ID, please: Facebook Won’t Allow “Batman”

By Laurel Sutton

March 16, 2009

John Batman

John Batman

This story recently made the round on the mailing list of the American Name Society. From the Washington Post:

What Caitlin wanted did not seem that hard. She had signed up for Facebook after she married, as Caitlin Shaw. Now, to make it easier for old friends to find her, she wanted to add her maiden name. Her maiden name is Batman.Facebook’s name-change procedure suddenly required superhuman effort.

Because after Caitlin Batman Shaw, a mental health therapist in Arlington, submitted the brief online form, she received an automated response rejecting her. The faceless gatekeepers of Facebook had decided her name could not possibly be real. Batman Shaw appealed, and was rejected. Appealed, rejected. “The process took me three weeks” and several e-mail queries, she says, before she was finally able to use her full legal name.

The rest of the article (which you really should read, it’s great) discusses the problems encountered by other people with colorful surnames like Super, Kisser, and Pancake

Another Batman, first name Miranda, finally convinced Facebook to let her use her own name – after faxing them her driver’s license:

It felt like a coup, but anyone who has spent much time on the site will wonder how it could have become such an ordeal to begin with. For all its safety walls, Facebook appears to be home to some people with very . . . interesting . . . names: Starkiller Unleashed. Dennis Ilovfakemiddlenames Lewis. Mojo Martini — more than 30 of them.

In a tucked-away Facebook forum, dozens of users complain that they are having trouble altering their names. Many protest that Facebook won’t accept their real, legal names. But then there are also complaints like this: “Recently, my friend got into my account and changed my name to Bonquiqui Shiquavius,” writes one forlorn user. “I have no idea why Facebook accepted this.”

So the rules aren’t really rules, they’re just the preferences of the people who write the databases for Facebook. (Engineers rejecting names like Batman? Another stereotype blown to bits.)

I understand the need to prevent identity fraud and the desire to keep Facebook from turning into a Usenet group where people hide behind nicks that reference obscure Monty Python sketches and coding jokes. But the point for me is that Facebook doesn’t consider the fact that people have all kinds of names – unexpected names, unfamiliar names, and names that “must be fake”. Surprise! They’re not fake! Part of what I love about the American Name Society is constantly learning about all the wonderfully interesting personal names that exist in the world, and where they come from. Come on, Facebook, get with it. Like “Zuckerberg” is a “normal” name!┬áThen again, if Facebook doesn’t ease up on their bowdlerizing, users may need to make sure to not take any chances when naming their babies.

The picture, by the way, is of John Batman. He founded Melbourne. I’m guessing his descendants don’t think the Batman jokes are that funny.

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