Only One Name

Stilgherrian really is my full legal name. One given name, no surname — a configuration called a mononym. It’s on my passport, my Medicare card and all the nasty letters I get from my bank manager. It’s pronounced like this [MP3]. Most people call me “Stil” for short.

It’s not the name my parents gave me. It’s one I adopted when I was in my early 20s. I was, it must now be revealed, part of a nest of fantasy role-playing gamers and science fiction and fantasy literature enthusiasts at the University of Adelaide where some of the people were, like me, interested in linguistics. One of them coined the word “Stilgherrian” as a name for me. Me personally, that is. Not, as I have to point out regularly to people who can’t read properly, a game character. It stuck, and for various reasons I decided to adopt it legally. It doesn’t mean anything, it was just intended to “sound right”.

This category includes posts about the problems I encounter when dealing with inflexible bureaucracies and computer systems — although as you’ll see I don’t write about it very often.

On Wednesday I decided to see if I could finally sort out my Google+ profile, which was suspended around two and a half years ago. I didn’t really get anywhere, but I did discover some new and different frustrations.

First, the back story…

Google+ screenshot 1: see text for a description

As the first screenshot (above) says, “Your profile [that is, my profile] was suspected because it violates our names policy.” That’s because back in 2011, Google required that names consist of at least two words. To get something that looked close to my single-word name (a “mononym”), I’d entered it as “Stilgherrian .” But the full stop (“period” for American readers) isn’t allowed, and the profile was suspended.

I was so frustrated by that, and even more so by Google’s arrogant-seeming error messages, that I wrote an infamous expletive-filled blog post — which got more than 100,000 unique viewers on the first day. Even now, two and a half years later, it sometimes gets a couple hundred readers a month.

Since then, Google had supposedly started allowing people to display their “nicknames” (that is, pseudonyms”), at least in some contexts, so I figured that I’d give it another go. It wouldn’t worry me too much if I was “Stilgherrian Stilgherrian” under the hood, as long as my name was displayed properly.

So I clicked on “Take action”…

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Stylised screenshot of ASIC ConnectMy legal name, a single word or “mononym” that’s a given name, with no surname, isn’t handled well by poorly-designed bureaucratic information systems — that is, the usual kind. Today I launch Adventures in Identity, a blog series where I politely request every guilty organisation to fix the problem — and post their responses.

First up, our corporate regulator, the Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC), and in particular their ASIC Connect online service.

This was drawn to my attention because the registration for one of my business names, Skank Media, is due for renewal — and ASIC Connect is the easiest way to do it.

Part of the ASIC Connect account creation screen: click to embiggenThe first problem I encountered is that ASIC Connect’s account creation form has both “Given name” and “Family name” as required fields, so immediately I must enter something other than my legal name to create an account — although to ASIC’s credit, the rest of the process was painless.

ASIC had previously sent me a letter with an “ASIC key” that linked this new account to my existing ASIC business name record.

I have another business name, Prussia.Net, so I decided to link that in too. But ASIC Connect wouldn’t let me. My name didn’t match the name of the registrant of Prussia.Net. Really?

Sure enough, while Skank Media is now registered to “Stilgherrian Stilgherrian”, and it was previously registered to “Mr Stilgherrian”, Prussia.Net is registered to “_____ Stilgherrian”. Five underscores! What an excellent work-around.

Then when I tried to link both business names to my Australian Business Number (ABN), the basic business identifier for entities other than registered companies — I’m a sole trader — that’s now listed as “Stilgherrian Stilgherrian”. It was once correct, though, as an historical ABN search shows a single-name version from 4 October 2000 to 27 February 2010. See the attached PDF.

One of key problems with this mess — apart from the untidy data that makes it look like something shonky is going on — is that these are all legal records. “To the best of my knowledge, the information supplied in this transaction is complete and accurate (it is an offence to provide false or misleading information to ASIC),” we are warned. But I can’t do that.

As I write this, it’s still before 0900 AEST, so my tweets directed to @ASIC_Connect have yet to receive a reply. They may well have a straightforward way to sort this out. Stay tuned.

I should also point out that in ASIC’s defence, they’ve recently merged data from state-based business name registries, cross-matching it with the Australian Business Register — and the latter was notoriously inaccurate.

[Update 1415 AEST: I just got a call from the ASIC staffer who was monitoring their Twitter account earlier today. This isn't the first time they've encountered a mononym, but so far they've just carried across records from the state databases so left the work-arounds in place. In my case, they have to cleanse the data so all my records match -- and they'll need to decide on a policy so that similar cases are handled uniformly in the future. So I sent them some photo ID, and they'll take it from here, and let me know what they decide. Pleased.]

[Update 1620 AEST: The ASIC staffer just called again. They have a system. The back-end database can handle mononyms, it's just that the web front end has the more stringent input validation. So they've settled on putting "Stilgherrian" in the given name field, and a single underscore "_" in the family name field, so I can still enter something and get a match. They've manually updated all my records, and now I should be able to merge them. Now that's service.]

Note: I’ve previously called ASIC incompetent and reckless, calling for a head on a spike, but that was a completely unrelated matter. Obviously.

Screenshot of Australian Electoral Commission voter registration form: click to embiggenI’d congratulate the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) on their new online voter registration tool, but they’ve made the usual arsehat mistake of assuming everyone’s name consists of at least two words.

