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The Last Name of “Null” Gives This Man Problems with Computers

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Christopher Null of Wired has a problem. Or, rather, computers have a problem with his last name:

But there’s a dark side to being a Null, and you coders out there are way ahead of me on this. For those of you unwise in the ways of programming, the problem is that “null” is one of those famously “reserved” text strings in many programming languages. Making matters worse is that software programs frequently use “null” specifically to ensure that a data field is not empty, so it’s often rejected as input in a web form.

So Null’s name alone often induces computer errors:

Sometimes, my name leads to harmless hilarity, particularly when mailing lists don’t know what to do with the word. American Express is probably the biggest perpetrator, regularly sending junk mail to my house addressed to my business—but dropping the “Null” from the name. The company called “Media LLC” is often helmed by a mysterious gentleman who is addressed only as “Mr.”

He’s had to unofficially change his name in small ways to get it to register in some systems:

Turning my last name into a combination of my middle name and last name, or middle initial and last name, sometimes works, but only if the website doesn’t choke on multi-word last names. My usual trick is to simply add a period to my name: “Null.” This not only gets around many “null” error blocks, it also adds a sense of finality to my birthright.

We used to have a problem like this at my library. An application that we used required patron last names to be at least 3 letters long. But some last names of Vietnamese origin have only 2 letters. This caused the system to reject their name entries.

-via Kevin D. Williamson

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