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How many characters would you feel safe leaving for a First Name and Surname?

The users of the system are going to predominantly be from the UK (I mention this because some parts of the world seem to have peoples with very short or very long names in comparison!)

I will hopefully soon be getting an export of their current members list, if I do then I can take an average and stick on a couple of characters for good luck but I don't want to wait on it to start.

In the page I am creating space is at a real premium and I don't want to waste space on the name!

(Also, if someone with elevated permissions can think of better tags, please add them!)

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This is a great question. It is important to always account for internationalization and localization down the road. 256 characters will cover most of what you'll see, i'd imagine. –  DexterW Sep 16 '10 at 15:17
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Are you asking how many characters the field should accept or how many should be visible at one time (how wide the field should be)? It sounds like the latter but want to make sure. –  Patrick McElhaney Sep 16 '10 at 15:32
    
@Patrick - Yeah, how wide it should be when displayed. –  Toby Sep 17 '10 at 8:02
    
Displaying the full name feels like a different thing from entering a full name (like on Android where it will pop up a dialog with several separate large fields for first and last name, initials and so on... but when done concatenates down to a single displayname textbox. –  Oskar Duveborn Sep 21 '10 at 22:53
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> The users of the system are going to predominantly be from the UK (I mention this because some parts of the world seem to have peoples with very short or very long names in comparison!) Don't forget that these people can emigrate to the UK. –  Jeroen Jul 18 '12 at 8:45

3 Answers 3

up vote 24 down vote accepted

The UK Government Data Standards Catalogue suggests 35 characters for each of First Name and Surname (h/t Ian Nelson on Stack Overflow).

That's how many characters you should assume for displaying the name or accepting input. However, I don't think a text field needs to be 35 characters wide. (Johnjacobjingleheimerschmidt should be able to type his name, but it might "scroll").

I just checked a database of about 80,000 mostly American business people and found that 99% of them have names of no more than 9 (firstname) and 11 (surname) characters. That should give you a pretty good idea until your own data comes in.

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+1 for finding actual data to back it up –  Nicholas M T Elliott Sep 20 '10 at 18:07

How much space should you leave?

More than you think.

I knew a guy at university with two middle names and a European last name, something like this:

Jacob Matthew Christopher van den Nederlandschen

49 characters total. 26 for his given names, 23 for his family name.

He found it disconcerting how many systems would truncate his name in one way or another.

I've used his name for years to ensure systems I build have enough room for all the likely cases.

(And then there was this one guy who spelt his name with an embedded middle capital letter, claiming this was because of an award from a French King. Never did find out whether this was true, but it's an interesting tidbit to keep in mind when thinking about data normalisation, because simple capitalization was offensive.)

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Not an uncommon case for the Dutch - many surnames are quite long and many people with Christian backgrounds have 2 or more middle names. However, hardly anyone really uses their middle names when entering their name into a system. Many also use one of their less classical-sounding middle names as their preferred "roepnaam". More info here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_name (read the factoids about comical names people invented after being annexed by Napoleon in 1811!) –  Rahul Oct 15 '10 at 9:22
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Never normalise names. Remember that the Macdonalds and the MacDonalds are two different families. –  TRiG Mar 9 '12 at 12:58

There are two separate properties to consider here; the character space on screen and the number of characters that will be accepted. You could use a text field box where the user can continue typing and the previous content moves off-screen. Your aim here is to have a visible space big enough for most people to fit their names into, and to be large enough to be a useful 'working window' to see enough of a larger name.

Users are likely to be more frustrated at not being able to physically enter their name, as the system is in effect saying "your name is not appropriate".

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