Advice to address book and web form developers

Form exampleI spent the last 30 years of my life in the IT world, and remain puzzled by the assumptions many software developers make about the “correct” format of the names and addresses of people. Not only the small development shops but also the big names like Apple and Google.

Here is a small list of false assumptions:
  • All names and addresses are using US-ASCII: Forget 7 bit-ASCII. We are now using UTF-8 and Unicode, and so is your database if it is less than 20 years old. Even in latin script, accents do matter. They can change the meaning of a word. Replacing non-ASCII characters with question marks is even more insulting.
  • Everyone has a middle name: Not true. This is highly cultural. Do not just assume that a word between first and last names is automatically the middle name.
  • First and last names are one word: Not true. In many cultures, both first and last names can be several words, sometimes linked by a hyphen, but not always. Some can even be very long. Provision your database column width accordingly. And please spare us the mid-sentence capitalisation, like “laFayette” or “LaFayette”. This is irrespectuous if this is not how the person’s name is written.
  • Word case does not matter: Yes, it does. Whether your name is “Lafayette” or “la Fayette” has a different meaning in French, for example. Also: we do not use dot matrix printers anymore. It does not make sense to print names in ALL CAPS, as if you were shouting.
  • First name is always before last name: Not true again. In fact, British English uses the more adequate concept of given name and surname. In some countries, it is customary to have the surname before the given name.
  • Everyone has a salutation/title: Yes, everyone has a salutation. However, some people have multiple titles. “Herr Professor Doktor” or “Hr. Pr. Dr.” is perfectly valid, and should fit into your form.
  • Everyone has a suffix to his/her name: Well, not everyone. However, do not make assumptions on what it can be. There is more than just “Esq”, “PhD” or “MD”.
  • Every country has regions/states/provinces/departments/Länders: They usually do, only that they do not always need to be mentioned on correspondence.
  • Postal codes always follow the city or state name: No. They often precede the city name.

Surely, there are other assumptions I missed. Please contribute in the comments.

  1. This reminds me very much of Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names. And addresses? The INSPIRE directive tried, and I still can’t download my address point over web services.

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