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Cover image for Changing your name is a hard unsolved problem in Computer Science

Changing your name is a hard unsolved problem in Computer Science

penelope_zone profile image Penelope Phippen ・9 min read

The nerdy joke is that there are only 2 hard problems in computer science:

  1. Naming things
  2. Cache invalidation
  3. Off by one errors

I've recently had the interesting experience of changing my name. I have my name: the one I use on a daily basis, the one I identify with, the one to which I actually respond. I also have the name I was born under, or my "deadname" in the colloquial trans parlance. I don’t really identify with this name any more, but it follows me around like a spectre haunting Europe. There's now a noticeable gap between me hearing my deadname and realising someone's referring to me. It's fun to see how quickly those things change.

So, this brings me to my primary conceit for this post. We, as an industry, are horrible at accepting name changes for folks. In this post I'll give some examples of things I've seen done wrong. I'll show you how you can make your application better for folks who are changing their name. Let’s dive in!

Google accounts, and single sign-on

Disclaimer, I work for Google. This section is my opinion and my best understanding, and does not represent the opinions, or views of Google LLC, or Alphabet Inc. In my opinion Google has done a lot to make changing one’s name easy, which I really appreciate, but some folks using Google APIs don't do the best integration here

There are two types of Google accounts, individual, and GSuite Google's business offering. Each Google account has one primary email address, and zero or more aliases associated with it. The most important thing to know is that the primary email address can change on the same account.

So if you're alice@somegsuitedomain.com, you can become bob@somegsuitedomain.com. When you do that you keep your account, inbox, and all your Google apps access under the same account. Under the hood there's a stable identifier that's associated with the account that does not change when the email address changes. In other words, an email address is not the primary key of a Google account. When you change your Google email address, Google sets up a permanent, undeletable, alias for the old email address. This means if you send an email to the old address, the person will receive it. However, I suspect if you ask most folks, they'd tell you they don't want to see it.

If your application implements single sign-on with Google, you should key off the stable ID, and not the email adress or name. if you store the email and name in your database, you should change them if Google tells you they has changed.

Let's look at the mechanics of how you can implement this with Google's OAuth APIs. I set up the basic OAuth workflow in Rails, and the first details that came back from my account were (partially redacted):

 {"provider"=>"google",
 "uid"=>"113017XXXXXXXX8346486",
 "info"=>
  {"name"=>"Penelope Phippen",
   "email"=>"penelope@rubycentral.org",
   "unverified_email"=>"penelope@rubycentral.org",
   "email_verified"=>true,
   "first_name"=>"Penelope",
   "last_name"=>"Phippen",
   "image"=>"https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-Tj-GuDdntsY/AAAAAAAAAAI/AAAAAAAAAAA/ACHi3rfGmAsSR_4ZenyOeMkId6EERxmFIg/s50-c/photo.jpg"},

Now, it's worth noting, the email address associated with this account used to be different. Every time you do an OAuth exchange with this account, it'll give you the new email address and name. So, the right thing to do here is update your user record with the new email address and name every time you get a new OAuth payload back. If a user's name has changed, you can assume it's intentional, and update from that. The thing that will always be stable is the uid field, which actually comes from the sub field in the raw OAuth response.

Let me change my username, you cowards.

The next is the family of applications which have their own auth. Before email became the standard way to identify users, we had the username. Many applications have long since migrated off letting users specify usernames. Those apps are now authenticating only with email address.

I've found that certain applications don't let you change your username. I used my deadname as my primary internet identifier up until I changed my name. If I can't change my username, and I've accumulated significant data on your application, I don't want to have to destroy my account and start a new one. This puts me in a place where your application is repeatedly deadnaming me, and I can't do anything about it. Build in fungibility of your usernames, let folks change them. Please for the love of all that is holy don't use a user provided string as a primary database key.

Don't allow for username re-use

This one is a security/harassment vehicle. On websites like GitHub and Twitter, you can change the username associated with your account, which is great. However, this introduces a new problem, what to do with the old username?

