The unlucky people who have names that break computers

Some individuals only have a single name, not a forename and surname. Others have surnames that are just one letter. Problems with such names have been reported before. Consider also the experiences of Janice Keihanaikukauakahihulihe’ekahaunaele, a Hawaiian woman who complained that state ID cards should allow citizens to display surnames even as long as hers – which is 36 characters in total. In the end, government computer systems were updated to have greater flexibility in this area.

Incidents like this are known, in computing terminology, as “edge cases” – that is, unexpected and problematic cases for which the system was not designed.

“Every couple of years computer systems are upgraded or changed and they’re tested with a variety of data – names that are well represented in society,” explains programmer Patrick McKenzie.

“They don’t necessarily test for the edge cases.”