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I wrote this a while back but only just got around to posting it. I wasn’t totally sure if the “law” tag fits here, feel free to remove it if I misunderstood what it’s for.


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    I can relate to this from a different angle. I have a not only globally, but historically unique name. Hence it’s easy to Google, which annoys me. Therefore I, whenever I can/it’s appropriate, just write the last first letter of my surname. Nevertheless I find it weird when people confuse it for my real name (“Dear Mr. K, …”).

    On the other hand, I guess one reason for not having trivially changeable names is, to re-hash the example of calling out names, is that one would suddenly see an increase of people called “Jack Mehoff”, “Jenny Talia”, and the like. Now you’re embarrassing the professors and lunch-workers, which is just a deferral not a solution, if you ask me.

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      On the other hand, I guess one reason for not having trivially changeable names is, to re-hash the example of calling out names, is that one would suddenly see an increase of people called “Jack Mehoff”, “Jenny Talia”, and the like. Now you’re embarrassing the professors and lunch-workers, which is just a deferral not a solution, if you ask me.

      This is legit, but I don’t think it’s an issue, for two reasons. First, if you change your name to “Jack Mehoff” in a context where others will see or hear it, you’ll have immediate social consequences. Second, if changing a name in some system isn’t a big deal, someone can just change it back to a non-offensive name.

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        First, if you change your name to “Jack Mehoff” in a context where others will see or hear it, you’ll have immediate social consequences

        So he’ll change it back. If someone changes their name as a joke, prank or to get back at someone, they’re (usually) not interested in keeping it anyway. But that doesn’t stop the next person from declaring that they have to change their name (because of a bet, eg).

        if changing a name in some system isn’t a big deal, someone can just change it back to a non-offensive name.

        I think you misunderstood me. I’m saying that people will intentionally abuse a system where names can be changed easily and independently of other system – that cannot be avoided. You would have to force them to change their name back, either by punishing them if they don’t do so voluntarily, or by just changing it behind their back. Either way, the power of granting and revoking names is shown and proven to be part of the system (university, workplace, etc.)*. And they would of course, with the same credibility as anyone else, claim that this is how they have to be called.

        In short: You cannot assume good faith from bad actors. And you can’t ignore them either.

        Edit: * This would also mean that if administrations change, they could just undo everyone’s name wishes, with the same credibility and legitimation.

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          Second, if changing a name in some system isn’t a big deal, someone can just change it back to a non-offensive name.

          If you’re too avid about doing this, the people legitimately named Wang and Dikshit and Cockburn and Schmuck will eventually have reason to be very angry with you.

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            True! But even that becomes less of an issue if changing a name doesn’t require human intervention and paperwork.

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        I’ve personally experienced this “”“fun””” after changing my name in March and still continue to experience it to this day. It’s culminated in hours of phone calls and emails. Oddly enough, banks and credit cards have been the easiest to change. Hospitals, OTOH, have been unnecessarily alienating and obtuse; I think I’ve hit them with the copy of the name change six times in a row and on the sixth time it finally applied! I can’t imagine other people in my position having to deal with that pain over and over again - I got every variation of my old name back at me. It was like pulling teeth.

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          When I changed my name in 1999, the clerk behind the counter said “Have you already changed your name once this month?” Pointed questioning turned up a timing attack against the legal system where you could change your name twice a month and legally not have to pay bills for accounts created in the same month. Instead of changing the laws to fix the system, they no longer allowed people to change their name more than once a month.

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            That seems unreal. Where was this?

            My name change in Santa Cruz, CA took eight whole weeks to happen. And I was one of the “lucky” ones - some of my peers told me theirs took up to four months!!

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              I was in Birmingham, Alabama. The change took fifteen minutes and eleven dollars (two more dollars for notary). It took me another week or so to get my social security card and driver’s license updated.

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            My wife changed her last name to mine many years ago and we’re still trying to get the building management company to send us letters with correct names. I think we’re calling them at least once a year.

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            Legit curious who marked this as “off-topic” or “spam”.

