Gaurav Rastogi has a very interesting take on the inadequacies of human naming conventions.
A naming convention designed for a planet with 100 million people (as on 500 BCE) is hopelessly useless in the world where the number of people to be named has expanded 70-fold. What was designed to be a unique identifier (viz. “Gaurav”, son of the “Rastogi” family) is no longer unique now. By my reckoning, there must be another 5-600 people called “Gaurav Rastogi”, and another 5-10,000 people called “Amit Garg”. Living. Today. Waiting for their unique names.
I completely concur that this is a problem that needs a modern day solution. Many an email has been sent to the wrong Gaurav Rastogi or S. Raghavan. Sometimes, said Raghavan may not even be in the company. When said Raghavan got my second email meant for the internal Raghavan, he said something like “You think I left the company just to keep getting your stinking emails?!”
In a way he was kind. Most recipients of email not intended for them just keep quiet. They hope that no one will notice and they’ll keep getting copied on an entertaining battle for supremacy between two people who wouldn’t be quibbling if they’d just meet and talk. But where’s the fun in that.
The funny thing is that the very person who sends out an email screaming “Stop copying me on this s***. It doesn’t concern me.” will silently read every single email from some email chain in another company where he’s been copied inadvertently.
As far as misdirected email is concerned, MS Outlook is the culprit – specifically, the way it handles display names. If the name of the recipient is recognized by the type ahead, you press return. You never even see the email address. (I haven’t used Outlook in years now. They may have changed their design.)
Back to names. Gaurav is on the money – the two name convention no longer works. Inserting numbers is a good idea. Kind of like IPv6 – increase the number of digits and you have enough room for every man made object to have an IP address. The only problem is, people (unlike routers) might prefer not to have digits in their names. Unless of course Oprah (she of the one name only) goes for it.
Americans use the middle name to overcome this problem which would have been particularly acute because of the low diversity in first names in America (Jack, Bob, Joe…). But then they rarely use their middle names or initials and so the disambiguation problem remains.
Most North Indians have two names – first and last. Kumar and Singh can be common middle names in the North. But since as middle names they are so common they don’t go too far on disambiguation. In Maharashtra, your father’s name is generally your middle name. This is a good system and expands the namespace considerably.
But the best naming convention comes from Telegu land. The Gults have always had it right. A common naming convention is a name, or sometimes two, prefixed by a series of letters – T.S.P.S. Prasad, for instance. While they may get joshed about their names (Hey Prasad, what’s your full name, yaar? Come on tell, no!) their names are designed for the modern, Malthusian world.
The Gult name disambiguates very well. With three or four near random letters, there is ample scope for disambiguation. But it does another thing well. The name is typically a common name like Prasad. Which makes it easy for the people around Prasad to remember and pronounce his name correctly. Unlike say a name like Basab which disambiguates well, but nobody knows how to pronounce. Meanwhile, the preceding initials allow for unique identification by email and other systems.
In the short term Gults may face some trouble in countries like the US where they will want you to neatly fit into the first-name-last-name box. But they should take solace from the fact that theirs is the superior system and one day the whole world will follow it.
By that time, of course, graduates from Osmania university would have taken over the US, so it’ll be easier to mandate a change to naming conventions. I hope they’ll also mandate a change to the metric system.