from East Asia, especially if they’re still there or have just arrived in the West, for their “First” and “Last” name can be confusing and ambiguous. “Surname” and “Family name” may be better to use than “Last”.
  • Icelanders still frequently use the old Norse practice of giving the father’s given name plus “son” or “dottir” (daughter) as the “family” name. Say your father’s name is Erik Johansson (“Erik, son of Johan”) and you are Leif and your sister is Hallveig. Your name would be Leif Erikson and your sister would be Hallveig Eriksdottir (and will usually keep her name upon marriage). A surname like Johansson would not be passed down from generation to generation. That must make genealogy and mail delivery quite interesting!
  • Spaniards (and their culture elsewhere) traditionally give a child a surname of the father’s first surname (patronymic) followed by the mother’s first surname (matronymic). Thus, a family name may not be fully handed down from generation to generation, but the father’s part may be.
  • What to call the “first” part (non-family) name, that distinguishes you from your parents and siblings? “First name” could be confusing to East Asians (is the reference to the physically first name, which is the family name, or to the second name?). “Given” name is fairly safe, although it probably goes back to being “given” at a baptism (Christian practice), and therefore may be offensive to some. “Christian” name should be avoided unless you’re sure the person is Christian — it’s likely to be highly offensive to non-Christians. “Forename” is sometimes used, but most people would have no idea what it means.
  • “Middle” name usage is all over the place. Germans don’t seem to be particularly fond of them, while across the North Sea, the English use them with abandon. A child there may be given a half dozen middle names, but day-to-day use at most one. In the US, one middle name seems to be very common. Anyway, take this into account if you’re thinking about making a Middle Initial mandatory input — will someone with no middle name still be required to enter something, and what’s someone with multiple middle names supposed to enter? And finally, how should a middle name like “van de Bogart” be initialized?
  • Some cultures (e.g., Indonesian) frequently only use a single name for a person, although formally they may have a family name, too. At least be sensitive to that.

Unless you need to separate out parts of a name, why not just leave one single, long, name field? If you’re mailing a letter or package to someone overseas, you’re just going to end up gluing the name back together to address it. If you really need the separate pieces for some reason, it may be best to use several labels for each, in the manner of a passport: First name/Given name/Forename, and Last name/Family name/Surname. If given in that order, it may be annoying to East Asians, so consider flipping it around to Last, First, MI.


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