Friday, May 11, 2018

Names are Complicated

For court systems, who must deal with persons from all the wonderful cultures from around the world, as well as corporations and other legal entities, how names are captured and displayed in the case and document management systems can be a challenge.  We discuss below.


One of the things (yes, humble brag) that I am very proud of in my career is the adoption in the original GJXDM and ECF standards of the tag/field called “full name” or officially, in NIEM it is “PersonFullName”.

I recommended this approach because I was aware of many international person name structures that do not follow the USA standard of first, middle, last (note 1).  Names of persons from Brazil is my favorite reference.  There are several great examples from the members of the Superior Tribunal de Justica such as the full name of “Minister Maria Isabel Diniz Gallotti Rodrigues”. Obviously, this doesn't work for first, last database fields.

For some related work, I went searching to see if I could find a document on name structures and how they might be handled?  I found a terrific resource from the W3C internet organization titled “Personal names around the world”.

The paper explains that names can be structured using multiple family names, middle initials or middle names, and be written in a different order than what we are used to in the USA.  And for our system design, I really appreciated the part of the article that discussed whether one needs separate fields for given (their recommendation for “first name”) and family (last) name.  This is where the full name approach is used. 

I also liked the section in the paper that showed separate fields for full name and it also asked the question, “what should be call you? (for example, when we send you mail)?” This approach is very useful for online systems.

The paper also discusses multiple character support which I have run into in several jurisdictions.  The paper suggests that two fields, one in the local alphabet and a “Latin translation, if different” be captured.  Excellent.

But there is one more problem for the court systems.  We very often need to be able to display or create reports sorted by the last name so that it is easier to navigate to the additional information that we need.  So, our decision has been to keep first and last names and added the full name to handle both persons and for organizational parties in a case.


Note 1: Another example. I worked for a Justice on the Arizona Supreme Court who had two middle initials, Jack D. H. Hays.

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