Both GitHub and Twitter allow for a username to be registered the moment that you change your old username. On Twitter, this means that when a person changes their username, you could immediately impersonate their old identity. On GitHub, this means that if people are pulling software from your old name, someone could immediately replace your repos with malware.

On both sites, I now have "squatter" accounts, that hold my old name. This is largely a security protection for myself and those who follow my work. I've written more than one pretty popular software package. People could plausibly be git cloning those packages as their dependency management strategy (please don't do this). It's worth noting GitHub does set up redirects until someone with the same username creates a repo with the same name, but a targeted attack would be almost trivial to pull off. On Twitter, I didn't want a troll occupying my old name and pretending to be me.

Here's the thing, almost certainly, re-using a username is something that you never want to have happen. Unless there's literally 0 security or harassment opportunity with your application, letting someone else occupy someone's old name is going to result in problems. The right thing to do is, most likely, just redirect everything under the old name to the new name, and not let anybody else interact with data on the old name.

Caching name off other identifiers

I first encountered this one in real life in a virtual queueing system for a restaurant. They asked me for my name, I said "Penelope'", then they asked me for my phone number. Dutifully, I gave them my phone number (which hasn't changed since I moved to the US). Then when they texted me to tell me my table was ready the text contained my deadname. Annoying, but NBD I thought. Then when I got back to the restaurant, my friends and I were treated to being told our table for [my deadname] was ready.

What's upsetting about this interaction is that I had given them my name. Whatever virtual queuing system had grabbed my name from some previous interaction with it, and then not properly invalidated it when I gave them my new name. As far as I can tell, having backtracked through their website there's no way for me to manually change my name in their system. So I expect I will just continue to get deadnamed by this system for the rest of my life. My other choice is to change my phone number, which is obviously annoying.

The lesson here is that names are fungible in relation to other identifiers. In the case of phone numbers, well, they can get recycled. A phone number belonging to only one person for an extended period of time is the exception and not the rule. In my case, this naïve exception has resulted in my life now containing additional annoying and upsetting interactions.

You don't even have to use my legal name for most things

Now we come to the section of interactions where using my legal name is an admitted requirement. If you're a government organisation, financial institution, or other similar body, I understand the need for your company to know my legal name. That's fine, I'll be changing it soon, but in the meantime, I'd like to point out that you don't need to use it all the time.

To use an example, let's think about one of the investing applications I use. When I set up my account, they took my full legal name, to verify my identity. Ever since, they've emailed me using that name. Even before I changed my name, I didn't use my full legal name for most things. I used a short version. It feels weird and overly formal that all their product emails are addressed to my legal name. I can't set a different name with them. Now that I've changed my name, things reveal my legal name that absolutely 100% don't need to. A simple statement doesn't need to use my legal name. From their perspective, there's no difference between Hey <legal deadname>, here's your balance and Hey Penelope, here's your balance. Unlike a bank statement, those emails can't be used for proof of address or similar so they don't need to be so formal.

I’d also like to point out that legal names can change. Changing my non-legal name has been enough of a battle with tech companies as it is, I’ll be sure to detail all the things that are needed to get that legal name change everywhere in a future post. In the meantime, see if you can do some work to make it easier for folks to change how you address them in your apps.

A more extreme example of my legal name being used unnecessarily is when I'm talking with my credit card companies on the phone. They only know me by my legal identity, but it'd be vastly more comfortable for me if I could use a different name and honorific on the phone (miss instead of sir). Again, in that context there's no impact to them for doing so, but there is a huge impact on me. It's also not the sort of thing where I feel ok just being like
“Hey, this seems kind of weird, but could you refer to me as Miss Phippen instead”. If your application does require a legal name, please consider having fields for preferred name, pronouns, and honorific that your staff/communications can use to address folks most of the time.

