Falsehoods companies believe about names

Picture of Benedict O'Donovan

Benedict O'Donovan

A senior full stack developer for WhiteRock Systems based in London.
Staff at WhiteRock have more experience than most with getting annoyed at forms on the internet. Not because we spend lots of our time putting them together or nudging them 5 pixels to the left to make sure they’re dead centre on the page, but because there are two of us with apostrophes in our names.
“Please enter a valid name”, “This field only supports valid characters”, or the enigmatic “please check your details are correct” are just three of the potential responses we fear upon signing up to a new website or attempting to pay for car parking on the world’s most convoluted app. Either there’s something wrong with our names and our ancestors were playing some cruel trick on us, or we’re being gaslit by RingPark and our names are in fact valid.
Apparently we’re not the only people to have noticed that what some contact information validation processes don’t correlate with reality. “Falsehoods programmers believe about names” is a great starting point to shrug off any preconceptions you ever held about names, containing a list of forty incorrect assumptions people have made when processing names.
As a company we’ve developed systems that have processed the names and information of hundreds of thousands of people from around the world, and at that scale you’re almost guaranteed to come across every weird and wonderful name you can think of. We can confirm that in the past we’ve had to deal with:
  • people with extraordinarily long names
  • people with extraordinarily short names
  • people with no first name
  • that one person who had a number in their name (before Elon Musk made it cool)
  • having hundreds of “John Smiths” in one system and finding it almost impossible to distinguish between search results
  • people with names that have letters from not one, not two, but three different alphabets
We’ve discovered that even the most simple online forms can be plagued by problems that can ruin a client’s experience: this blog doesn’t have enough space to deal with the issues surrounding phone numbers, emails, or, heaven forbid, postal addresses.
Our experience hopefully means that we’ll never build anything that won’t accept your name, but we might still need convincing if you want us to allow an emoji as your family name.