S h o r t S t o r i e s

// Tales from software development

Forename, first name, full name…

with 2 comments

You’d think that by now there’d be a standard way of storing and representing people’s names in computer systems but it doesn’t seem so.

My company’s clinical data system stores patient names according to the specification provided by the customer. Some customers are happy with simply first name and last name while others want title, first name, middle names or initials, last name, and name suffix. Some customers require the name components to be labelled First name and Last name while others insist on Forename and Surname.

While recently working on a project to implement a generic ODBC interface to our software I looked at the specifications for several different customer’s data systems and found what seemed to be every permutation of ways to store patient names possible.

I searched the internet thinking that there must be a standard for the representation of names. I didn’t find one but I did come across the following discussion that shows that my concerns are shared by many others:


I don’t know whether to be amused or worried by the suggestions that a single field, FullName, is sufficient and that the software can infer forename and surname if necessary. At the very least this is a naive suggestion that suggests the person who made it has little experience of real world commercial software development.

After reading the whole of this discussion I came to the conclusion that, for my purposes at least, I ought to adopt the following approach:

Title – Optional
FirstName – Required
MiddleName – Required
LastName – Required
NameSuffix – Optional

The terminology (e.g. first name rather than forename) should be used consistently internally. If our customers wish to label these fields differently to this, e.g. on web pages or application screens, that’s OK.


Written by Sea Monkey

February 1, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Posted in Development

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2 Responses

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  1. But not all of us have a middle name 😉


    May 31, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    • Ahem… Yes, MiddleName should of course be an optional field and not a required one.

      Sea Monkey

      May 31, 2011 at 1:31 pm

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