Conclusions

This post hasn't even covered all the ways that you, dear reader, likely have no power to make name changes. OS X and Windows both burn your username into the OS install in such a way that you need to reinstall to ever get properly rid of it. There's a constellation of things that will probably always bare the wrong name for me. This post gives a few practical tips for fixing that, however. And I hope you can do a little to make it easier for all of us, in the locus of control you do have.

Consider this my ask to you, that if you’re working on a product that involves using someone’s name, pronouns, or honorifics, that you make it easy to change in a self service manner. This is a basic dignity for many folks, and it’d mean a lot to me.

I'm coming to this from the perspective of someone who's trans, who has changed their first name to signal a significant change in who I am. This isn't the only reason someone changes their name (see also: marriage, parents getting divorced, and myriad other reasons), but my use case has thus far worked as something of a stress test for various computer systems.

For all people, there is an essential dignity to living our lives being identified as we want to be. As you develop your computer systems, please keep the following things in mind:

  • A person's name can change (and with a pretty high probability, will) once or more in their life
  • A person will want to change multiple identifiers when that happens including email addresses and usernames
  • if your application doesn't allow for that, the person might experience significant pain or distress because of that inflexibility
  • A legal name is something that someone may wish to be not associated with frequently, and you should allow folks to give you another name against which to refer to them and then use that most of the time
  • If you want to make your application more friendly to a wider set of humans you should support making those changes

Thank you so much for reading. If you liked this, please consider following me on twitter @penelope_zone.

Discussion

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

A person's name can change (and with a pretty high probability, will) once or more in their life

Cis men are the group generally least affected in our society right now, and this is one of those problems which would likely be handled much more smoothly if they weren't so overpowered in computer decision making.

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powerc9000 profile image
Clay Murray

Amen, this is why diversity is so important. There's nothing evil about being Cis and white but your experiences are not the experiences of everyone else. We may be the majority in tech but are certainly not in the world!

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v6 profile image
🦄N B🛡

the group

I'd say there are other groups less "affected" than that one. In the "Privilege Olympics" there are many contenders.

The question here is about identity vs identification, and of the interests and independence of users vs service providers. Perhaps there are even implications for surveillance & mass control. But I think it's a stretch to characterize this primarily as a question of discrimination and diversity.

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davo1962

On a related note I once read about a legal name which could not be entered in most computer systems. The man was a refuge from China (?) whose last name was the single letter "O." This was, almost always, flagged as an invalid last name because because it was too short. He legally changed it to "Oh" and was quoted as feeling that he was betraying his ancestors.

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thiagomgd profile image
Thiago Margarida

Last year in college I had a colleague that had only a first name. I didn't enquiry further as to why, but anyway, I figure it must be a pain.

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ekafyi profile image
Eka

It is common in some parts of the world. My country has > 1000 ethnic groups, and many of us don't recognize the concept of surname the way Westerners do. Nowadays most of us who don't have surname either have multiple given names (I'm in this category), or new parents just add Western-style surname to their babies' names. I'm in my 30s, personally acquainted (ie. work colleague, former classmates, etc) with ~5 people who has one name.

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lazerfx profile image
Peter Street

This has multiple significant impacts - for one, there's those who go through a name change because of life changes like those mentioned in the article, but also people change names because of purely personal reasons (for instance, deed poll), marriage, adoption, or others that I haven't thought of. This impacts more than 50% of the population at some point in time! Not to mention couples where both change their names (double-barrelled surnames) or where family names adapt as you grow and 'gain' names as some cultures do it. So - no matter why, this should be something we are better at, I completely agree... and it's a huge problem (My wife is still changing her name and going through hassle, nearly 6 years on from us both getting married).

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Vicki (she/her)

Miss Penelope, this is an eye opening piece.

I appreciate that you mentioned using not using an email as a primary key. This was a new idea to me and I will make sure to avoid this.

I can empathize with you. A couple weeks back, I was at a small donut shop where I ordered and paid with a card. I heard them call the person before me, by name, and quickly realized they were about to use the name from my card. I haven’t been back, but their donuts were so good!