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              Probably someone who dislikes the political implications of the article (e.g. that it’s bad that ESR runs the hacker jargon file, or that programmers should be held responsible if a software system accidentally reveals a trans person’s pre-transition name). I would call those unfair downvotes, though, this article is still topical even if you think those political implications are bad.

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              As someone with multiple legal names, reversed first and third given names, and a preferred name that all differ and has lived in East Asia for an extended period… oh boy do I have feelings about this article!

              The arguments are horribly wrong; but, that’s because names are harder than described. The conclusions, as I understand them, seem a good design:

              1. Don’t record legal names
              2. … but if you must, record them uniquely with each transaction
              3. Note given names won’t be used as a legal names
              4. Don’t refer to a user by their legal name
              5. Be clear about how you use names (see point 3)
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                Could you help me to understand this statement?

                Experiance shows that names are […] not guaranteed […] even to exist for each person you (or your software) will encounter.

                There’s a footnote pointing to “Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names”, which includes “people have names” as the final falsehood in its list. This stuck out to me when I first read that article, too, but I confess I never looked into it further.

                Is this supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, or is this a genuine assertion that some people do not have names? What are the cultures or contexts in which this occurs? If a piece of software addresses its users (“Welcome, Xavier”) or lists them by name, what might be considered correct behavior in this case?

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                  Yes, it’s true that in some cultures people don’t have names for some portions of their lives. Most commonly, I believe, it’s as infants. I suggest the book The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down for a great overview of what happens when cultural expectations like this clash in a healthcare context.

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                    Anecdotally, my wife and I did this - our child was unnamed for about 24 hours.

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                      Ah, of course. Patrick McKenzie explicitly mentioned that possibility earlier in his list but I failed to make the connection. Thanks!

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                      From the brilliant Data and Reality:

                      We also have some issues regarding the beginning and ending of a person. It makes sense in the context of some medical records to treat an unborn fetus as an unborn person; observations during pregnancy become a part of that person’s medical history. A recent court case considered the question of whether an unborn fetus was eligible for welfare benefits, which would have made the fetus representable in the welfare database.

                      Also, in (Ashkenazic?) Jewish tradition, boys aren’t named until they’re eight days old.

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                          Yeah, though I’m quoting from the second edition. The third edition was edited by someone else after Bill Kent died, who crammed in his own contradictory “data modeling” consulting.

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                        How do you handle someone who declines to give a name and insists on anonymity? How do you handle someone who’s incapable of telling you a name to use for them?

                        Legal systems sometimes have conventional placeholders to use for these situations, but it would be a mistake to assert that the placeholder is the person’s name.

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                          Parents don’t always have a final name lined up for a child by the time they’re born or they lose track of some bureaucratic step amid all the chaos of having a new child, thus temporarily leaving the child without a legal name. Or children abandoned at birth without a hospital record.

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                          Thanks so much for writing this. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to explain these points to people; it will be nice to have a reference to point them at.

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                            I kinda wish everyone just had an immutable permanent UUIDv4 and that was it.

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                              It certainly makes surveillance easier.

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                                That would make me feel like a number.

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                                    At least in Sweden, the analog “personnummer” is not immutable. People get new ones on occasion (like example when hiding from abusive partners).

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                                      Yes. As a privacy person, let me agree emphatically that when you’re identifying people, you really want to use resettable identifiers.

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                                  Not sure if the author is from the US but I’ve had this discussion a few times in my life. It seems to be no problem there to just present yourself with your non-given name and everyone runs with it. (Dick Cheney came to mind, Richard Bruce Cheney, I’ll reference this further down).

                                  Here in Germany that doesn’t fly. Sure, sometimes, depending on your work place you might be Andy and not Andrew, but getting people to call you Brian when your email reads “andrew.foo@” is usually hard or at least not easy, don’t even talk about getting “brian.foo@” instead of the other one. It’s simply not very common. I think I can remember 1 (one) politician in the last 20-30 years who didn’t run with their legal name (Not the full one, we mostly leave off all but 1 given name). (cf. Dick Cheney example above, and it’s not a good example, he could also be Ricky Cheney or Bruce Cheney but he’s not Adam Cheney - maybe football trainers are a better example, they sometimes have a “nickname” name, and not their legal name, but not politicians)

                                  Maybe I should expand on that a little, of course there are sometimes nicknames (offline or online handles) and people are mostly well-known by this, but I’m still saying it’s absolutely the exception and not the norm, even in small or medium companies without a lot of bureaucracy.

