You might have a unique name, even a funny one, but it could be a severe headache for you if it confuses the computing systems or the websites. As BBC reports, there are some names that you may never want to have in this hyper connected world as they could end up as the reason you break your computer.
Jennifer Null, whose husband warned her that it would be a bumpy ride before she took his last name, was one of the victims. Like the most newlyweds, they moved after their marriage, and the problem arose when she tried to book their flight.
“We moved almost immediately after we got married so it came up practically as soon as I changed my name, buying plane tickets,” she says.
From most websites, she got an error message, assuming that she left the surname field blank. When she called the airlines for help, the person from the other end didn’t even believe her.
Well, if you have a little knowledge on computers or programming, you can easily understand why the word “null” could create problems for database. That’s because the word “null” put in database to indicate that there is no data to fill. Albeit, system administrators have to try and fix the problem for people with actually having the name “Null,” and it’s extremely difficult to solve. However, Jennifer’s frustration didn’t end with the ticket booking issue. She had problems with her utility bills as well as getting into the IRS’s site.
These kinds of incidents in which the computer systems hit cases they are not designed for are known as “edge cases.” Jennifer isn’t the only one who has problems with names. For instance, let’s consider the experience of Janice Keihanaikukauakahihulihe’ekahaunaele, a Hawaiian woman whose surname didn’t fit in the state ID cards and on most websites as her surname contained 36-character. So, she complained to the government that led to changes in the computer systems to better adapt citizens with unique names like her.
“Every couple of years computer systems are upgraded or changed and they’re tested with a variety of data — names that are well represented in society,” says programmer Patrick McKenzie. “They don’t necessarily test for the edge cases.” He is also a living proof who has dealt with such issues with name, as he lives in Japan.
“Four characters in a Japanese name is very rare. McKenzie is eight, so for printed forms it’ll often be the case that there’s literally not enough space to put my name,” he says.“Computer systems are often designed with these forms in mind. Every year when I go to file my taxes, I file them as ‘McKenzie P’ because that’s the amount of space they have.”
In an effort to improve his situation, McKenzie has converted his name into katakana, the Japanese alphabet to spell out foreign language phonetically. However, that didn’t solve his problem. When his bank’s computer systems were updated, support for katakana was lost. For some time, he was unable to use the banks website. Then he had to send a paper request to the corporate IT department so that someone could manually edit the database.
Programmers are trying their best to lower the edge case incidents as the computer systems expand globally. McKenzi explained that the World Wide Web Consortium has tackled this issue particularly. It may take some time before all names function properly, in the meantime, just choose your name wisely.