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    Why not respect the international non-standard of the presentation sequence of personal names? In some places, the given name comes first, and the familiy name last, but in many others, it is the reverse. So, instead of using the needlessly specific terms “first name” and “last name”, we should use “given name” and “family name” in the account information area.

    Any way of splitting up names causes problems: really we should just have a free form text box.

    That said, the usual remarks about our software being frozen for now apply.

    • CommentAuthorjonas
    • CommentTimeOct 10th 2010

    I agree with Scott Morrison. One needs first and last names only if we want to sort names alphabetically, and as Mathoverflow has no reason to do that, the best thing is to just use a single free-form name.


    Also, some people may have only a single name. For example, I believe that Teller (as in Penn and Teller) has just one name (indeed, he is listed only as “Teller” on this paper, which is worth a read BTW). I don't expect either Teller or any royalty to show up as MO users, but for all I know, single names may be more common in other parts of the world than they are in our parts.

    • CommentAuthorWillieWong
    • CommentTimeOct 10th 2010

    To further illustrate Harald's point: one of the people in the department where my wife works is from Sri Lanka. His village has on the order of 100 people total, and everybody has only one name. When he was employed, surprisingly, the US state department has absolutely no problem with the fact that he is a one-named dude: I'm guessing that his visa application matched his passport is all they cared about. Whereas the University was unable to process his paperwork because of his single-namedness.

    So in the end, the University and he reached a compromise: in the University computer system, his name is doubled. That is, his one name is entered into both the fields for "First Name" and "Last Name". Now, from a purely technical stand point, this is in fact correct: his first name is his last name, as he only has one of them (though I find it hilarious that the University didn't make him enter that as his middle name as well). But in the case of given versus family name, such a solution would be incorrect, as technically the culture he grow up in has no concept of "family name".

    So @Mike Jones, even a quasi-standard Given/Family name notation may be, in fact, inappropriate and politically incorrect in the larger international stage. So why quibble with it? MO is already a English-centric website. I hope you are not suggesting we also institute a language exam requirement ... :p


    Even if you have more than one name it doesn't have to mean you have a family name. For example most people in Iceland, where I'm from, don't have a family name since the naming convention is patronymic. I have a family name because of American ancestry, so my full name is Grétar Már Ragnarsson Amazeen. If I didn't have a family name my full name would be Grétar Már Ragnarsson. Grétar Már being given names, and Ragnarsson meaning son of Ragnar where Ragnar is my fathers name.


    @Grétar: Has anybody else told you that your father has the coolest name ever?


    No that would be a first. But thanks :)

    • CommentAuthorMariano
    • CommentTimeOct 12th 2010

    @Harald, one can mention Madonna and Cher as other examples :)


    Exercise for the reader: Compute Teller's Erdős number.

    • CommentAuthorMike Jones
    • CommentTimeOct 23rd 2010
    @Willie Wong: It may come as a surprise, but “family name” does not necessarily mean “family name”. In this context, it simply means “primary sort key”. Likewise, “given name” means “secondary sort key”. In this context, “last name” also means “primary sort key” and “first name” means “secondary sort key”, the obvious conflict between name and reference being all the more reason to move to “family name” and “given name” – after the Ice Age is over, of course.

    It is not unusual for an expression to have a meaning quite different from what you would naturally expect, or even no meaning at all. For example, “ISO” does not stand for “International Standards Organization”, as you might naturally expect, but comes from the Greek word for “equal”. For expressions having no meaning, such as the letters of “SAT”, see the Wikipedia article on acronyms.

    Also, if this is an English-centric website, let’s at least use English correctly. (You said, “a English-...” – just a typo, I know, but I couldn’t resist.)
    • CommentAuthorHJRW
    • CommentTimeOct 23rd 2010

    For example, “ISO” does not stand for “International Standards Organization”, as you might naturally expect ...


    • CommentAuthorAlex Bartel
    • CommentTimeOct 23rd 2010 edited

    @Mike Jones Is this more than a rant? I find it hard to see anything in your posts, other than a rant just for the sake of it. You have randomly assigned new meaning to the well-established words "family name" and "given name", but somehow didn't see it fit to arbitrarily re-define the currently used "first name" and "last name" instead. If instead of re-defining words to avoid being incorrect you had conceded, that your suggested renaming also has its flaws and that you simply didn't think of those countries, because you were primarily concerned with Asia, where you happen to be living, you would have left a much better impression. Or maybe you are suggesting that we should use fields such as "primary sort key" and "secondary sort key" instead of names, to avoid alienating people whose culture doesn't support the concept of a family name?

    Pointing out a minor typo in absence of a decent argument was also not terribly convincing.

    By the way, in Korea, where I am working and where "first" and "last" are also swapped compared to English, people seem much more relaxed over such issues than you are.

    • CommentAuthorWillieWong
    • CommentTimeOct 24th 2010 edited

    @wilton: Of course he is right in a technical sense. Even a strawman needs some supporting structure. See for an explanation.

