Cursed With a Name That Computers Can't Handle

When Jennifer took her new husband's last name, the headache began
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 28, 2016 11:57 AM CDT
Updated Apr 2, 2016 8:59 AM CDT
Cursed With a Name That Computers Can't Handle
Cue the headache.   (Shutterstock)

There are the amusing stories involving marriage and last names (remember the Burger-King wedding?) and then there's this one from the BBC: It opens with the story of a woman named Jennifer, who made the seemingly innocuous decision to take her husband's last name of "Null." The Virginia woman expected jokes, but what she got was a headache. That's because computers basically can't handle her name, with many reading it literally, as in "no data," when she enters "Null" for a last name when buying plane tickets, setting up a utility account, and providing tax information. Worse still, the BBC makes this observation: "Generally, the more important the website or service, the stricter controls will be on what name she enters—but that means that problems chiefly occur on systems where it really matters."

The BBC adds that problematic names don't start and end with Null. Indeed, a very technical Reddit thread on the article contains plenty of griping from people with "edge cases" (ie, "problematic cases for which the system was not designed," per the BBC's definition) of their own: spaces or apostrophes in their name, or two-letter first or last names. And then there's this example from nat5an: "I used to work in travel software, and we had a case where a real person's flights kept getting cancelled by Lufthansa's automated software because their last name was 'Tester' and the software assumed that this was a test booking record that had been left around." And then there are the cases of Janice Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele ... and God. Read the full BBC piece here. (More Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele stories.)

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