                                  In any case, it’s possible that their “legal name” isn’t the name on their credit card or bank account, if, for instance, they recently changed it;9 if your software can’t account for that, it’s not just annoying, it’s incorrect.

                                  I’m pretty sure it is correct 90% of the time here. I’ve never heard of anyone being issued bank stuff with a different name than the legal name.

                                  Also, you can’t even change your name here (except in certain cases) so maybe this is also a factor in why the culture is different. (Examples I can think of spontaneously: Last name: marriage and adoption or if it causes you distress because it’s like a literal swear word, First name: only when getting German citizenship and you transliterate it or after transition)

                                  I’m neither advocating the status quo nor do I like it - but the points given in the post, especially “you as a software developer should do this better” whereas I say the typical developer doesn’t have a say in this, maybe not even the product owner. I do think it’s worth debating but this post feels so much “if I could change the world to work how I want it” without even acknowledging that the world is a very diverse place.

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                                    It very much depends on culture. Insistence on exact “legal name” may be correct for some cultures, but can be offensive in other cultures (there are cultures, for example, where the correct way to address someone is highly context-dependent, and changes based on factors such as relationship, familiarity, age, and so on). So using it as a universal is certain to be incorrect for some people.

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                                      But that’s exactly why under German law, you don’t have to use your legal name anywhere except for bank accounts or run-ins with the police.

                                      No one else has a right to know your legal name, and you can sign contracts under different names, get degrees under different names, etc. That’s all possible and legal - and people are actually okay with that. You can even get a bank card under a name that’s not your legal name.

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                                        I didn’t quote a lot of law stuff because I don’t know enough about it.

                                        I was merely saying in my experience it is very hard because it uncommon.

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                                      What I would appreciate is that as we add accommodations for people, we add a user agent setting that says “I require minimal differentiation” or it becomes commonplace to use the “if you need X click here to differentiate” and then I can navigate things without having to fill out a few hundred entries on forms.

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                                        Almost every payment form defaults to using the same billing address and shipping address, but allows you to differentiate. Names could easily work the same way without a surveillance-helping user agent setting.

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                                        I don’t really agree with a person’s “preferred name” is their name, their “legal name” is something else.

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                                          I tend to assume the best decisions are made close to where the most information is available, and vice versa.

                                          Why would a state bureaucracy, none of whose members have necessarily met the person in question, have a better idea than the human living with it?

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                                            I disagree with your disagreement. I’ll take the example of my mother. She dislikes her legal name, and in 99% of circumstances drops her first name entirely and goes by her second name. Everybody knows her by her second name and she only uses her birth name where she legally needs to. She could change it so that her legal name and actual name lined up, but she has sentimental reasons for not doing so owing to who she was named after.

                                            Her “preferred name” is her name as far as everybody is concerned, and her “legal name” is something else.

                                            You also have the case of actors, who, for various reasons, need to avoid sharing stage names. Through use, their stage name often ends up becoming simply their name, as that’s what everybody addresses them as outside of a legal context.

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                                              I feel like both of our viewpoints are valid to some extent — I could argue that her name is still her name, she just goes by another name, and most people are simply unaware of her real name?

                                              And yes, the case with the actors is quite a common one, such that here in Germany you can register your artist name (Künstlername) easily and it will be put on both the ID card and passport, so that you can use it and identify yourself with it just like you can with your normal name.

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                                                What makes the name a few bureaucratic entities have in their system her “real name”, one that she herself quite possibly rarely sees, over the name(s) that she and everyone in her day-to-day life refer to her as? Is it because it’s on her birth certificate? Is it because it’s the name some of these entities use? What if any of those were different from one another? What if she had two or more legal names in different countries?

