Thursday, February 18, 2010


Be forewarned: here be dragons
no knitting or crafting of any kind lies ahead

Remember how much trouble Stephanie Pearl-McPhee encountered at the airport because her airline screwed up her hyphenated name?

I don't know how many other people were incensed by this, but I certainly was. As a fellow hyphenated-namer, I have terrible troubles entering my legal name on travel websites (among others). With the new TSA requirements, your travel documents are supposed to match your government IDs exactly.

When I booked a recent flight on Southwest, I encountered problem after problem entering my information into their forms: "special characters" and "unacceptable" information were cited as reasons. Yes, entering my legal name, as recognized by the U.S. government, as well as the states of Minnesota and Illinois, is impossible in their system.

This is their response to my complaint:

Dear Jodi,

Thank you for your e-mail. Unfortunately, there are various programming issues in our reservations system that prevent us from allowing special characters (such as hyphens). Accordingly, we cannot accept hyphens or other special characters as part of the name on a Rapid Rewards account or when a Customer books a reservation. Please know that our Technology Department is aware of this limitation.
As part of the new Transportation Security Administration's data requirements with Secure Flight, Customers' names must match their government-issued ID. Please know that Customers who have a hyphenated name may enter a space rather than a hyphen. It is also important to note that the name on your ticket must exactly match the name on your Rapid Rewards account in order to receive credit for your travel. If you need assistance obtaining past flight credits because the name you used in your reservation does not exactly match the way your name is listed in your Rapid Rewards account, please feel free to contact us at 1-800-I-FLY-SWA (1-800-435-9792).


[XXX], Southwest Airlines

Jerks! Why don't they fix their system? Shouldn't the airlines have competent computer programmers? Is this a ploy to have a significant portion of their customers not earn their Rapid Rewards points?

Or, more likely, is this a form of discrimination against women, especially professional and academic women?

I've even received an impromptu lecture from an employee at the Illinois DMV on my name, as she argued that my hyphenated name showed that I wasn't fully committed to my marriage. She then proceeded to misspell my name on my driver's license, to boot.

I fully recognize that it was my choice to hyphenate my name and that it's a bit long and unwieldy. That said, it's my legal name, and hyphens aren't some sort of crazy, newfangled punctuation, and hyphenated names are nothing new -- the Brits have been using them for centuries, albeit not necessarily for the same reasons.


Anonymous said...

I've also got a hyphen in my name, and I'm terrified of doing my taxes this year. When I went to change it at social security, the woman told me that I couldn't legally hyphenate; she said that I could spell it that way if I choose on things like driver's license, passport, etc., but that on my new social security card and when I do my taxes, it must be just a space or the government won't recognize it. After your story I'm wondering if that's even true, or the woman was a moron/discriminatory? Ugh.

Meghan said...

Wow, I'm completely shocked at the lecture from the DMV person. How completely out-of-line and non-sensical!

Barbara said...

Jodi, I think you write a letter to the editor of the Trib or something, describing your experience.
There is NO reason that the software can't be modified to handle this, it's just lazy software development.
I agree that the lecture from DMV-person (I refuse to call her 'lady') was totally out of line. If you had never altered your name after marriage she would never know the difference! I wonder how 'committed-to-their-marriage' she thinks non-name-changers are?

Hilary said...

UGH. That response from Southwest is (almost) the stupidest thing I have ever heard. I like how they tell you both that you are required to enter your legal name and also that entering your legal name is impossible. The actual stupidest thing I have ever heard? The lecture from the DMV employee. Um, really?? How infuriating!!!

I decided not to hyphenate, but I didn't want to lose any of my names, so I legally changed my middle name to include both my original middle name AND my maiden name. So I have two middle names. And immediately after I did this, it caused all sorts of problems at work getting my new badge, getting re-registered in the directory, getting my email address changed, etc. because there was only space for one middle name on all their forms. Now, you know where one would *really* think there should be competent programmers to fix this sort of thing? NASA. That is where I work...NASA. And they have completely rejected my legal name because their freaking stupid electronic forms won't let me enter two middle names. And it takes ten years, 50 tons of paperwork, and an act of Congress to change anything. I never thought I'd think this about any place...but it's actually worse than the DMV.

Lindsay said...

Hyphenation has been around forever in this country, especially during the hippie age when women wanted their children to have both last names. It boggles me that decades later our security systems can't even deal with this. Especially since it's the trend lately for businesses and the like to be all gung-ho for women's independence and choices.

barefootrooster said...

good grief. also, i take issue with the phrase,"the name you used," in the SW email. it isn't an alias, or a secret identity. it's your NAME.

the saddest part is that i'm only angry for you and other folks who are in this situation -- i'm not surprised.

