Google+'s Broken Name Policy – Again!

by @edent | # # # | 13 comments | Read ~1,096 times.

Many years ago, I worked with a chap known only as D.C. That’s how he introduced himself, that’s how people referred to him, that was his name.

Eventually, I asked him what his real name was – and why he preferred “D.C.”

He replied “David Copeland“.

For those of you in America – imagine someone being named “Tim McVeigh“, or “Ted Kaczynski

I don’t think that anyone seriously thought that he was the same person who committed those atrocities and, for all I know, he changed his name long before the bombings happened. But it can’t be nice to have a name which reminds people of evil; not many babies are named Adolph these days.

All of which brings us to yet another misstep by Google+ and their “Real Names” policy. If you’re on Google+, you can now have a personalised URL! How innovative.
Google Plus Naming Screenshot

It’s almost a cliché to link to the seminal Falsehoods Programmers Believe About Names – and yet here Google are engaging in so many basic misconceptions.

Let’s go through some of the more obvious ones.

  • What if I get married? I assume 50% of Google+’s users are women who, statistically, are more likely to change their name after marriage. Is Maria Skłodowska never to be Marie Curie?
  • Supposing one of the other Terence Edens in the world goes and commits a horrible murder? Can I ever escape his shadow?
  • Perhaps I alter my name while going through gender transition?
  • I move country and want a name which fits in with their cultural norms – or their character set. Is that an impossible desire?
  • How about if I just want to change my name? 58,000 people in the UK did in 2011.

Finally, what if my name isn’t how I choose to be identified? On nearly every social network I’ve been able to choose how I am identified and, as a rule, it’s “edent”. Google, in their arrogance, have decided that they know what name is best for me, what name people will understand and recognise, and that the name is unchanging.

And people wonder why I despise Google+.


As some people have been kind enough to point out, if you’re accessing Google+ on a desktop/laptop computer – you are able to set your custom URL. So much for building a mobile first culture at Google!
Google Plus Change Name

I requested – which is not available. Despite the fact that it 404s at the moment.
URL Not Available

So, you can set your name – if Google approves it. Once Google has decided that’s your name, you’re stuck with it. Hope you didn’t make any typos in the request!

13 thoughts on “Google+'s Broken Name Policy – Again!

  1. I reckon Google don’t care, and at the risk of sounding paranoid, we have the US govt pressuring them to “out” users under a name that gives them a better grasp of who the customer is… the reality as we all now know is not that we are the customers.. or the advertisers but the intelligence community..

    Of course terrorists and malefactors are using totally bogus names with little traceability but still the intelligence machine now has a voraciousness for information that has driven it to trawl the 60 mn calls of Spanish housewives to their friends that the new policy is “No pseudonym left unexposed”.

  2. I recently worked on a self-care web application providing customers’ bills online and many of the items on the list of Falsehoods Developers Believe About Names are familiar.

    It is not just developers though – spare a thought for the Product Manager who has to justify the budget to develop all those edge cases – if a UK-style Firstname/Lastname is the base case (and the only one management thought of) then the cost of developing the data model and user stories for all the edge cases probably makes it 20 times as expensive.

    The Google model sounds very restrictive and I won’t defend it, but they have a more difficult problem trying to ensure users’ names are ‘real’ than we did. Our system implemented a billing relationship, so there was a financial incentive to the biller to get their customer’s name right: if you want to legally enforce payment, you had better make sure the bill is addressed to a real person! So the customer has to provide documented evidence of name changes. Google has nothing to gain (and a lot to lose) by doing something similar.


    1. That’s a good point. But at the moment, it’s just a URL. Now, I know that Cool URIs Don’t Change, but it wouldn’t be the world’s greatest feat of engineering to redirect Sue.Smith to Sue.Jones after a user gets married – and then back again after divorce.

  3. Denny says:

    My money is on them not allowing identifiers with fewer than 6 characters – the same limitation as the name part of a email address – and that’s why ‘edent’ isn’t available. The reason I turned down all my gmail alpha/beta invites was because I couldn’t have the username ‘denny’. 🙂

    1. Nope! If I try to get “+eden” is says “This custom URL is too short.” So, 5 appears to be the minimum acceptable length.

      Better hope “Pele” doesn’t want to join…

      1. Denny says:

        Hrm. I just got an email telling me I could have a custom URL, but I don’t see any way (on desktop) to request a different one. It’s +DennydelaHaye or nothing, so it seems. Where did you find the option?

  4. Just tried to sign up for this and they say “You must verify your mobile phone number by entering a code sent in a text message (SMS), before you can claim a custom URL… People who have this phone number may be able to find you on Google services. Learn More.” (link in orginal)

  5. Steve Harrop says:

    I have another example to consider: What if I happened to live in a sleepy German hamlet and I wanted to do this, but my name happened to be …”Eric Schmidt”? Do you think Google would allow me to use my real name – or are they going to now act as a Global Domain Naming Service – deciding who has “the most” right to use this unique URL based on their corporate and national perspective on ‘celebrity’ ? How will they resolve disputes against the many people sharing the same name. It brings back the domain-name hijacking disputes of old.

    1. Denny says:

      First come first served for the unencumbered name… second person to the party has to put a number or similar differentiator on the end. I’m wondering if this is why Terence had the option to change his (because someone else is also called Terence Eden) and why I don’t (because my full name is very likely unique).

      1. Steve Harrop says:

        I just hope Denny’s Restaurants in the US will be as laid back about it :-).

        1. Denny says:

          Sorry, I don’t understand this comment. As laid back as what? About what?

          The links you’ve provided show that they prefer the username ‘dennys’, not ‘denny’, so they’re not in conflict with me.

          1. Steve Harrop says:

            Hi – sorry, just trying to make a loose connection with the early days of domain name registration – when people claimed any domain name they liked and then corporates stepped in and started claiming cease-and-desist through trademark/copyright, or “domain jacking”, “cybersquatting” to get their hands on the valuable domain/URL, leading to …

  6. It’s seriously broken!
    Every country that doesn’t have letters not found in the english alphabet are fucked!
    My name is Søren (the ø is basically oe) and Google+ has given me my danish name /sørenjensendk – which fucks everything up when trying to implement author markup…

    Since this doesn’t work the following countries are fucked: Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Faroe Islands…. And probably every other country that don’t have A-Z alphabet.

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