                                                In my country, your legal name is whatever you say it is, and you can change that whenever you want (provided you’re not trying to commit fraud or something). You may have some minor difficulty with certain institutions (passport office, banks, etc.) who want proof of this, but they generally just want to see that you’ve used the name elsewhere already (power bill, etc.) and your declaration that it is, in fact, your name. When would you define a name as a person’s “real name” in this situation? As soon as they start using it? Once the commonly-interacted-with entities have been notified of it? The majority of them? All of them?

                                                For example, someone I worked with at one point used to have a double-barrel surname. They got fed up of systems mangling it in various ways, so they dropped the hyphen, taking the first part as a middle name and the second part as a new surname. There’s probably various systems they don’t interact with anymore that still have the old name in their systems, but it’s been changed in most places they deal with regularly. What’s their “real name” to you?

                                                As the main article, the linked-to Falsehoods list, and other commenters have said, people have different names in different contexts, and you can’t just assume you can take a name from one context and use it in another. Really, you should ask for a name for whatever you’re using it for, and state as much. Most systems (or websites, at least) already understand this when it comes to payment - people just need to realise “billing” and “rest of the world” aren’t the only two contexts.

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                                                  people just need to realise “billing” and “rest of the world” aren’t the only two contexts.

                                                  My favorite thing is when an e-commerce site has apparently separate names associated with your account as a whole, your billing address, and your shipping address, but they turn out to be not actually separate.

                                                  For example: I purchased a gift for my mom recently from a dealer that specializes in that particular thing, and gave my name for both the account name and the billing address, but used her name and address as the shipping address. The initial “we’ve received your order but not begun processing it yet” email had my name in it, but subsequent emails have all had hers.

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                                                  in Germany you can register your artist name (Künstlername) easily and it will be put on both the ID card and passport, so that you can use it and identify yourself with it just like you can with your normal name.

                                                  That’s pretty damn awesome.

                                                  In Sweden changing your given names is a matter of an (online) form and a small fee.

                                                  Your last name is a bit more expensive to change, as it has to be checked against “known names” (such as ancient noble names) but is still a matter of a e-id submission and payment of a fee.

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                                                    In Sweden changing your given names is a matter of an (online) form and a small fee.

                                                    That’s pretty awesome, I wish the government here would embrace online forms more. I don’t know how it works here but it should be fairly easy and inexpensive for people to change their names if they have a good reason for it (and it’s not done for fraud).

                                                    Your last name is a bit more expensive to change, as it has to be checked against “known names” (such as ancient noble names) but is still a matter of a e-id submission and payment of a fee.

                                                    I figure they also do checks to make sure you don’t name yourself anything weird (Hitler, Stalin, Mao?). Also, I know that some countries (France?) have white lists for names that are allowed, and I wonder if that still applies if you’re the one choosing it? Because it would kind of suck if your preferred name wasn’t “allowed” for some reason.

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                                                      The rules are here (in Swedish): https://www.skatteverket.se/privat/folkbokforing/namn/bytaefternamn.4.76a43be412206334b89800020669.html

                                                      It’s been liberalized these last years. Double surnames used to be verboten. Some stuff is new, such as the possibility to change surnames to a more gender-preferred form (in the case of languages where that’s an option).

                                                      Note that there’s quite a long wait time however.

                                                      Regarding “offensive” names, that’s definitely a rule. A famous case involved parents wanting to give their daughter the names “Adolfina Stalina”. They were denied.[1] But there’s a famous example of basic free-form poetry with first names (although the person seems to have tired of being the butt of internet jokes and changed it to Salkert): https://twitter.com/inalvsmat/status/414156476849340417

                                                      [1] it’s possible the person could choose those names as an adult. The case hinged on wether these names could cause the person difficulties while she was a child.

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                                                    No, plenty of people are aware of her legal name, but even for them, that’s not her name in any meaningful sense and it would be weird to refer to her by it. The only people who refer to her by her legal name are bank officials, healthcare professionals, and civil servants, all of whom are quickly corrected.

