Matching persons with different official names

Published by Winfried van Holland on 06-01-2010 in Data Quality.

Tags: cultural differences, fault-tolerant matching, matching, names, naming confusion, nicknames.

Dealing with matching of persons or contact data in general, we are all aware that individuals can make use of abbreviations or nicknames as kind of synonyms for their name. Classic examples are the usage of the name Bill for the actual name William, or like my own father is using the name Mans while officially his name is Hermanus. Most data matching engines make use of a kind of synonym table to take care of this. That can be done because within a culture or region the nicknames are quite often linked to the same names and people do not tend to use completely different official registered names.

It becomes more challenging if there is no longer a link between nickname and official name. That may happen, for example, if people move from one cultural region to another where also other writing sets are used. Take for example my chinese friend 高为民, whose Latin name would be Gao Weimin (family name first), but the moment he works in Europe or the US he is using the Latin variant William Gao. There is no common relation to the name William and Weimin both in Latin or Chinese and it they are no phonetic variants of each other.

Recently, I have read a very impressive book from Dave Eggers, called `What is the What´. It gives you a good insight in one of the current problem areas of the world and how people try to survive there. Achak Denk is one of the so-called Lost Boys from Sudan. During his live in Sudan, in refugee camps and finally in the US he is officially using differnt names. That has nothing to do with purposely trying to mystify his identity, but more with receiving an identity from your environment – at that time and place. He is born as Achak, baptized as Valentino, and later on using the name Dominic or Dominic Arou and Marialdit. Of course there are people calling him nick names as ‘Sleeper’ or ‘Gone Far’ but at certain periods in his life he is officially using completely different names. This makes automatic matching of persons, or even manual matching, challenging and keeps it interresting.

I would recommend the book to everyone who wants to learn about what is happening in our world, and especially those interested in names (don’t forget to study all the names in the last Section of the book).

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