As for changing names, I can imagine it being rather common for people leaving domestic violence to change names.

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outfrost profile image
Outfrost

Name from the card? Geez. In my corner of the world, they usually at least have the decency to ask you your name, if that's how they call customers for order pickup.

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vickilanger profile image
Vicki (she/her)

That's normal everywhere I've ever been. I've always been asked for my name or assigned a number that was printed on the receipt.
The name being pulled from my card as a new thing to me.

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expdev07 profile image
ExpDev

I don’t see the issue with using the name on your card?

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outfrost profile image
Outfrost

Let's start with the issues pointed out by OP, and add to that the fact that many people don't like being called out by name by a stranger in public.

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expdev07 profile image
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ExpDev

That's so stupid... I'd get it if it was your full name, but your first name? Come on. Seems pretty arrogant.

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willsheppard profile image
Will Sheppard

@ExpDev did you even read the article?!

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shaunagordon profile image
Shauna Gordon

The name on card is usually the entity's legal name (because business cards don't even have a human's name on it, but the company name).

It's perfectly reasonable to want the opportunity to use a name that makes more sense (such as one the person would more immediately respond to, or one that's easier for the person saying it to pronounce).

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thiagomgd profile image
Thiago Margarida

@ExpDev if people try to use my first name, they will almost always pronounce something that has no resemblance at all to how it should sound. So I always go by James, the english equivalent. And my name's not even that difficult...

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moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

The "name on the card" problem is likely less in the UK and Europe where everything's contactless or we tend to use out phoens to pay. The phone screen could just be our wallpaper, it doesn't need to show the payment app or anything.

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vickilanger profile image
Vicki (she/her)

For me, I live in the USA and we just aren’t that advanced.

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moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

I'd say we should send you some sort of foreign aid but unfortunately we're completely screwed over here at the moment.

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Jane Meredith

I’ve learned PayPal is one of the places that doesn’t allow for a change in username/handle/url—on the PayPal.me service …which is probably to prevent money not getting sent to the wrong person, but if username reuse was disallowed that wouldn’t even be a problem. It’s sooo frustrating; I’m probably going to end up deleting that account, even though I don’t ever use paypal.me! Square (merchant account) was another one I had to just delete.

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moink_tdr profile image
moink

PayPal also doesn't let you change your country of residence. I have moved internationally three times in my life, twice since getting my primary email address. Since I don't want to create a new email address just for PayPal, I have just stopped using the service entirely.

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Breno HD™

Outlook let's you create alias for the same your account. you can have a@live.com, b@live.com, c@.live and login with same password and get everything in one place.

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Yrrep Nrek

PayPal primarily doesn't allow handle changes to help combat fraud. Imagine creating one PayPal account and letting a bot with a name list a million handles long just cruise around. Not allowing reuse in that world would quickly destroy all sensible usernames.

Combating fraud is the primary reason most popular services make name changes difficult. Allowing aliases connected to a single point origin account like Google is the compromise.

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mwarner77 profile image
Mark Warner

The policy may have changed, but Google used to restrict name changes to once per year. I think that is a pretty reasonable strategy for dealing with this sort of thing.

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spiralx profile image
James Skinner

I agree, and in the rare case where you need to change it more than that I think having to contact them manually to get it done isn't at all unreasonable.

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Thiago Margarida

The problem with that is that then one user would be using two (or 10) usernames. And usernames are valuable. People don't want to have MyN4m31zJohn as paypal handle

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Phil

Someone I used to work with had issues when she changed her name. She transitioned while at the company and they were very supportive. Email address and phone-book details all changed without issue ... for a while. It seemed that once a year, some automated process would notice the discrepancy between her old name and her current name and change many things back. Awkward for me, infuriating for her.

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thiagomgd profile image
Thiago Margarida

Which is weird that it would change everything to the old name, instead of syncing to the new name...

