In some societies it is common that people have only a given name.
Example: The Nepalese. A sherpa who has climbed Mount Everest a record 17 times has only a given name: Appa.
Example: The Burmese.
Full names may be composed of elements all of which could be given names or all of which could be surnames. It is therefore essential to collect and field this data correctly at source as post-processing can't put these elements into the correct field.
People may change their names during their lifetime. This is not only the case when a person marries (and when people marry they do not necessarily change their names).
Example in some societies, such as in the United States of America and in Great Britain, people may choose to change their names. Some examples of names people have chosen:
Dr Patsy-Smasher Omlette, Miss Jelly Tots, Willy Wonka, Mr and Mrs Puffin (their surnames being a mesh of their pre-marriage names: Pugh and Griffin), Michale Jackson, Wayne Rooney, Amy Winehouse, David Beckham
Example: Azerbaijanis with Russian patronymic surname forms adopted Azeri patronymic surname forms after Azerbaijan became independent.
When people marry, depending on the society and laws in force at the time, the female may adopt the male's surname. The male may adopt the female's surname. They may both keep their own surnames or create an amalgam of both, with or without hyphens, in any order; or a completely new surname may be created. Any children may take the male's surname, or the female's, or a combination or amalgam of both, with or without hyphens, in any order; or a completely new surname may be created. Each child may take a different surname, or the daughters one surname and the sons another. In other words, old-fashioned assumptions about naming patterns within families no longer hold true in many societies.
Example: The Aruban singer Dave Benton who won the Eurovision Song Context for Estonia in 2001 is actually Efr'en Eugene Benita.
Example: The actor Alexander Siddig's full name is Siddig El Tahir El Fadil El Siddig Abderrahman Mohammed Ahmed Abdel Karim El Mahdi, (صدّيق الطاهر الفاضل الصدّيق عبدالرحمن محمد أحمد عبدالكريم المهدي, Ṣiddīq aṭ-Ṭāhir al-Fāḍil aṣ-Ṣiddīq ʿAbd ur-Raḥman Muḥammad ʾAḥmad ʿAbd ul-Karīm al-Mahdī) and is also known as Siddig El Fadil.
Example: The Latvian singer Mārtiņš Freimanis appeared in the Eurovision Song Contest of 2003 as Martin Freiman.
People may be known with a different name by different people or groups of people.
Example: The king of Belgium from July 2013 is known as Philippe by French-speakers but as Filip by Dutch-speakers. His uncle was known as Baudouin by French-speakers and as Boudewijn by Dutch-speakers.
Acquire knowledge. Understanding how personal names can be formed globally, how they change during a person's lifetime, how they can be written in different ways in different contexts etc. - knowing this lays the groundwork for knowing how to process them, what to do and what not to do.
Collect personal name data correctly at the data entry stage. Personal name data is largely impossible to correctly parse or process in batch processing.
If you make compromises, know what the consequences will be and prepare for those. Not every system may be able to contain every personal name correctly, so you need to know in what ways the data collected differs from the ideal/real world situation.
Avoid over processing of personal names, which can be so varied that any assumption about them is usually incorrect. You can standardise forms of address, academic titles, seniority indicators etc., but avoid altering names themselves.
Collect data as fully as possible. For example, from a full given name you can create initials, but you cannot create full given names from initials.
The more that a name can be split into component parts, the more ways in which it can be used. This allows, for example, a full name to be used, or just the given or surnames, or initials, depending on requirements and circumstances. However, without a good understanding of global personal names, parsing personal names into their component parts is not easy to do and will result in errors when the name is used. Storage options must therefore depend on a balance between optimal use and tolerable error levels.
Personal names may contain one or more of the following elements, which can be used in different contexts:
First given name
Second given name
Other given name(s)
Name use on a day to day basis, if different from the first given name