My name is Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack. My name matters, and no, you cannot just leave some of it out if you don’t feel like using all of it, spelling part of it wrong, or if your system doesn’t handle names as long as mine. I have the same number of letters and one syllable less in my name than Hillary Rodham Clinton. She doesn’t hyphenate either.
I added my husband’s name onto mine when I got married. I didn’t change my name or hyphenate–first, because I didn’t bloody well feel like it, second, because hyphenation can change search results and destroy SEO, and third, because hyphenation can indicate spamminess when found in URLs–like those that would have made up my name.
Last year, San Diego Comicon’s registration system couldn’t process
names with hyphens, special punctuation, or spaces. I joined my voice to those saying that if there had been even one single woman on the SDCC tech team or handling the database, the thought would have been raised that perchance, just possibly, women might also want to come to Comicon, and that they sometimes have hyphens and spaces in their last names.
Recently, I switched over my personal email and site from tarahwheeler.com to thetarah.com. I wasn’t really sure what to do about that. My name isn’t just Tarah Wheeler anymore, but DAMN, firstname.lastname@example.org would have been one hellacious email address. Liz Dahlstrom, my co-founder and business partner, was talking to me one day, and I was hemming over trying to get a new email address. Just my first name is already taken. She said, “Why don’t you get TheTarah.Com? It’s short, easy to remember, and no one will misspell it.” Twelve or thirteen minutes later,
I was switching the MX records over on email@example.com. Such a short email address–you have to love it.
We talk about branding as a woman in technology, and I do worry about search results. There’s a more serious problem, however. As of right now, Enterprise Car Rentals, Bank Of America, Bellevue College, the US government’s student loans processing, Puget Sound Energy (my power bill), the Oregon and Washington Secretary of State’s office (my company tax and registrations), my health care provider, Verizon, and many other major service providers that I have no choice but to do business with simply do not allow for spaces or punctuation in names. I am not usually one to pitch a fit over something that seems to be small, and there are matters in the world that are greater and more important than validity checking in SQL. Still, in so many places on the Internet, I don’t get to use my name. Every time I have to edit or change my name because someone didn’t think about the fact that women have to
have multiple names is another time that I have to track or elide or alter my online identity.
UPDATE: Fourteen hours after I originally posted this, I went to order a new debit card. AAARRGHH. Click on the image below to embiggen. I have to go into a branch now; I cannot order a card online.
This isn’t just a female problem; people with apostrophes and commas in their names all have this problem. I have it extra because I also have a
Dutch last name. Maybe it just seems a little more unfair because so many people say, “I’ll just put down Tarah Wheeler” when I tell them my whole name. I say “No, my full name is Tarah Wheeler Van Vlack, and you’ll put my full name down,” but there’s only so much bitchiness that even I can contain and exude in one day, and I shouldn’t have to do so to defend my name. I also shouldn’t have to call it ‘bitchiness’, but that’s basically what it feels like. It’s the same thing that happened to Quvenzhané Wallis at the Oscars, when she was instantly dubbed “Little Q” rather than being given the respect of being called her name. Having your name taken away from you is enraging, dismissive, and is an assertion that you have less power than the person to whom you’re speaking. This isn’t something that often happens to men. It happens to me about once every three phone conversations.
Imagine “Benjamin Frederickson” on
the phone with Comcast and scheduling a repair visit. He’s asked to give his name and number. “Wow, buddy, that’s a hell of a long name. I’ll just put down Ben Freds for the repairman to call.” Benjamin Frederickson has the same number of letters and one more syllable in his name than I do, but doesn’t this seem like an absurdity to you? Like something that simply doesn’t happen? In fact, I just went and Googled Benjamin Frederickson to entertain myself. Turns out, there actually is a Benjamin Fredrickson (one fewer ‘e’). I think I’m going to ping him to see what he has to say about this.
The internet is my home, and I do not like feeling like an unwelcome guest. At each site I visit where I must change my name or squish it down or lose my capitalizations or remove the spaces or–and for some reason this really jerks my chain–when I see that hyphens are automatically added in where I have put in spaces, I wonder who carelessly thought that no one would need to enter a name in that wasn’t a
heteronormative single capitalized word. One day, I am going to have zero problems adding my full name on a car rental or government website. I am going to go to the About Us page, and I am going to see that the database engineer’s name is Ms. Destinnee Chang-O’Driscoll. Then, I am going to paste a giant grin on my face, take a selfie, email it to that woman, and thank her for kicking ass at SQL.
Look, the way it works is this. I am identified by several names. My first name is me. My second name is my dad. My third name is my husband. I live in a world where this is the way it works. I love my dad, I love my husband, and I love me. I am fine with my name, I made my choices, and I’m not going to engage in a giant war to have us all get a UUID. I have a better war to fight. I do, however, want you to permit me to spell my name the right way in your first and last names fields on your website. Show some respect, and stop taking my name away from me.