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docum3nt profile image
Peter Flynn

"Changing" name? It would be good to start at zero and get interfaces to accept people's real names from the beginning. There are lots of sites which still only take [A-Za-z] and even block spaces and hyphens.

In 2020.

I recently posted this example (silmaril.ie/screenshots/river-isla... - warning NSFW). The devs will get the blame, rightly or wrongly, for what is likely an organisational failure to update antique DBMSs, OSs, and server environments to handle modern character encodings.

Wouldn't it be nice if the 20s was the decade we got Naming right? Do we need to shout and scream in more public places?

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Luke Inglis

get interfaces to accept people's real names from the beginning.

My wife and I just had our third child and turns out you can't even use an accent on a letter for a birth certificate in the US. Like literally the legal associated with her SSN is spelled differently than it will ever be spelled in 'real life'.

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Will Sheppard

You think that's bad, what about password policies that only allow you to enter 8-12 characters, a-z, 0-9, and maybe an underscore if you're lucky. And that's for a BANK!

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Peter Flynn

That's exactly the problem. They're using 50–year-old software and the cascade of changes that would be needed if they fixed the source database field spec would probably require more COBOL programmers than exist. Don't forget that these are orgs who have a licence from IBM to recompile the mainframe OS as well as the language compilers, because the lawyers say they need traceability from boot code up (read: plausible deniability)

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ExpDev

Why did you mark it NSFW???

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Selena

Use of the f word :)

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expdev07 profile image
ExpDev

That’s not NSFW haha.

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Daniel Brady

Depends on where you work, I'm sure.

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Addy Free

The unnecessary use of legal name is huge. Stakeholders too often say "We have to use the legal name for compliance" when the compliance matter is not real, we later find out.

We've now flipped the default: process owners must provide a demonstrated business case for use of the legal name, absent that, they're getting the best name we have, which yes, will sometimes be the legal name, but not always.

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Martin Beierling-Mutz

I took on a combined surname, which consists of original one - (dash) wife's one.

renaming is so difficult and often involves writing support or even sending letters with a photo copy of my new ID. It was a big hustle...

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Javier Valderrama (Jax)

Directly or indirectly our work ends up being used by people. Knowing the impact of each of our decisions is extremely important and enriching, not only helps us to create better designs from the very beginning, but also shows us how cultural or social biases lead us, unintentionally, to make design decisions that negatively affects people and that technically, do not have any valid support. Our work increasingly permeates our society, the world where we live, and our responsibility to prevent the perpetuation of exclusive models is growing. To think big is to get out of those thousand lines of code that we have to write and look at the world around us, to be better people and better professionals.

Thanks @penelope_zone to make us a little less ignorant today and a little better engineers

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Mark Warner

I confess I had never thought of the now-obvious ramifications of this issue for
trans people, but given the disproportionate number of women who use the apps I have developed I have at least since ~2004 tried to make it relatively simple to change one's name. The apps I developed in my first professional programming job were almost exclusively used by women for the first two years, and more than one of them had a name change during that period, so fungible names was a basic requirement. It's taken a lot of forms over the years, but now I have a fairly simple schema now that uses an array of hashes containing personal info, for which the last index is always the current and authenticatable version. But still...I see I can make it better by adding pronouns and honorifics into that hash, and absolutely forbid the re-use of old identities.

Thanks!

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Kyle Harrison

Completely agree on all accounts. For every application and website I've written, authored, and maintained since I was a teenager (I'm 33 now) I've always

  1. Generated the primary ID (either auto-incremented number, random fixed number, short hash, or UUID)
  2. Authenticated off of an email (which can always be changed)
  3. Allowed the registrant to provide an always changeable "Display Name" (Sometimes I generate the first username automatically to keep everything the least annoying as possible)
  4. Gone passwordless wherever possible. (If a password is required, I've always since day 1 used the best one way hashing I could get my hands on that allows the user to supply whatever password they want)

The only time I've ever had to ask for a legal name or other identifiable information, was when I wrote an online ordering system and it was required for shipping and billing information. And I've always made sure that data stayed forever changeable.