                                                    Take a look at it from this perspective: if you were given a name at birth, but practically everybody knows and refers you by another name, even those who know your birth name, which one is in practical terms more your actual name? Arguably, it would be the name people actually use to refer to you regardless of what your birth certificate might say.

                                                    The idea of people having a fixed legal name is quite a modern one.

                                                    Quick addendum. Here’s another interesting case, and I fall into this. I have what might appear to be two legal names, or rather I have one legal name, which has two forms in two different languages. I make active use of both forms depending on the circumstances. I used the Irish form of my name in personal circumstances and the English form in professional circumstances, not least because of there being a preponderance in the world of people who don’t understand that not every language is English.

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                                                      Just to chime in on that addendum, since I originally omitted this from my comment: I also have two written forms of my name, in Gaelic and English. It’s just easier to use the English one in contexts where you’re going to be meeting new people more often than not and they’re unlikely to know the language. Both are my name though.

                                                      (It’s also my experience that people are happy to, and pretty good at, trying to guess the pronunciation of words, except when it comes to names, in which case they jump straight for the most incomprehensible one.)

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                                                      Last I checked it was absolutely not easy.

                                                      cf https://www.anwalt.de/rechtstipps/der-weg-zum-kuenstlernamen_040484.html - in German

                                                      Gegenüber der Behörde sind die Angaben über den Künstlernamen glaubhaft zu machen. Das bedeutet, dass man gegenüber der Behörde glaubhaft machen muss, dass man überregional unter diesem Künstlernamen bekannt ist.

                                                      Which basically means you should be “well-known by that name and not only locally” and the internet didn’t really count. Maybe today it’s different if you can prove you have a million of followers on any social media thing.

                                                      I’m not ruling out that a few nerds did that with their online nicknames, but I never heard anyone following through.

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                                                    For a transgender person, their preferred name is absolutely their name, and given the serious obstacles in many places to name changes (cost, requirements to post in newspapers, requiring approval from a judge, or even just having not done so yet) their legal name is likely to not be their name.

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                                                      Any chance you can elaborate as to why?

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                                                        To me, a person’s legal name is their name, any other names someone or the people around them come up with (nick names, abbreviations, pseudonyms, affectionate names) are just aliases for the real name. I do agree, however, that more websites could skip asking for real name information and just ask for an alias (nickname), both for data protection reasons, and for convenience — there might be a lot of Patricks, but nobody else is going to pick a weird nickname like xfbs.

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                                                          To me, a person’s legal name is their name

                                                          And what of people whose name a legal system can’t or won’t represent?

                                                          And which legal name? Ones legal name can easily differ between regimes. Or even during time in a regime. Or have multiple legal names, in a single regime.

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                                                            And what of people whose name a legal system can’t or won’t represent?

                                                            What do you mean by that? I can think of two cases: either at birth, the name is rejected (for example, Adolf Hitler is a banned name in many jurisdictions) or someone has a name written in another writing system (then you’d have to write it phonetically?).

                                                            And which legal name? Ones legal name can easily differ between regimes. Or even during time in a regime. Or have multiple legal names, in a single regime.

                                                            What does the regime have to do with your name?

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                                                              What does the regime have to do with your name?

                                                              Ideally, nothing. In practice, it is your regime that sets up the laws for allowing or disallowing certain names.

                                                              For example, in France, breton names are routinely rejected by the current “regime” because they are not written according to the orthographic rules of the french language. Yet, breton is the language of people that have been living in the territory of the French state since before this state even existed. Heck, if I was born four years sooner my current name would be illegal (a Catalan name in fascist Spain). I would be extremely offended of being forced to use my legal, completely artificial, name.

                                                              The fact that something is “legal” does not make it legitimate. Some laws suck; and enforcing a “legal name” policy may suck as a result. Let us not increase the suckiness of the world by adopting this policy.

                                                              Another clear example is transgender people who live in countries where changing their name accordingly is illegal.

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                                                                And what of people whose name a legal system can’t or won’t represent?

