Out and outliers

Ms Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele was an outlier. Her 36-letter Hawaiian surname couldn’t be entered into state data files or reproduced on her ID card or driving licence – it had to be truncated.  Her frustration was shared by other people whose cultures provide them with names or other details which systems designed for other cultures can’t deal with.Ms Pontes da Costa Granja James y Savill, Karl-Theodor Maria Nikolaus Johann Jacob Philipp Franz Joseph Sylvester Freiherr von und zu Guttenberg, Siddig El Tahir El Fadil El Siddig Abderrahman Mohammed Ahmed Abdel Karim El Mahd(better known as the actor Alexander Siddig) and His Imperial Highness Prince Şehzade Nazım Ziyaeddin Nazım Osmanoğlu(comedian Naz Osmanoglu) to name but a few. Ulrika Örtegren-Kärjenmäki, whose name is hardly gargantuan, was refused a flight because her name would not fit onto Ryanair’s boarding pass, leaving aside the issue of the confusion caused at security by the diaereses over the letters in her name.

Address data can be long too. Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit, otherwise known as Bangkok, wouldn’t fit into many data files. Nor would the street names Bischöflich-Geistlicher-Rat-Josef-Zinnbauer-Straße, or Aleja Alije Izetbegovića Prvog Predsjednika Predsjedništva Republika Bosna i Hercegovina which I came across in Bihač.

The short straw

There are outliers at both ends of the bell curve, as the inhabitants of Å in Norway and Y in France know as their places of residence are often regarded by automated systems as invalid for being too short.

Programmers and organisations often deliberately, or through ignorance, exclude these outliers from their systems. There are just not enough of them to make it worth their while taking these “exceptions” into account. Those with long names or who live in places with idiosyncratic string lengths either have to learn to work their way around these limitations, or kick up a fuss. Ms Keihanaikukauakahihuliheekahaunaele chose the latter route, and the state of Hawai’i are now modifying their systems to allow surnames of up to 40 characters. In so doing they will reduce the number of outliers, but they won’t remove them. For personal names I recommend allowing for surnames a total of 450 characters. I can’t be sure that there won’t still be outliers with that field length, but I do know that it would be long enough to store the Sultan of Brunei’s full name: Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa’adul Khairi Waddien.