    • CommentAuthorMike Jones
    • CommentTimeOct 24th 2010
    @Willie Wong: “in a technical sense”? In MO, what other sense matters?

    “There’s glory for you!”
    - Humpty Dumpty

    - Mike Jones
    • CommentAuthorjbl
    • CommentTimeOct 24th 2010 edited

    @Mike Jones: You're not posting on MO right now, and you're not discussing mathematics. Furthermore, not being obnoxious is important even discussing mathematics among mathematicians.


    Is that movie-star/comedian and chart-topping singer-songwriter Mike Jones?

    • CommentAuthorWillieWong
    • CommentTimeOct 25th 2010

    @Harry: when you say comedian/singer-songwriter, somehow I think Spike Jones, rather than Mike Jones. But considering that the former has been dead for 50 years, I doubt he's the one you are talking about.

    @Mike Jones: with your argument that "family name" means "primary sorting key", you may as well make the argument that "ISO" means "International Organization for Standardization" in English and "Organisation internationale de normalisation" in French etc. If the label doesn't have to be interpreted literally, why must an abbreviation expand precisely to what it means? In this sense, "ISO" means exactly what I expect it to mean, a symbol for an international organization that deals with issues of standardization.

    So are you the March Hare, or Humpty Dumpty, Mr. "there's a nice knock-down argument"?


    Likewise, “given name” means “secondary sort key”.

    I've been told that Icelandic phone books are sorted on first (or given) name.


    @Harald. Yes they are.

    • CommentAuthorHarry Gindi
    • CommentTimeOct 25th 2010 edited


    I mean the guy from the Friday sequels, starring Ice Cube. Those are some educational and inspiring movies.

    • CommentAuthorMike Jones
    • CommentTimeOct 26th 2010
    @jbl: “you’re not discussing mathematics”. Neither were you, in that post. (And take a look at some of those other posts as well.) Posts in a discussion forum will often be of this nature, as they are often focused in someone’s take on their or someone else’s post. In meta, FEATURES of MO are also discussed, which will all the more so lead to posts not directly referencing mathematics. Even your remark that I’m not posting on MO right now is not well taken, as words are often used in a wide sense, and you just have to pick up on when that is the case. To put it in (psuedo-) mathematical terms: MO is a subset of the topological closure of meta:)
    • CommentAuthorMike Jones
    • CommentTimeOct 26th 2010
    @Harry Gindi: Visit my account in ipernity to find out:)
    • CommentAuthorMike Jones
    • CommentTimeOct 26th 2010
    @Willie Wong: You’re forgetting that I said “does not necessarily mean” and “In this context”.

    You may also be foretting that this discussion is specifically about this one feature. Since I started this discussion by making a specific proposal, I feel that I should present any and all arguments I can in its defense, even to to point of playing devil’s advocate in the event that I am convinced from the ensuring discussion that my proposal wasn’t so good after all.
    • CommentAuthorMike Jones
    • CommentTimeOct 26th 2010
    @Harald Hanche-Olsen: “I've been told that Icelandic phone books are sorted on first (or given) name.” –True (so I see from the subsequent post), and interesting, but irrelevant. As someone reminded me, and as I in turn remind you, this is an English-centric website:) The sort keys we’re talking about are those that might be used by MO admin.
    • CommentAuthorMike Jones
    • CommentTimeOct 29th 2010
    @Willie Wong: Well, in light of the well-known joke about the wolf-eating rabbit, I’ll elect to be the March Hare. Yes, there is a difference between rabbits and hares, but I bet it makes no difference to the wolf.

    Does that answer your question, Mr. Forgetful?
    • CommentAuthorMike Jones
    • CommentTimeOct 29th 2010
    @Alex Bartel: Does the term “loose cannon” mean anything to you?

    You seem intent on taking the path of quickest descent into outright ridicule and contempt. Aren’t you afraid of becoming known as the Brachistochrone of Bad Manners?
    • CommentAuthorYemon Choi
    • CommentTimeOct 30th 2010

    Mike Jones: for you to accuse anyone else on this thread of bad manners is rather rich. Your initial post seemed reasonable enough, even if I didn't agree that there was anything which needed changing; with each subsequent post, you seem to be more concerned with scoring points off other people, than with trying to find common ground or engage constructively.


    I think that Mike Jones was just getting desperate to provoke people into replying, since the past 6 posts were all by him.

    @Mike Jones, to answer your last question: no.

    • CommentAuthorHarry Gindi
    • CommentTimeOct 30th 2010 edited

    I think that Mike Jones should leave and never return, mainly because he is an idiotic troll.

    • CommentAuthorjbl
    • CommentTimeOct 30th 2010

    Can we please get some moderator control here? Just because it's meta doesn't mean trolls should run free.


    I've closed this thread. Please email if you're worried about problems like this on meta. My predisposition is to be very lax on meta, but I'm happy to act if people are concerned.