Whether you are creating an online profile or opening a new bank account, the first thing you need to provide is your name. The name needs to follow specific rules to qualify as a valid name field. Fortunately, the majority of us who have conventional names quickly manage to complete that step very swiftly.

Such practices that go unevaluated for several years often end up becoming unwritten and widely accepted rules. But every once in a while, you have out-of-the-box personalities like Elon Musk, who just by the act of naming his son, can create a significant impact in the data industry and challenge our conventional approaches.

So, the question is, can just a name change the game? And the answer is, most definitely! 

So What’s In A Name?

Shakespeare was on the right track when he asked, “What’s in a name?” But he referred to roses for that particular phrase. When it comes to humans, we tend to name newborn babies based on past references.

As per SSA’s website, there are 163,657 Noahs and 177,410 Emmas in this current decade alone. However, if you plan to come up with a unique name for your baby, you have to think like Elon Musk. He thought what no one ever did before, and we were all introduced to X Æ A-12. No, this is not a jumble of alphabets and special characters; it is the name of the newest member of Elon Musk’s family. Elon Musk is well known for his imaginative, innovative and astounding ideas, thoughts and works: SpaceX, Tesla Automotive motors, Hyperloop, OpenAI and many more. And he did not shy away in challenging the name trend when it came to naming their son.

“X Æ A-12,” is unique in its own ways. It’s an unusual pronunciation, and it also challenged the California state rules regarding name on birth certificates. Only the 26 letters of the English language, with some exception of punctuation in titles like “O’Hare” and “Smith-Jones” are allowed as names in most places. No one knows the reason, but the couple changed their baby’s name soon, but just a bit, to X Æ A-Xii.

With this exciting move, this name will challenge existing rules. And while doing so, it has also raised a very intriguing question about data constraints and boundaries. What if, one day, there are fewer or no limitations on data boundaries (e.g., the use of special characters) for one’s name? How may it impact data quality, or should I say the whole data industry?

Challenging The Trend

Today, it is often said that all businesses are data businesses, wherein any activity or process requires appropriate data for proper execution. You have to provide crucial personal information to use any personalized services, such as when you open a bank account, get admission to a school or college or even create an email ID. The first thing you do is fill in your name. Many people have experienced getting their form rejected or the system throwing an error just because the name is in a different format or has some numbers.

The bigger question is, why we have to follow these constraints while choosing names? The main reason might be the long supported tradition. We had never done this before; we never thought it was logical to use digits and special characters in titles — or that someone would do it. We created these rules around data boundaries and restrictions for the applications’ simplicity and effectiveness based on the same concept. These rules were created based on our conventional wisdom or probably due to the technical limitations we had in the past.

The entire industry has been using these rules and guidelines because few people have tried to use unconventional names that contain special characters. These guidelines have been utilized in various data quality rules and data profiling, helping design applications like CDD/KYC, fraud detection and AML, where these rules are used in several algorithms and analytics like name-matching, watch list filtering, etc.

But what if more and more people begin to use the unique characters and digits in their names? What currently is not required may become a demand soon. Now that Elon Musk has set a public-facing example, it is only wise to assume that there could be other parents doing the same in the near future. Change is the call of time, and common norms are now being questioned. It could impact standardization, fraud detection, customer service and generic routines. 

Data Quality For The New Era: Is It Up For A Change?

Data quality rules help in deciding and inspecting what goes into systems and databases. The existing systems are not built to deal with special characters in a given name field, just like how computing systems were not ready to deal with a 4-digit year field during the Y2K issue before the year 2000. It’s time to acknowledge these challenges and remodel the underlying principles that support data quality dimensions. There could be considerable impacts on every aspect of the data journey because of this — including data extraction, standardization, validation, etc. 

Where Do We Go From Here?

Data quality rules and standards vary for each organization — and even within each system or application across the same organization. Data governance teams should broaden name and address standards and ask their IT teams to implement this change across the various systems.

In addition, international agencies that provide data governance framework should also rehaul outdated standards and provide recommendations on handling such scenarios. The cost of making changes after the fact is always higher than proactively designing systems to align with evolution in the data industry. It’s time to think, plan and act before exceptions become norms.