                                                                What do you mean by that?

                                                                Those are two good cases. Here are some more:

                                                                • Names that don’t fit your language’s phonetics and cannot be transliterated accurately
                                                                • Names that aren’t phonetic (logograms, sign)
                                                                • Names with accents or “invalid” punctuation marks
                                                                • Names from a persecuted group or language

                                                                What does the regime have to do with your name?

                                                                In an ideal world, very little.

                                                                However, legal names are one way a regime makes their populace legible. As an example, my legal name is different in China (李毅) than it is in Taiwan (李逵) than it is in Australia (David Ryland Scott Robinson) than it is in the United States (Scott D Robinson and David Ryland Scott Robinson).

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                                                              I get the impression that your particular legal name is probably not markedly dissimilar from the name you are most commonly known by in real life – that is, you probably go by your legal first name or a shortened form of it – because I think it’s easy for someone who has no real problems with their legal name to view it as the one unequivocally “real” name that everyone has.

                                                              I, on the other hand, not entirely uncommonly for someone from my region, have three names: two given names and a surname, and (this is the not entirely uncommon part) I have never gone by my first name in any capacity except official/formal ones, and then only grudgingly or until I was able to state my preferred name. I introduce myself to people as Secondname Lastname. My immediate and extended family, friends, and lovers have all called me by my second name (or a common shortened form of it, in the case of friends and lovers). Even as a child when my parents were upset with me and would scoldingly call me by my “full” name, they never included the first name. Many people who I’ve known since becoming an adult (and whom I thus got to introduce myself to, instead of them learning my name from an instructor calling roll and me informing them of my preferred name) are surprised when they find out, such as by seeing my debit card when we’re paying at a restaurant, that the name they know me by isn’t my first name. On top of all this, lately I’ve even come to identify more with the nickname form of my second name than the name itself.

                                                              So at least in my case, my legal name is basically just an identifier that is starting to feel increasingly arbitrary, that I was saddled with at birth, and that doesn’t reflect the name by/with which I actually identify. And I’m not even trans or a member of some other group for whom the burden of their legal name is even more onerous; in that case it probably would actually be worth all the heartburn to change my legal name instead of just being mildly annoyed at all the things in my life that have my full legal name on them, and websites that address me as Firstname (or even better, the ol’ all-caps-because-it-passed-through-a-mainframe-on-the-way-to-the-frontend FIRSTNAME) instead of Secondname or Sec.

                                                              At least Amazon lets me bill things to Firstname Lastname but ship them to Sec Lastname…

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                                                                All of these comments are really amazing, I think I learned a lot. You have a good point there, I know of two similar cases, one is that I rarely bother to fill out my middle name anywhere even though it is technically part of my legal name, for brevity and because I don’t use it much. Also, I have a relative who, similar to you I suppose, has always been known by his second name.

                                                                I guess someone’s legal name still is their name, and that is important for a number of reasons, such as accountability, but the heuristic that people want to be addressed by their first name does not always hold. It doesn’t hold in Russia or the Netherlands (where people have diminutive forms of their names that they might want to use), not all countries might have a concept of first or last names, as we learned some people might not have names after all (one person mentioned Ashkenazi-jewish boys, who traditionally don’t get one until they are 8). Some people might have legal names that are not easily pronounceable (because they might use a different writing system). And, obviously, some people might have issues with their legal name for other reasons (such as a Spanish or French regime not allowing them to use the name they want, or if they are trans or something like that and their country doesn’t let them pick a name of the gender they prefer).

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                                                                I often mention this tweet in discussions like this one. For those who don’t want to read a tweet, it’s a lawyer complaining that a person with a Hispanic-style name like “Miguel Fernando Lopez Ortiz”, who goes by “Mike”, can be disadvantaged in the legal system because the governmant’s own “legal name” systems can’t handle this type of name well and may turn it into a huge number of aliases (“Miguel Ortiz ALIAS Miguel Lopez ALIAS Miguel Fernandez ALIAS Mike Ortiz ALIAS Mike Lopez…”), and the existence of a large number of aliases in records for a person is often treated as evidence of criminal intent (“why does he go by all these different names, if not to hide what he’s doing”).