This error is doubly stupid, because it means they didn’t test their data entry validation code by running it against the existing database of voters. Oops.

As I wrote in 2011, there’s more than 13,000 Australians with a single-word name, and I know for a fact that at least one of them is already on the electoral roll.

Anyway, apart from looking at the full screenshot, you can read Josh Taylor’s story about this thing, or try the tool for yourself.

I had the very great pleasure last week of joining ABC Radio National’s Life Matters for a talkback about names, nicknames and pseudonyms — live via Skype from my hotel room in San Francisco.

“What’s in a name?” We have heard these famous words of Shakespeare’s many times, but have you ever considered just how much of our identities are wrapped up in our names?

It’s often the first thing we’re asked. It’s how we identify ourselves to others. But do you like the name you’ve been given? Are your parents to blame, do you think?

You have the ability to change it — would you? Have you? Have you taken your partner’s surname? Is your name hard to pronounce? Do you constantly correct people on how to say or spell it?

Maybe you have a nickname which has basically become your ‘real’ name? How did you get it? Do you use it to go online to chat or date anonymously? Or on social media?

I smile at the title of the session, because that was also used as the headline for my story for ABC’s The Drum last year.

Here’s the full hour of the program, embedded from the ABC website.

Play

Obviously the audio is ©2012 Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

[Photo: Live from San Francisco: me at my desk at the Omni San Francisco Hotel connecting to ABC Radio National in Australia via Skype.]

On Tuesday I did another radio interview about Google’s stupid names policy, as outlined in my expletive-filled blog post and an op-ed for ABC The Drum.

This time the conversation was with ABC 105.7 Darwin presenter Annie Gastin, in the context of the full range of unusual names. Quite fun.

Play

The audio is of course ©2011 Australian Broadcasting Corporation, but since they don’t usually post it online here it is.

Google’s disaster of a “real names” policy was the subject of today’s Patch Monday podcast. How could it not be, after my own experiences and the attention that scored globally?

Australian developer Kirrily “Skud” Robert, a former Google employee currently resident in San Francisco, has been compiling Google’s name failures, so she was a natural guest for the podcast.

You can listen below. But it’s probably better for my stats if you listen at ZDNet Australia or subscribe to the RSS feed or subscribe in iTunes.

Please let me know what you think. Comments below. We accept audio comments too. Either Skype to stilgherrian or phone Sydney +61 2 8011 3733.

There’s been a few developments this week in my battle with Google over my name. More communication. And more media coverage.

On 18 August I responded to Google’s boilerplate email thusly:

Hi folks,

My full, legal name is a mononym, “Stilgherrian”. It has been so for 30 years. This name has been used consistently throughout that time on every official document, in every credit line in print, on radio and on television, in everyday use… everywhere.

Dare I say it, a Google Search will soon reveal that.

My only photo ID is my passport, and I am unwilling to send a copy because I have security concerns.

I can’t edit my name in Google Profiles to match my “real” name, because it won’t let me leave the surname field blank.

How do we fix this?

Cheers,

Stilgherrian

Google’s reply arrived on 20 August.

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My expletive-ridden blog post about Google’s fucked-up “real names” policy and their brain-dead implementation has gone global.

While my editor at Crikey commissioned an article, To Google, we are data fodder, and I am an unperson, the story was picked up by an American political blog and linked to by The Wall Street Journal.

The post has been viewed at least 6000 times, probably many more. So far.

I’ve just written a lengthy response to the 127 comments so far. I do think that people who say “It’s only a beta” and “It’s just a bug” and “Well it is a free service” and “What do you expect with a weird name?” have entirely missed the point.

That, too, will probably offend people.

And now my work here is done.

Please add your comments on the original post.

[Photo: Logo from Google Developer Day 2007 by meneame comunicacions, sl, used under a Creative Commons BY-SA license.]

[Stilgherrian writes: Oh dear. This post has generated a lot of interest. Thank you for that interest. But if you're visiting for the first time, I strongly suggest you also read my lengthy response to commenters and the fair warning before posting your own comment.]

I knew this would happen sooner or later. Google, a data mining company in the United States, has the ignorant arrogance to tell me, a citizen of Australia, that my name — my legal name — doesn’t fit their scheme for how names “should” work. Well fuck you, arseholes!

What’s worse, this is how they tell you.

They suspend your profile, tell you your name is wrong, and tell you to change it.

Your profile has been suspended.

It appears that the name you entered doesn’t comply with our Names Policy.

The Names Policy requires that you use the name that you are commonly referred to in real life in your profile. Nicknames, maiden names, and so on, should be entered in the Other Names section of the profile. Profiles are currently limited to individuals; we will be launching a profile for businesses and other entities later this year.

Your profile will be suspended until you do edit your name to comply with the Names Policy: you will not be able to make full use Google services that require an active profile, such as Google+, Buzz, Reader and Picasa. This will not prevent you from using other Google services, like Gmail.

We understand that Google+ and it’s [sic] Names Policy may not be for everyone at this time. We would hate to see you go, but if you choose to leave, make a copy of your Google+ data first. Then, click here to leave Google+.

Listen, Googlecunts. This name precisely fits your Names Policy.

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I’m very pleased to see that someone else is attempting to solve my Script Challenge. Check the most recent comments. I’m still surprised that it remains unsolved after three years.

06 August 2010 by Stilgherrian | Permalink

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