I fully believe in storing as little information about a user as possible in my databases, sticking strictly to what is needed to make the app do it's thing, and nothing more. I don't even want your passwords if I can help it.

It straight up baffles me when I see anything else. Like MAXIMUM password length for example. Give me a break. But then.. yeah.. my wife has gone through a name change too, she got married to me and took my last name, and getting her online identities matched up to that has been a weird hell and a half.

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Emmie Päivärinta

I can't see why anybody might want a maximum password length, unless they DON'T store the hashed password, that doesn't bode well (even if was encrypted it would be terrible).

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Ashley Pinner

Bcrypt is limited to 72 characters. It's the only reasonable limitation, as you would not want password managers to assume the users password was longer than required to authenticate. (especially if you migrated upwards in hash. )

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hellokyyt profile image
Kyle Harrison

Totally true, anything longer and BCrypt will truncate. I like Argon2's input limit of 4.29b characters much better hehe

That said, 72 characters isn't the worst length limit, but when you're asked by your bank for a max limit of 14 or something similarly pathetic like that

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Jacob Herrington (he/him)

Hey Penelope! It was a pleasure meeting you in Nashville, and I'm stoked to see you posting on our platform!

You've given me a lot to think about in this post! This isn't an issue that affects my day-to-day life, thank you so much for reminding me of it. 💛

Flexible names should be a minimum UX expectation at this point tbh.

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Matt Broberg

I love this post! When I'm a little over 3 years from when I took my wife's last name, and I still live in a world where I'm frequently filling out paperwork to prove I'm still "me." And it's only a minor inconvenience as a cis man. My password manager has been a godsend nevertheless.

Thank you for sharing your experience!

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Patrick Tingen

Hi Penelope, nice post! I think dealing with names is something that is highly underestimated, check this link for a long list of assumptions programmers often make about names and which are all false.

kalzumeus.com/2010/06/17/falsehood...

In the beginning of your post you mention:

Google sets up a permanent, undeletable, alias for the old email address. This means if you send an email to the old address, the person will receive it. However, I suspect if you ask most folks, they'd tell you they don't want to see it.

I think I don't fully understand it, if you change your name, then I guess you DO want to receive mail that is sent to your old name, right? People that didn't get the news of your new name might want to reach out for you. Having the old email address still around will surely help. If you really want to close the gate behind you with a new name, for whatever reason, then you could set up an automated response that notifies the sender of your new email address.

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Will Sheppard

Escaping from domestic violence is one use case mentioned above. There are surely other examples.

The point is to try not to make assumptions about what people want or need. Sure you can set a sensible default, but give users the flexibility change it.

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Beni Cherniavsky-Paskin

Here's the thing, almost certainly, re-using a username is something that you never want to have happen. Unless there's literally 0 security or harassment opportunity with your application, letting someone else occupy someone's old name is going to result in problems.

I agree re-use is problematic by default, but banning it outright blocks a few scenarios where it could be useful.

  • Undoing squatting: someone already used WellKnownName or TradeMark and did little useful with it. Not allowing reuse ever makes squatting a more damaging attack :-(
    You could make an exception for forced takeovers — by court order e.g. for trademarks, or by convincing the company controlling the namespace. All forms of forced takeover can be controversial though (cf. kik npm story)...
    What about amicable resolutions, where both parties agree to transfer the name? Do they have to go through customer support?
    What about paying off the squatter? Does allowing reuse enable squatting for ransom, and would blocking it prevent it?
    What about a person who held a cool name for their own use, and someone really wants to pay a lot for it?

  • Role accounts: Alice has a "safety@example.com" role, moves on and is handing that account over to Bob. She also gives him control of 3 bot accounts.
    Many services ToS expect 1:1 account:human correspondence but that rarely matches all ways humans want to use them...
    (Of course users do circumvent such things by just giving Bob the passwords to her actual account. But that's bad, and with federated logins increasingly risky.)