                                                                What’s your solution to that?

                                                                Or to the fact that my “legal name” is one that’s hard for many systems to represent correctly, even though it’s a fairly common case? I was given the same name as my father, so I legally have a “Junior” in my name; I’ve been listed in various systems, including quite official ones, under FIRST LASTJR (wrong), FIRSTJR LAST (wrong), FIRST MIDDLEJR LAST (wrong), etc.

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                                                                  Oh, wait. It took me a while to understand that. So, in the US, it is common to have multiple given names (middle names) but hispanic people have multiple last names, so his first name is Miguel and his last names are “Fernando Lopez Ortiz”, and so the system has to create aliases because any one of those last names are technically valid, and that looks suspicious because it looks like he’s known under multiple, different names when actually they are all his one, regular, legal name?

                                                                  What’s your solution to that?

                                                                  I’ve no idea, perhaps fix the system? Legal systems should be able to deal with people from other cultures properly anyways, so they should be able to represent “alien” names (especially in the US I suppose, where everyone is “alien” unless they are natives).

                                                                  Also, I did not know that the “junior” thing is actually part of a legal name! I thought people in the US just named themselves after their father (something that I don’t think is very common here in Germany, or Europe, but I might be wrong) and then used “junior” and “senior” to disambiguate.

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                                                                    In naming traditions descended from Spanish culture, it’s common to have a composite first part to the name (so “Miguel Fernando” would be the given name, and should not be split into “Miguel” and “Fernando”). And it is common to have two family/surnames, one taken from each parent. Traditionally the first surname is taken from the father’s first surname, and the second is taken from the mother’s first surname; when sorting, the first surname is used first (so “Miguel Fernandez Lopez Ortiz” sorts under “L” by surname, not “O”).

                                                                    And that’s without getting into more complex situations like a saint’s name.

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                                                                  that’s very cool and not at all reductive to say especially considering you live in a country that has a proven track record of denying representation to people whose real name isn’t their legal name and who want to set the record straight

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                                                                    that’s very cool and not at all reductive to say especially considering you live in a country […]

                                                                    Be nice.

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                                                                  Is @twee both your “preferred name” and name?

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                                                                    It’s my preferred name for internet accounts, a point that I believe was addressed in the article:

                                                                    It almost certainly doesn’t identify them uniquely, and importantly, it need not bear any relation to their “legal name”. As software engineers, we are descendents of a proud heritage of hackers who often take great pleasure in assigning and using names, called “handles”, which are completely unrelated to their given or legal names.

                                                                    In real life people don’t refer to me as “twee”. But I’m not sure how that relates to @xfbs’s statement, which was what I don’t quite understand. Apologies if that’s just confusion on my part.

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                                                                      @xfbs followed up with their perspective. I don’t agree with it.

                                                                      But, to my response, I was drawing the difference between “preferred name” and “name.”

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                                                                  In UK law, “legal name” isn’t really something that exists - insomuch as it does, it’s the same thing as a “preferred name. You might have a name registered with specific legal entities (the DVLA, the Home Office, the HMRC), and those are often more strictly regulated - for instance, the homeoffice will deny passport applications where the name is a swearword. Quoting Home Office guidelines: “The name by which a person wishes to be known is a matter for the individual.”

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                                                                    This is actually quite common in the Netherlands. For example, my name is Martin, but this is not my legal name, which is different and has two middle names. I don’t really publish this name on the internet (as a small barrier for potential identity theft), but usually it’s fancy names given to you during your baptism. It’s perhaps a bit less common for kids born today, but the majority of people over 30 have it.

                                                                    Most Dutch forms distinguish between your colloquial every-day name and full legal name when this matters.

                                                                    I actually got in to some problems with this after I moved abroad, I introduced myself as Martin (which is what everyone calls me, including my mother) but then later it turned out I wasn’t “Martin” at all; for example my ISP refused to help me as I said “Hi, this is Martin speaking, [..]” on the phone (English pedanticness, sigh). My (English) girlfriend at the time also filled in some council tax forms etc. with my colloquial name, and had some problems using this as a “proof of address”.