Nat at Made in Home said...

I cannot believe your story! I am about to get married and with a PhD and a lot of publications under my name, including a book, there was no question about what name I was going to take... it would be both, hyphenated. Hopefully Europe will be a bit more understanding... although I can see already at work that it may cause problems; and I already have friends who don't understand why I am not taking my future husband's surname!! I am quite shocked to be honest. Who would think we are in the 21st centrury!

caitlyn said...

I, too, shocked that the woman at the DMV made the judgment that you aren't committed to your marriage b/c you hyphenate your name!!! That would have made my blood boil and I would have probably asked for a supervisor.
I just recently booked a ticket on Southwest, and in order to match the info on my driver's license I had to enter my middle name. Which is hyphenated. Of course it wouldn't accept the hyphen, so I just left a space. I sure hope I don't run into problems with the TSA!

Chris said...

Dang. Do you have a cell phone that takes voice notes? Next time someone who's supposed to be acting in a professional capacity starts spewing that sort of crazy, I'd pull out the cell phone and start recording. :)

Katie M. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Katie M. said...

What I meant to say: how ridiculous! Utterly ridiculous. I refuse to believe that a hyphen is that confusing or complicated. Sheesh.

pdxknitterati/MicheleLB said...

I kept my maiden name as my middle name when I married. But my last name is my husband's last name.

It's way more confusing to make you use a space instead of a hyphen. If you use your maiden name and your husband's last name as two last names, does that mess with their system? Do they count your maiden name as a middle or last name? I'm sure they'll mess it up, no matter what you choose.

Anonymous said...

How utterly ridiculous. My husband and I gave our children hyphenated last names and use them ourselves as well in many social and legal situations. Our last name is misspelled or misfiled in probably nearly half of the places that have them on record. Very frustrating.

Shan said...

That's stupid. I agree, possibly has its roots in misogynism.

Elisabeth said...

WOW! That letter from SW is something else... I also hyphenated my last name after marrying, and it has caused some issues, mainly with flying. I hope you can receive your reward miles.

kim said...

Okay, as a programmer, I find this to be complete bullsh. Unless, of course, their system is so ancient that it would require an entire revamp. In which case, isn't it time? So lame!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry....the lady at the DMV said WHAT to you about your name and your marriage??? Not cute. Hope you told her a thing or two. I sign my name with the hyphen but what I did for the SS office was drop my middle name and use my maiden name as a middle name. I can sign and shose to be called whatever I want and the computers like my arraingement. I don't think it's fair at all but I did it this way because my mother in law did it that was and she was right about it.

Sorry Southwest was giving you such a hard time.

Mia said...

Um Southwest was first of all very unprofessional in their letter. They do not know you and yet addressed you in an informal manner. Wrong!!! And I wonder how they would really handle things like my last name if I chose to use it. It would involve three last names and no hyphen. And I am not married! In Spanish culture, you take on your mother's' maiden name plus your father's name. And in my case, I would also have my grandmother's maiden name added on too. Fixing computer programs to accept things like this should be easy. But some one doesn't want to spend the money needed to fix the problem. I would suggest writing or contacting your local Congressional persons. Since the TSA requires the names match, they are in the position to legally require the airlines to fix their software.

And try having no middle name. My dad, brother and nephew all have the same exact name. Just Dr, Jr. and III. The local school system has no problem with the III.

And DMV doesn't surprise me. I had them say my signature on a form needed after my mother's death was legal because it was illegible. Um, it has always been illegible. I even signed it in front of the person and it was exactly the same as the one she said wasn't legal. And yes she said the same thing after witnessing me sign the form. It took a supervisor to get the paperwork done. (And Maryland MVA is not the brightest in the world since they royally screwed up my truck registration.)

If it makes you feel better, I once had a retired aArmy security guy tell me I wasn't a US citizen because my passport says I was born in China. I even had my birth certificate with me and he said it was wrong because the Department of State was wrong! He never even caught on to the fact that the birth certificate was issued by State and that it said the Republic of China and the passport just said China. Um, there are legally two Chinas even if the US doesn't recognize the ROC now. He shut up when I told him to call downtown DC and ask some one in the right department at State to verify that they issued both the passport and my birth certificate.

There are more morons in the world than intelligent people. The morons though seem to end up in positions of power.

La Cabeza Grande said...

Incredible! And, as Mia said, the morons seem to end up in positions of power over the rest of us.