Technical takeaway: don't bake the assumption re-use is never possible into the system.
Whenever you have handles that are not a number/hash but people actually care about, you'll have policy decisions to make sooner or later.

Generally, this is an interesting area where technology tends to restrict imformal flexibilities humans had... "I'm sorry Dave, I can't let you do that" kind of thing.

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Shauna Gordon

I like the route Discord and Blizzard have taken with regard to usernames - you can pick whatever you want, and the user entered part changeable and isn't unique, and then they tack on a four (or so) digit numeric identifier to the name that makes it unique (I suspect under the hood, that identifier is related to the actual primary key in some way).

The UI largely allows users to use the user created name, and anywhere the full identifier is used, they make it as seamless as possible and avoid requiring the user to know it.

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Kyle Harrison

I agree. I didn't like this system when I first saw it, but it's really growing on me

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Leo Botinelly

Awesome post! That's a problem space that I've been dedicating a lot of thought these days.

I've one of those long Iberian Peninsula names. Since it often overflows standard name form fields my US documents have 4 or 5 different compressed versions; I'm considering changing it to a shortened name plus surname format (like the one I use here) just to avoid noise.

One remedial solution for the "username re-use" case would be a shadow-lock for the old username, allowing only the original user to switch back to it if desired.

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Shauna Gordon

What's astounding is that the names don't even have to be foreign to overflow some of these systems.

"Christopher" is an exceedingly common name in the US, and yet it routinely gets truncated, usually to "Christophe" by systems, even when using the legal name may be warranted!

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Leo Botinelly

Exactly - while I do understand the pre-2000s rationale for smaller field sizes, this is one of the 'compromises' that boggles my mind.

Composite family names ('Tessier-Ashpool') suffer a similar fate, operators picking one part at random.

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Madeline Trotter

Another extension of the legal name issue is misguided security policy. I've had support reps hang up on me and lock my account because the gender they assumed from my voice on the phone "couldn't possibly" be the account owner, based only on the first name on the account. This was after I verified my address, ssn, and phone (both the number and that I owned it by them sending a code via text). How does this policy work for gender neutral names, let alone trans people.. So absurd.

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Lauri Elias

In Estonia we have personal codes and therefore don't really have problems with name changes, but by default our personal codes infer sex and birth date, which would be very problematic in your case. Basically you would have to 'write support' on every other site to get old accounts back. I think neighboring Latvia went with random personal codes now, so essentially they have something closest to your 'stable uid'.

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mosfetish

Choose wisely.

Usernames and account names/profile names/etc. are not the same thing. Changing one's profile name should be as easy as changing a password or address. That hardly seems like an issue to me.

Usernames are certainly linked to public activity, reputation and various other important things and to allow them to be changed creates more problems than it solves. The only solution I can see is a "formerly known as" listing in the user's public details. That way you get to have a current name while not denying others the option of seeing what your previous incarnations have done on the site, for better or worse.

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qwx-8109

Your singular approach and comment in this thread absolutely helps elucidate and frame both the nature of the question and the follow-on dogpile thoughtleading as a classic "forest for the trees" view on an issue which has more depth and breadth than the FWP tone taken throughout the thread.

Inevitably when time comes for the hard work to begin, if the conversation has not matured beyond what is expounded here, the most likely solution to be used will be a brownfield, slash-and-burn approach. In practice this ends up with the PIC knee capping everyone down to their level.

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Michael Tharrington (he/him)

First off, this is a fantastic post, Penelope! Thank you for sharing.

My wife is Katelyn Carroll and I am Michael Tharrington. No name changes for either of us, yet! But we are seriously considering combining our last names to be Carrington. 😀 Emphasis on the caring ❤️ as that's a good name to try and live up to.

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fluffy

Another really annoying thing is places which refuse to update honorifics; several places now refer to me as Mr. (new, post-transition name) and seemingly have no way of updating it. Once a mister, always a mister, I guess.