                                                                    Now I just fill in my legal name everywhere, which is hard to pronounce for most non-Dutch people and I have to tell them to just call me Martin; it would be helpful everyone if I could just fill in both 🤷‍♂️ When I went to the A&E after I broke my arm a few years ago I could see it was my turn just by the look of of puzzlement and horror every time the staff called me out for triage, x-rays, and doctor consultancy, heh.

                                                                    Granted, all of this is probably a pretty rare thing if you’re working on a system somewhere in the US, but generally speaking names are hard (“falsehoods people believe about names”) with many different edge cases and while I don’t really care how you call me, some people place a high value on this kind of thing.

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                                                                      off topic, but i do get a kick out of the way most native english speakers recoil at dutch names like rutger, martijn, thijs etc.

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                                                                        That’s actually really fascinating! I’ve never heard about that here in Germany. So where do these colloquial names originate, also from your parents or do they develop during childhood?

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                                                                          That’s actually really fascinating! I’ve never heard about that here in Germany.

                                                                          It does exist in German(y) as well. As has been pointed out in another reply to you, it’s usually a shortened version of your full first name. In German it’s called the “Rufname”. To give a traditional German example, my neighbor (who has passed the 70 since quite a while) has “Wilhelm” as his first name. His wife, just as everybody else, calls him by “Willi”. Anywhere he needs to give an official address, he of course uses the full form of the name, and it’s what is placed on his mailbox.

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                                                                            (Not the person you responded to but also from the Netherlands.)

                                                                            The colloquial name is the name your parents give you, usually the ‘official’ name is just a longer/more traditional name that that name was derived from.

                                                                            So for example my name is Daan but my ‘official’ name is Daniël, for someone called Tom it would be Thomas etc.

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                                                                              From the parents. In @daanvdk’s examples the names are somewhat similar and the initials match, but note that differences can be larger. E.g. my sister’s official first name is Catharina, but her colloquial name is Karin.

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                                                                                Usually it’s just a shorter less fancy version of the full name. e.g. Johannus is John, Johan, Sjonnie, etc.

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                                                                                Yeah, that’s about how I would imagine it, with the problems you mentioned.

                                                                                I’m not a big fan of not being able to choose anything, but looking at the possible problems until there’s a global shift or unification in how people use names I guess some of us have to live with using the legal name for all paperwork anyway.

                                                                                Again, I’ve heard stories of people getting problems when airline tickets didn’t have their full legal names. so where do you draw the line? Is it worth having your non-legal name on the power bill and credit card, but airline tickets must be legal name again? Isn’t this a bit like having different online identities and not trying to leak information so they can’t be correlated? I guess people will just have to try if it works, and in your case, give up at some point.

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                                                                                The name I use day-to-day is not my legal name. In fact, the name on my email, my book, and all my published articles is not my legal name, either. Most people don’t even know I have a different legal name. The only time I use my legal name is for government correspondence.

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                                                                                  so what about the case where one person has multiple different legal names in different legal systems? which one is their “name”?

                                                                                  i downvoted this as troll since this comment is low-effort, doesn’t offer any useful insight (why do you disagree with this?), and i honestly don’t see how it’s possible to come to this conclusion after having thought about this even a little bit.

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                                                                                  Yep.. but I think that it really only matters on government sites/apps or sites that use that info for the most part (ie passports and booking travel). My wife is Corey-Ellen but goes by Corey (and to note, the CAD pasport has no hyphen so it’s always a bit tricky).

                                                                                  Strange dimunutives are a thing of course (Jack for John for instance).

                                                                                  My given name is Vincent but I go by Vince . Others have called me: Vinnie, sometimes Vin and even once each of Vin-Key and Vincenzo (both by dear friends and were more pet names). My Aunts, Uncles and cousins know my by Vincent and it’s always a bit jarring to be referred to in that way (not that it bothers me… it IS my name :)