Wednesday, March 14, 2007

NAME DISCRIMINATION -- Grumbling and Grouching

I'm at war with computers on behalf of people with first names consisting of two words. There is a clear case of computer discrimination against such people. I know, because I'm one of those people discriminated against by some businesses computer operations. Actually my war is not with computers; my complaint is with the individuals who program computers, the people who set up the forms we have to complete at one time or another which don't allow spacing in such a way as to show two separate words are present in a person's first name, and the people who transfer incorrectly written two word names from print or sound to the computer as just one long word. I'll grant you transcribing from sound presents a greater challenge, except in such circumstances I always say, "My first name is two words..." and then "The first word is ..."(which I spell) and "The second word is..."(which I spell)...and then I provide additional clarification about the rest of my name.

I am very annoyed and irritated, however, that with the advent of the computer, my name is often deliberately shortened to the intimate version to which I respond with just my close friends and a few others. I hasten to correct any businesses who are so presumptuous as to use just the first half of my first name, and I ignore all other mail addressed thusly as junk ads. I'm inundated with return address labels from organizations soliciting contributions which show only the first half of my first name, or those who print the first half of my first name, then use an initial for the second half as though it was a middle name. Some businesses correct their computers appropriately; others respond their computers will not allow them to list mine and others full first names as two words, to which I say, "Correct your computer program -- find a way -- I'm not the only person with two words in their first name -- our names deserve respect."

I think a penalty of some sort should apply in every instance in which some employee is found to have converted a two word first name to one word. I also think if their employer does not allow them time to actually look closely enough at what and how accurately they're typing each person's name, the employer should be penalized. I find that if my being pleasant when asking for a correction in my name listing does not result in the desired response, I then handle the problem pretty succinctly if they get cute with me about "The computer won't let me... blah, blah, blah." I just tell them, "Fine, I'll take my business somewhere that can control their computer." I tell them that if they can't even program my name correctly, I don't have a great deal of confidence in how accurately and well they can manage the rest of my business.

That brings me to the three major credit reporting agencies. I was shocked the first time I received a copy of my credit report from each of them. That's right, they didn't seem to know which spelling of my name was the correct one. Again this year, I'm going to have to check with my annual review of the report from each of them to which I am legally entitled. In this day and age of identity theft, it seems to me that those agencies would want to be sure they've spelled every person's name correctly.

I make a point of letting any business who will need to check my credit standing with those agencies to be sure and spell my first name correctly with two words. As far as I'm concerned anybody else inquiring for information from any one of those agencies should be denied, if they can't submit my first name accurately, as two words, without extra letters and other little differences which some other people use with a name pronounced the same way as mine. Those making such inaccurate requests are not people with whom I am doing business, and information about me is none of their business.

Remember Barbra Streisand many years ago making a big point on a TV special, "My Name Is Barbra" HERE about how her first name was spelled, since it wasn't the usual spelling? Then there was another TV special starring Liza Minnelli (entertainer Judy Garland's daughter) who was making a point about getting people to pronounce her name correctly -- Liza with a 'Z' sound, with link HERE.

Recently on our local PBS-TV (KCET Channel 28 in Los Angeles and KOCE Channel 50 in Orange County) they featured a program hosted by Suze Orman, "Women and Money," giving strong emphasis to women being proud of their names, admonishing them to say their own first and last names strongly and directly. I'll just bet she thinks women should insist their names be spelled correctly, too. I can't help wondering if people sometimes write her name incorrectly i.e. Susie. She certainly has less likelihood her name will be pronounced incorrectly, since she spells "Suze" phonetically, exactly as it would be said. (Don't you wish all our words were that way? I'm sure all beginning students, and foreign speakers do, and I do, too!)

But then men should be insisting their names are accurate, also, especially if they have a first name with two words, an unusual spelling, or pronunciation. I just can't cite any TV specials featuring men having to teach people how to spell or say their names though.

We really are touchy about our names, aren't we. I know of someone named Barbara, who insists she be called by that full name -- no nicknames for her, and the worst possible name you could call her is "Barb." She grits her teeth, closes her eyes, scrunches up her shoulders, raises her hands in front of her face as if to ward off a physical attack, then explains her repugnance for this assault on her person.

Now, I just happened to know another Barbara, with whom some of her close friends, and I have been one all my life and hers, come to affectionately use the name "Barb," which she regards as reflecting the loving intimacy of our relationship, since only those closest to her are invited to do so. Then, there's the Barbara with whom I work, who said she never knew or used her name until starting school, because everybody called her "Sandy", due to the red highlights in her hair.

Only those who know me most intimately and select others I invite to do so, call me by a shortened version of my first name. I would assume that should anyone not choose to do so if invited, that would be a clear message that sort of intimacy was not desired, but then people send mixed messages sometimes in other ways.

So, how we use our name, and allow others to use it, the full version, whether or not it's one or two words, or a shortened version, or even a nickname that may not even be our actual name, we are often very particular about how our name is spelled, said and used as well as by whom, how, why and for what purpose. There can, indeed, be good reason on both a personal and a business level for doing so. There can be a good reason for protesting against this sort of name discrimination.


  1. I know what you mean! Computer programmers are so thoughtless sometimes. Imagine my predicament: Claude is a name that goes both for women and men in this country, but the computer decides that I am a man. I insist on NOT giving my first name for fear of become Mr Claude. Then my name! It has a hyphen, and computers don't like hyphens. So it's always a problem, because I never know if I will be known as CF, C-F or just C.
    Very annoying!

  2. I have never had that problem, since my name is fairly straightforward, easy to remember and easy to spell. My last name is another story. People butcher the pronounciation of it beyond belief.

    I can certainly understand Claude's frustration, with a hyphenated name.

  3. Hyphenated last names are a challenge too. The first last name often ends up in the "middle name" field of the databases. You can forget the programmers thinking about you if your name is Anna Belle Smith-Paulson. However, John Smith is probably OK.

  4. Claude: Names that are used by both males and females are an issue and there are quite a few come to think of it. Some people using just the first half of my first name have sometimes thought I was a man, so know what you mean there.

    Lisa: You're right about the hyphenated name too, a problem Claude also says she experiences. I have been told by some businesses to circumvent my first name problem by inserting a hypen. Eh, what?

    As for business entities and computer programmers -- please tell me what is wrong with typing the first half of the first name, making one space, typing the second half of the first name, then leaving blank or inserting some symbol in the middle name section to tell the computer there is none, finally typing the last name -- hyphen and all.

    Kenju: Guess you just have to keep correcting on the pronunciation issue. Now you have me wondering if I'm saying Kenju correctly.

  5. I hear you Joared. Imagine the HORROR of having a two-word LAST me. You wouldn't believe the ways computers, the US mail service, insurance companies...and everyone else can manage to mangle our last name. We've had many laughs over the years about it; but we've also had our frustrating moments too.

  6. You can call me "Ray", or you can call me "Jay", or you can call me "RJ", but you doesn't hafta call me "Johnson"!

    I know...I'm being silly. But I couldn't get this old dialogue out of my brain until I typed it *grin*