12 votes

Names, legal names, and fractal deferment of responsibility

11 comments

  1. ohyran
    (edited )
    Link
    When me and my husband visited the US together, this became a slight issue. In many areas in the country we're from, parents name their kids putting an honorific name first, then the spoken name,...

    When me and my husband visited the US together, this became a slight issue.
    In many areas in the country we're from, parents name their kids putting an honorific name first, then the spoken name, then the middle names and then the last names. The honorific name is often the name of a loved relative who died while the parents are pregnant with the child, so its often an old-person-name.

    The issue pops up when applying for a Visa to the US because then the name has to be his first-first name, the honorific one, while it will then be checked towards his used name according to our country's records (the application system is automated and comparatively easy in comparison with other countries) - which raised a ton of red flags, because he didn't use his "correct name" in our home country (that makes allowances for this) in comparison with the US system (which doesn't).

    This was fixed with some last minute finagling (basically just filling in what the US system wanted) but came up again at the border when they asked him:

    "So you're [honorific name]?"
    "Oh no I'm [actual name]... I mean yeah but its not the normal name I use"
    [border guard suspicion intensifies] "But thats not what it says in your passport! It says thats your middle name not your first name!"

    I mean it wasn't that big of an issue. We're both from, arguably the whitest area on the planet and we're both white AF, luckily in this scenario (I don't even wanna think what would happen if we'd be brown trying to explain that "Yes technically my first name is Muhammad, but its not my real first name, my great granddads name was Muhammad - mine's Aaron").

    But it was frustrating and a bit worrying trying to constantly have to work around a system - although worth it to watch my husband cringe when they all called him his great-grandfathers name (and often did so even if we told them). :)

    EDIT:
    A friend from home who has the unlucky set of names of the Egyptian version of "John Smith" - "Mohammed El Masry" always have hell to pay going to the US... since that name crops up on basically any US terror list. Trying to explain that "el Masry" really is about as unique as "Mohammed" while at the same time having a passport from a country which the border guards tend to assume means "blond + blue eyed" is a party of sorts.

    9 votes
  2. [2]
    Greg
    Link
    Good article - I've been known to quote the misconceptions list in meetings, and (partly as a direct result of knowing how much uncertainty there is around names) my mental model still defaults to...

    Good article - I've been known to quote the misconceptions list in meetings, and (partly as a direct result of knowing how much uncertainty there is around names) my mental model still defaults to treating the legal name as the primary, with any other versions as alternates. The idea of inverting that seems eminently sensible, and it's one that I'll hold on to in future.


    I suspect few would disagree that a name is a collection of letters[...]

    Or numbers, or ideograms, or punctuation, or whitespace, or any number of other things I'm likely not remembering right now! A nitpick, perhaps, but I think a fair one given the context.

    5 votes
    1. tindall
      Link Parent
      Good point! I went with 'characters' in revision :)

      Or numbers, or ideograms, or punctuation, or whitespace, or any number of other things I'm likely not remembering right now! A nitpick, perhaps, but I think a fair one given the context.

      Good point! I went with 'characters' in revision :)

      1 vote
  3. skybrian
    Link
    As far I can tell, immigration issues are usually terrible since it means interfacing between incompatible legal systems that often pretend the rest of the world doesn't exist. On the other hand...

    As far I can tell, immigration issues are usually terrible since it means interfacing between incompatible legal systems that often pretend the rest of the world doesn't exist. On the other hand it has historically been pretty good for people who are starting over. Someone in my wife's family lied about her age for school reasons and so from then on that was her legal age in the US. I don't know if you could get away with that nowadays, though.

    In verbal communication, a big issue is pronunciation along with memory, and this depends on local context, hence the common immigrant practice of choosing a new name that sounds less foreign when talking with locals. Ideally our computer systems would handle this well by supporting a preferred local name while allowing a foreign name (or names) to be entered where it matters. It seems particular perverse not to accommodate this for people who are choosing a new name for our benefit? Instead we tend to assume that having multiple names is suspicious.

    Also, we tend to assume that verbal and written names are closely connected and this seems less true as you have to deal with globalization and spend time online. In written communication, there is a UI issue where communication is better when people remember each other and small images are good for this. It seems that names are not enough for online use? (I still think Tildes is lacking here. Usernames are extremely minimal.)

    Usernames are not quite the same as names but there are going to be similar issues with federalism between social networks. The most straightforward way to coonnect is when profiles let you enter foreign identifiers (Twitter handle for example). I was excited at first about Keybase because they seemed to be doing a good job of connecting identities in a reasonably secure way. But this is assuming you want to connect identities (often the opposite is true) and it always seemed like more of a feature than a product. Why you should go through the trouble to connect identities on Keybase is unclear, and their other services are lackluster.

