That Pesky Apostrophe

23:14 Sun 24 Feb 2008
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I’ve been waiting for an article about computers versus apostrophes in names for a while. As a software engineer who has a name with an apostrophe, I’m usually very unimpressed with systems that can’t handle names with apostrophes, and there seem to be many out there.

I first saw the article in the San Francisco Chronicle, and as the version they printed didn’t have the last two paragraphs, it wasn’t clear whether or not they dropped the author’s apostrophe on purpose or not.

It’s really not that hard to sanitize the input. It can be annoying, but the fact is that if you don’t sanitize input bad things will happen—so support for names with apostrophes is more or less a must anyway. And they’re legitimate characters for people’s names to have!

They’re even legitimate characters for email addresses, something that seems to be forgotten far too often. I’ve never used an apostrophe in any of my email addresses, but I suspect that if I had, they would be rejected as invalid by many, many systems requiring email addresses. Regardless of the difficulties involved, that’s very poor: if you’re asking users for their email addresses, you really should be able to handle everything that’s valid according to the specification. (On a similar topic, I’ve seen awful regular-expression tests for email validity that reject addresses with top-level domains that are fewer than three characters long.)

On the other hand, I’m more sympathetic to that because most people expect email addresses to be purely alphanumeric. I also have no problem with systems that limit their usernames to alphanumeric characters. But if you’re asking users for their real names (for whatever reason), then you need to be able to deal with apostrophes. And hyphens, and names that have spaces in them but are just one name. And probably accents too…

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3 Responses to “That Pesky Apostrophe”

  1. mollydot Says:

    I especially hate when Irish websites don’t accept them. It’s not exactly rare here.

  2. Michael Neil O'Callaghan Says:

    check out my late father’s column:


  3. Tadhg Says:

    mollydot: Yeah, that’s completely ridiculous, isn’t it?

    Michael: Thanks for the link!

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