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Katinka Hesselink

Google allows name-changes? Really? I've had to create a new gmail account (a year ago or so) because the old user-name was a reference to a hobby I no longer identified with. Sure, mail from the old email address gets forwarded (because I set it up like that), but I do have to manage 3 google accounts these days. Because you know: business email too... In my case not a big deal - I no longer identify with the old account, but it wasn't as big a deal as changing gender is, I'm sure.

Still - if it's possible as you say - the process is certainly not easily discoverable or found in google (the search engine).

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João Paulo dos Santos Portela

I'm in a similar situation. Everywhere I read it says to create a new account and forward the email. But in this day and age email isn't the only thing tied to your google account...

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André Jacques

Wow, great article. I am happy to have changed my name when I was so young I didn't have time to have a big footprint on the Internet, only using IRC and one Hotmail account that I don't use anymore. I have that habit to use an email address as the login primary key, and I don't give the possibility to change it. I will now take a deep dive into this situation and change it in future projects since I don't have much power on the ones I did before.

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frankzvovu

Sounds like a case of bad primary key selection to me. The old username problem is serious though. There should be a deactivation window even if it's to let the original user reclaim the used username... so long as the primary key is the same.

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William Gathoye

@penelope_zone Interesting topic which clearly helps devs like me who like to get their users at home. The OAuth part is quite interesting as well because I have to admit, I did make the mistake :(, but I now try to get the unique ID (when returned by the authenticator).

Just a question. In Belgium, the national security number is made on the date of birth reversed: YYMMDD-XXX.YY. With the year using 2 digits, you can easily understand the issues we are beginning to face. More and more people begin to have numbers conflicts (currently avoided by running the random generator a bit longer and checking each time, but that another topic to discuss).

The random number being generated at the end is ending with an odd digit for people identified as men. Do you have a similar (stupid?) logic in US as well? Does changing the official gender change the national security number as well? This cause a lot of harm as well for services used to authenticate against the national number. I know US isn't great wrt social security, so pardon my ignorance here.

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W3G

excellent post. I want to narrate a real case that I had right here in dev.to.

last year i deleted my old profile on Github and created another one using the same username.

the case is that before that, i had registered here on dev.to and my new profile was blocked due to having a different uuid from the previous profile.

talking to @ben by email I managed to reactivate my account, but there is another bug involving the change of usernames that often goes unnoticed.

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Miguel Ruiz

First of all, Congrats for changing your name.

I think github usernames problem has a simple solution, when a user changes the username we take all its code and move it under de new account. But that's another problem, anyone pointing to this repo will immediately start failing. Didn't that happend with npm and react?

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João Paulo dos Santos Portela

You said:

There are two types of Google accounts, individual, and GSuite Google's business offering. Each Google account has one primary email address, and zero or more aliases associated with it. The most important thing to know is that the primary email address can change on the same account.

I can confirm that is true for GSuite but everywhere I look everyone says you can't change your email address for individual accounts.

Am I looking in the wrong places or were you only talking about GSuite?

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Emmie Päivärinta

Those kinds of arbitrary limitations to what changes you can do to your personal information on sites can be completely ridiculous, and they seem to be based on some theoretical static idea of what a user is (probably closer to a CS textbook example than a real human being).

Many sites that easily let you change your name doesn't let you change user names, if you happened to use your full name as your username then there's not much to do besides creating a new account. If you have a lot of data you want to keep and you can't migrate any of your data it's even worse.
Even if you're not changing your real-life name there are many valid reasons for why you might want to change your user name, I don't think I'm the only one who wouldn't want to use the user names I chose when I was 15.

There are many other examples of personal information you should be able to change, but so many sites restrict it. People change, people make mistakes. There are many times where I've realized I've made a typo when finally submitting some information regardless of how careful I was. There's no reason for this, other than laziness and lack of understanding of the user.