    3 votes
  4. [4]
    DanBC
    Link
    I agree with what this article is saying -- that you should just call people what they want to be called, and if you need to know they are who they say they are there are methods to do that and...

    I agree with what this article is saying -- that you should just call people what they want to be called, and if you need to know they are who they say they are there are methods to do that and you should use those.

    US companies who insist that I can only use the name on my birth certificate or passport are incredibly frustrating.. For some people this is actively dangerous -- women fleeing domestic abusers for example.

    But this article is pretty US-centric.

    A person’s “preferred name” is their name, their “legal name” is something else, and it’s our duty as software engineers not to muddle the two up.

    In England if you're over 18 you don't have a legal name. You have a name. That can be almost whatever you want it to be. You can change your name at any time. The only reason you're not allowed to change your name is if you're trying to deceive other people.

    My advice is to save yourself and your organization the trouble. If you’re not paying people or interacting with ICANN, the NHS, or the Selective Service System, it’s unlikely that you need to record legal names.

    If they're talking about the National Health Service in England: it's a lot more complicated and we tend to use an NHS Number combined with date of birth and address as well as name. Sometimes you can have two people with the same name at the same address. There are established procedures to check that someone is who they say they are and lives where they say they live.

    1 vote
    1. tindall
      Link Parent
      Thank you for making this point, I've added a footnote clarifying this. I do think that US-centrism is itself a problem in this domain - a lot of this software is developed in the US, and I've...

      Thank you for making this point, I've added a footnote clarifying this. I do think that US-centrism is itself a problem in this domain - a lot of this software is developed in the US, and I've even found that software not developed in jurisdictions with the concept of a legal name uses the term!

      2 votes
    2. [2]
      Greg
      Link Parent
      Absolutely true, but I do think most Brits (myself included) would recognise the concept of "name on your passport/driving license/other official documents" for "legal name", even though it's not...

      In England if you're over 18 you don't have a legal name. You have a name. That can be almost whatever you want it to be. You can change your name at any time. The only reason you're not allowed to change your name is if you're trying to deceive other people.

      Absolutely true, but I do think most Brits (myself included) would recognise the concept of "name on your passport/driving license/other official documents" for "legal name", even though it's not an entirely accurate description. The few times it's ever come up in conversation, people have been surprised to the point of suspicion when I said they're fully allowed to just start using a new name.

      From a common understanding point of view, I'd bet that 80% of people would describe a deed poll as a legal change of name, rather than as a document that document that proves you've chosen to start using a different name.

      Not to suggest that accuracy isn't valuable - I just posted my own detail point above, after all - just to say that we do still fit into this framework; it covers the scrupulously correct case (just leave the legal name blank, as we don't have one) as well as the common usage case.

      1 vote
      1. DanBC
        Link Parent
        Yes, it's this common perception that I'm arguing against. Here "it's not an entirely accurate description" hides a lot of complexity, and some of that complexity causes harm. People think there's...

        but I do think most Brits (myself included) would recognise the concept of "name on your passport/driving license/other official documents" for "legal name", even though it's not an entirely accurate description.

        Yes, it's this common perception that I'm arguing against. Here "it's not an entirely accurate description" hides a lot of complexity, and some of that complexity causes harm.

        People think there's a legal name and so they insist on passports or birth certificate or whatever. This causes real problems for some people. A lot of GP surgeries say they will only register new patients if those people can provide proof of ID, and they list passports or birth certificates as requirements to register. This is wrong. Patients do not need ID to register, and lack of ID cannot be used by GP surgeries as a reason not to register new patients. Before Covid-19 I was spending a few hours each month writing to GP surgeries asking them to change their patient registration processes and websites to removing this requirement for ID.

        1 vote
  5. nothis
    Link
    Little X Æ A-12 will come across this article in a few years.

    Little X Æ A-12 will come across this article in a few years.

    1 vote
  6. reifyresonance
    Link
    Agree with pretty much everything in this article. I just applied for some community college classes, they only asked for my name once. Currently in the process of trying to get them to change my...

    Agree with pretty much everything in this article. I just applied for some community college classes, they only asked for my name once. Currently in the process of trying to get them to change my name in their various systems - my email, name for roll call, name on all the grading systems, ID, etc are all based on my legal name. I won't be surprised if I'm not able to change my name in all the places it's dispersed off to.

    I've got a separate issue with my doctor's - they can only report my name as my legal name when calling in prescriptions (even though CVS has my account under my real name). So I've got two accounts now!

    Please, ask for name and legal name (if different).

    1 vote