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There are a couple of existing questions on this, such as,

When collecting first and last name from users, should the name be formatted if it will be shown to the user again?

However, my situation is, I think, distinct enough to warrant a separate question. We are running a competition (an agricultural show, actually). Users are expected to enter their full names, which will not merely be “shown to the user again”, but printed in the show catalogue, used in publicity material, appear on letters and cheques written to winners, etc.

And yet, it is astonishing how many users enter their names (and addresses) entirely in lower case. This is in Ireland, where names beginning with Mc, Mac, O’, Ó, or Ní are not uncommon, but names with initial lower case letters like de la Salle or van der Meer are vanishingly rare*. We could capitalize the first letter of each element of a name with near-perfect accuracy.

It’s the word near that troubles me. We may have some people of continental European or other origin, with lower case particles in their surnames.

I really would generally prefer to leave people’s names as they’ve entered them. If someone wants to type entirely in lower case, either out of laziness or because they have some sort of artistic vision† or simply because that is their name, then I would leave it alone. However, it does look messy in the printed show catalogue, and I’ve been asked to tidy that up.

Two questions:

  1. My current thinking is to normalize (i.e., capitalize the first letters of) names which are fully lower case or fully upper case only, and to leave alone anything which is currently in mixed case. Is this a reasonable compromise?

  2. It’s too late for this year — the vast majority of competitors have already entered — but for next year, is there any way we can indicate to users that their names will be printed as they are entered, and that care should be taken to get this right? I simply cannot understand the mindset of someone who doesn’t bother to correctly spell their own name, so I don’t know what sort of wording to use to get this across to such a person. And users don’t read, anyway.


* It would not have been uncommon to see mac as a separate element in Irish names a hundred years ago or so, but it is unheard of nowadays.

† Contrary to popular belief, E. E. Cummings did not generally write his name in lower case.

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  • Interesting issue. On your point #2, it's not that people are spelling their names incorrectly, it's that they're not formatting them conventionally.
    – dennislees
    Jun 2, 2017 at 17:20
  • How are you capturing these names?
    – dennislees
    Jun 2, 2017 at 18:03
  • @dennislees Multi-step forms, along with addresses, animal details, payment details, etc.
    – TRiG
    Jun 2, 2017 at 19:56

2 Answers 2

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I think one way to perhaps solve this problem is to enforce the capitalization of the first character entered in the input field, so that it will be standardized. I imagine that not too many people will have an issue with this, since it is commonly how names are displayed.

That way, you have a match between what the user sees and what is printed for them and you can resolve the discrepancy. I think that to try and solve this issue through the user behaviour rather than just a more strict process is not very efficient and prone to other issues cropping up.

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I think forcing capitalization on users is not a good thing to do. You're forcing preconceived notions onto people of how a name should be capitalized.

But what you CAN do is help them understand the impact of (maybe) sloppy name entry.

Towards the end of the data entry, have them confirm that their name is as they want it. Make sure they know how their name as entered will be used.

Some kind of message like, "Your name will appear as follows in the printed show catalog. Please confirm that this is how you would like it to appear." If you know what the final publication format will look like, then offer the user a mock up visual of how their name and entry will look. This helps further reinforce exactly how it will end up looking.

If you do this, the user is then perhaps aware of the importance of the capitalization, and can decide for themselves how they wish to proceed.

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