punctuating names

It took about an hour (most of it on hold) but the nice IRS man took care of fixing my son’s tax problem.  Although the person who keyed in his payment correctly used the first part of his two-name surname, although the layout on the return made it clear that the two names were one surname, and although his name has been correctly interpreted in past years, the person who keyed it in this time used his “last” name.  Thus generating two IRS letters, one for having a name mis-match for the social security number, and another for not paying the $10 tax bill.  The IRS man suggested that I tell my son to hyphenate his name or just use the first part of it to avoid future problems.  I pointed out that the two names with no hyphen are on his social security card. He did agree that this could be an issue.

We gave our children both surnames due to gender equality beliefs and adopted the Spanish system intentionally although we are not Spanish, as it seemed better to use a common system than to make one up.  At the time we named our children, hyphens were still giving computers fits, although it has turned out that the hyphen has been adopted by most systems as the way to avoid confusion.  These problems are at least as much about cultural dominance than gender roles.  The problem is calling them “first name” and “last name” and, in the worst case, having only one “name” field that is parsed positionally.  As the IRS man noted, Spanish-system people have this problem all the time.   But so do Asian people, who put the family name first.  And people of all cultures with two-name personal names.  Most of this confusion can be avoided by having two name boxes, one labeled “Family name(s)” and the other labeled “personal names(s)”.  I guess that would not entirely clear things up for the one-name cultures or patronymic systems, but it would go a long way.  The question is how long it will take to make relatively simple changes in bureaucratic procedures to accommodate diversity.

Author: olderwoman

I'm a sociology professor but not only a sociology professor. I keep my name out of this blog because I don't want my name associated with it in a Google search. Although I never write anything in a public forum like a blog that I'd be ashamed to have associated with my name (and you shouldn't either), it is illegal for me to use my position as a public employee to advance my religious or political views, and the pseudonym helps to preserve the distinction between my public and private identities. The pseudonym also helps to protect the people I may write about in describing public or semi-public events I've been involved with. You can read about my academic work on my academic blog http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/soc/racepoliticsjustice/ --Pam Oliver

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