When I was a teacher in Ashburton a long time ago some refugees came to live in the town and a youngster attended the school. Someone, perhaps the parents, made the presumably difficult decision to change the child’s name to a European one because it sounded like the words
bitch dung to New Zealand ears. I doubt any teenager would want to carry a name that would undoubtedly earn scorn, mockery and possibly bullying from their peers.
Before that, though, when I was in high school myself in the late 60’s a girl in my class had the last name Yagodzenski. I believe that’s how it was spelled. The teachers seemed flummoxed, perhaps by the
z in there. When they called the roll, most would stumble over it a couple of times, give up and then rename her last name as
Yag. Looking back on it as an adult I wish they’d taken the few minutes of time and the tiny trouble to ask her and learn how to say it, but that was then and this is now.
These days there are some people whose names have the power to cause computer-backed systems similar grief, as BBC Future explains:
When Jennifer Null tries to buy a plane ticket, she gets an error message on most websites. The site will say she has left the surname field blank and ask her to try again.
The reason Jennifer can’t get her name recognised?
… the word “null” is often inserted into database fields [by the programmers] to indicate that there is no data there.
OK, so that’s what’s called a
reserved word. It’s unfortunate, and programmers need to find a way to cope with that kind of thing. But not accepting a single letter as a name seems a tad extreme in a multicultural world. As NYTimes.com in the USA reports:
For months, Stephen O has been hassled by credit card companies, not because he is a bad credit risk, but simply because his last name is too short.
The 23-year-old South Korean native has twice applied for new credit cards, and has been turned down both times. The banks say their computers cannot recognize a single-letter last name.… Mr. O still lives with his parents, but is thinking of buying his own home next year. “Without changing my name,” he said, “I can’t apply for a loan because the computers say I don’t have a credit history.”
On the other hand, at least one Hawai’ian woman has a name that some deem too long:
A US woman has won a battle to have her full name put on her driving licence.
Janice “Lokelani” Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele’s name [was] so long — containing 36 letters and 19 syllables — that it would not fit on the documentation. …
Since she brought this problem (and others) with her name to the attention of authorities they have changed the drivers licence capabilities to accept her name and other long names. Good on her for standing up for herself, but then names can be powerful:
Ms Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele — who got her name after marrying in 1992 — said that her name had many layers of meanings includingone who would stand up and get people to focus in one direction when there was chaos and confusion, and help them emerge from disorder.
Names are incredibly diverse around the world. It’s a challenge for programmers to be able to cope with all their amazing variants. I imagine there are an awful lot more names that have computer-breaking superpowers.
Note: photo credit:
Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauatamateapokaiwhenuakitanatahu sign as it was in 1948
The above image is from Archives New Zealand‘s National Publicity Studios and was taken in October 1948. The Photographer was E. P. Christensen.
Spelt slightly differently now the place name ‘Taumata whakatangi hangakoauau o tamatea turi pukakapiki maunga horo nuku pokai whenua kitanatahu’ is one of the longest place names in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records. It was given by the local Maori people, Ngati Kere to a hill to celebrate their ancestor Tamatea Pokai Whenua. The meaning of the sign is, “The hilltop, where Tamatea with big knees, conqueror of mountains, eater of land, traveller over land and sea, played his koauau to his beloved”.