Computer systems around the world reject special characters as hospitals allow them to be used on birth certificates, but why?

A Girl is No One: The Secret War Against Names in the Modern World

Last Updated: April 9, 2023By Tags: , ,

I’ve been at war with authority since the day I was born, but it wasn’t a fight I chose for myself.

My paternal grandmother was a kindhearted woman. I never met my grandfather as he passed away before I was born. My grandparents adopted my father and his brother when they were small children in the early 1960’s, and raised them as if they were their own flesh and blood. I don’t know why my grandparents never had biological children, but my father and uncle were the seeds of legacy they chose to plant into this world.

As my father grew into adulthood, my grandfather passed away in the early spring of 1988. Soon after, my father met my mother, fell in love, and married within a year or so. It was only a matter of time before it was announced that my mother was pregnant – with me. Things were looking up for my grandmother for the first time in a while.

I imagine my mother spent some time daydreaming of what she would name me, collecting a list of names from newspapers and magazines, pitching ideas to those around her to see how it fit. As my birth day drew closer, she finally chose a name: Ammie Marie. My grandmother, perhaps wanting more than the legacy she invested in long ago, approached my mother with a simple request: I would take her middle name.

My mother put up a fight. This was her newborn, her decision. That was that. My grandmother implored her to reconsider, to be willing enough to do this one small act of kindness for her. My mother thought about it for a while, wondering how she could make everyone happy and still get her way. She was determined to do just that.

On a brisk fall day in 1990, I was born into this world. When the commotion settled down, a nurse approached my mother to request the name of her new born: Ammie-Marie. A hyphen was all my mother needed to get her way, moving my original middle name to my first name, and ultimately making room for my grandmother’s middle name. My grandmother was satisfied, and a new birth certificate would be issued soon enough.

Long before advanced computer systems were installed in every patient room, hospitals (at best) had to rely a command prompt, or the bitmap graphics and functionality of Windows 2.1 to cultivate data. The text fields were limited, and so were the rules and regulations. A hyphen was not an obstacle that mattered in those days, so it was easy to get away with just about any unusual characters in the final paperwork. Those days are forever lost in the past.

As I grew into adulthood, I had no issues regarding the hyphen in my name. My social security card, health insurance, medical forms, school awards, my first bank account, high school diploma, state identification card, and voter registration all carried the hyphen in my name. My name was accepted everywhere, until I applied for my first credit (store) card in 2009.

“We don’t accept special characters in our system,” said the sales associate.

Confused by the presentation of this statement for the first time, I struggled to understand what the problem was. “I’m sorry, what does that mean?” I asked.

“The dash in your name can’t be there. Do you prefer a space or would you rather have it all put together?” he asked, pointing at the database with an error where my name should be on the screen. I was a fresh face to the adult world, and this was the first time I’d been confronted with an issue regarding my name that wasn’t in a school award assembly.

Completely dumbfounded, I hastily made a decision. “Your card will arrive in the mail within 7-10 business days,” he told me as he continued to ring up my items.

Days later, I would get my first credit card in the mail, freshly printed with “AMMIE MARIE” on the front of it. A space, not a hyphen, had invaded my name. I loathed that space with every fiber of my being. My name mattered to me, and it was the only thing I really had in this world. I was born with it, and I would die with it someday. I viewed that small credit card as a symbol of disrespect to my entire person hood (ah, the passions of youth). I protested every thought of using my first credit card (still did it), and vowed to fight for my name the next time I had the chance.

A couple of years passed, and I opened another credit (store) card. I filled out the paperwork for the clerk, and was met with no complaints of anti-special character system protocols. A few days later, my new card came in the mail: “AMMIE” as my first name, and “MARIE” as my middle name. A monstrosity. I called the company immediately for a correction, but my complaint fell to deaf ears. It was what the clerk wrote into the computer system; it was her word against mine.

Later that year, I opened a credit card with a major bank, and filled out the form for myself online. My name was finally accepted, special characters and all, as valid. My card arrived in the mail, and it was beautiful. For the first time in my life, four years after I turned 18, I finally felt like an adult. I owned a credit card with my name, my real name, on it. It was an important victory for me; I had won a battle, but not the war.

Since I opened my first credit card, many government and financial institutions have changed their form policies to reject special characters in names. It’s become easier than ever to steal someone’s identity, and allowing more characters in data may be a gateway to that type of theft. The restrictions are understandable.

I walk on broken glass every time I’m issued a new bank card or update my voter registration, never knowing if I’ll be given a space or a merger in my first name. If I’m given the choice, I reject the space altogether and go with “AmmieMarie”. It’s easier that way.

When Prince changed his name to a glyph in 1993, the move certainly made Warner Bros. unhappy, but I can only imagine what his driver’s license looked like. I believe wholeheartedly that one of the reasons he changed his name back to “Prince” must be because of the annoyance and difficulty of enforcing his new name. He was an unspoken champion for all who challenged the system for the purpose of acceptance or change, even down to form restrictions. Now that he’s gone, it’s up to people like me to continue carrying the torch into the revolutionary darkness.

In the future, I expect to receive requests to change my name legally across the board. With the way things are going these days, maybe the government will make that decision for me. Without a doubt, the character restriction will only get worse from here as we move forward in the age of technology. I can only hope that some computer programmer, somewhere, working for one of these institutions will have the courage to fight the new standard, and silently wave a flag for those of us who are uniquely named.

I won’t give it up that easily, I will never back down. I will fight, just as my mother did so long ago, to keep my name. This is my story, this is MY name. It’s the only thing I truly carried into this world, and it will be the only thing I leave with someday.

Someday, when I’m old and gray, you may have it… over my dead body.


About the Author: Ammie-Marie Littke

Minimalist. Adventure seeker. Prefer experiences over things. Scientifically curious. Technological enthusiast. Independent voter. Songwriter. Avid music fan (80's music trivia whiz). Active concert goer. Michigan Wolverines fan. Beach snob. Borderline fashionista, but also in love with flare jeans.

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