Skip to main content

First name, middle initial, last name June 29, 2019

I've always gone by my middle name. I have the same full name as my father (I'm Jr. and he's Sr.), but my parents thought it would be less confusing to have me go by my middle name "Kenneth" instead of having two Roberts in the house. In my rebellious teenage years, I shortened Kenny to Ken, which sounded a lot more grown up - sorry Kenny Rogers.

The plan reasonably well through my childhood and into adult life. I might be called "Robert" on the first day of school, or at a doctor's office, but I'd correct the person and they'd scribble "Ken" in the margins. In order to try to make things less confusing, I started using "R. Kenneth" wherever possible, and that too seemed to work well. J. Edgar Hoover and F. Scott Fitzgerald pulled it off, so it seemed like society would accept it.

what's your middle name? Um. Well. That depents.

There was always that moment of pause when I was at a counter at a pharmacy or ticket window and was asked "what's your first name?" Crap, which name does this particular database know me as. "Try Ken", or "either Ken or Robert", "Maybe Robert... no? Try Ken". Every once in a while, the person on the other side of the counter was also a middle-namer, and we'd share a moment of kinship and understanding, but more often I'd get the "what kind of crap are you trying to pull here" stare. I swear I'm not an identity thief, I'm just first name challenged.

It wasn't until I started working for larger companies with cumbersome payroll and IT systems that my name started causing real problems. When I started at ING DIRECT, I had to wait a couple of extra days for email and network access because half the systems has my first name as Robert and half as Ken, so two separate usernames were created and my access rights were hopelessly tangled up. When I finally got it sorted out, the username they gave me was "krcox" (not "rkcox"), but as the new guy I felt I had caused enough trouble, so I became "Kenneth Robert" for my time at ING.

I went through something similar anytime I set up network access. I had to go through it again when Capital One bought ING DIRECT, and again when I moved to Barclays. The "Junior" suffix has also blown things up, with one of the Barclays systems somehow getting the idea that my last name was the unlikely to pronounce "coxjr". Trying to find me in the employee directory was nearly impossible unless you had a copy of my birth certificate.

When it was time to switch jobs again I made sure to mention the middle name issue to the hiring staff and anyone involved with the onboarding paperwork. When I had a username starting with "K" waiting for me on my first day and no access issues, I though I'd escaped the trouble this time. I noticed some of the payroll systems listed me as "R", but there didn't seem to be any impact.

It wasn't until I tried to SSO (Single Sign On) into a critical outside service that I hit trouble - "Error: First name must be at least 2 letters in length". Ugh... The SSO system was passing my first name as "R" when trying to create a new account, and the 3rd party's validators were rejecting it. I opened a ticket in the hope that we could just change what SSO is passing to "Ken", but nope, SSO keyed off of the name in the payroll system's database, so the ticket got bounced up the chain to the source. Fortunately, URBN is a lot more efficient than the banks I worked with, and by the end of the day I was able to get access to the account I needed. I didn't get a say in what my new payroll name was, and for the first time, I'll be known as "RK" (pronounced like 'Rick', 'Rek' or 'Ark'?). All was well again until I started receiving mail from my health insurance addressed to "RK K Cox". It never ends.

What's the root of all of this confusion? Standardized forms that require First Name, Middle Initial, Last Name, Suffix. Some have no middle initial. Some have no suffix. Almost never is there room for the whole middle name. Occasionally, there will be an additional field for "What you like to be called" so all the Richards and Roberts of the world can enter "Rick" or "Bob" and have their junk mail properly personalized. I get a lot of mail telling me things like "Exciting news R!". The real way to fix this would either to provide the same number of letter spots for middle name as first name, or have a checkbox that would allow a "first initial only" option. Maybe it could even be smart where if the user enters a single letter first name, the middle initial field expands to provide more space.

mockup of existing name form and my ideal name form

Think this isn't a common problem? Don't piss off Bruce Willis, who's first name is Walter. Jude Law's first name is David and Brad Pitt's is William. Rihanna's first name is Robyn and Dakotta Fanning's is Hannah. Being named Elizabeth Stamatina Fey must have caused "Tina" Fey all kinds of fun on the first day of school. Was the subsequent chaos a factor into why she went into commedy? Ashton Kutcher, Will Ferrell and Lance Bass all go by their middle names. Sir Paul McCartney's first name is actually James, and I wonder if this caused confusion during the knighting process. It's likely that Garth Brooks gets junk mail addressed to "Troyal", which would have been a challenging country stage name.

The point is, it's a common problem nobody seems to be paying attention to when designing forms, so why not provide more flexible name options for users? At the very least, don't fail validation for a single letter first name and a multi-letter middle, because how would that ever matter?

Tags