Name Blindness

I am perplexed. However, this time I know what I am perplexed about – and it is something that occurs every once in a while, but predictably. In fact, I can cause it to happen at will. The next time you’re bored, you can try a simple experiment, and see what happens.

Most people have two names at a minimum, a first name and a last name. Most probably also have a middle name – it’s the name in-between. That said, middle names don’t get used very much, unless your Mom is really pissed at you or you’re an accused or convicted murderer – then, you get all three names, like John Wilkes Booth or Lee Harvey Oswald.

(Yes, growing up in Texas, I know some people of Mexican descent who have a first name, a middle name and two last names. I’m not one of them, and I always have to remember that the last name may not be the last name. Let’s not get into that, shall we?)

Nonetheless, I use all three of my names from time to time. I have a long last name, so the other two names balance it out.

I will explain my logic mathematically:

  • Kevin (5) Gilhooly (8)
  • Kevin (5) John (4) Gilhooly (8)

5+4 = 9 and nine is closer to eight than five. So, it’s balanced. Approximately.

Besides, John was my Dad, so it helps me pay a little tribute to him.

As a bonus, my full name takes up a lot of room on a line of text, so it stands out in a list of names, which makes it easy for people to find when scanning lists of people on the pre-sale ticket list. So, even though it might make me look like a murderer (or Mom’s pissed at me again), there are some times I use all three names. Also, some computer forms ask for a middle name, so I always fill it in, because I have one. Use it or lose it.

There’s just one problem with using three names. It causes name blindness.

It came up again this evening. I got an email request for some nonprofit consulting, and the request started with “John -“. The only time someone addresses me as “John” instead of “Kevin” is when my middle name is included, and they don’t know me. I went and looked at my profile page, and it is headlined “Kevin John Gilhooly.”

Now, it makes sense that no strangers ever call me “John” when I don’t use my middle name, because they wouldn’t know what it was. However, even when it is on the form, it’s in the middle.

What happened to “Kevin”? Why does everyone who doesn’t know me skip over it? Is this one of those balance things I was supposed to learn in photography class, where the eyes are drawn to the middle?

It happens all the time. If I have my first and middle names on a form, my first name just disappears to people seeing my full name. Am I the only one who is confounded by this?

I actually tried an experiment a few years ago, and included my middle name in my Facebook name, and I started getting called “John” by acquaintances or people trying to become my acquaintances. Friends know my name, so they just continued to call me various expletives. Family avoids me, so it didn’t matter. I dropped my middle name from the name field, and the same acquaintances-to-be all started calling me “Kevin.”

WTF?

I would expect that three names would throw some people off, but I don’t understand the universal tendency for people to assume a middle name is the name to use when a perfectly good first name is included in the same full name. It’s called the first name because it is … first.

Maybe Lincoln called John Wilkes Booth “Wilkes” at a reception, and he finally snapped. Just sayin’.

If I would have put Kevin “John” Gilhooly, then I would expect people would think “John” was my nickname, like “Scooter” or “Bulldog” or any number of other, better nicknames, because “John” is a really bad nickname for “Kevin.” The only nicknames for “Kevin” are “Kev” and “Kevino.” So if I had put “John” in quotes, then I would understand being called “John.”

If I put K. John Gilhooly, I would expect robocallers to ask for KJohn, and I would understand people calling me “John” and not “K.”

Actually, that would be funny, because every time somebody called me, it would sound like they were asking for my agreement. K, John?

However, my full name is “Kevin John Gilhooly.” I suppose if I added my Confirmation name, it’s “Kevin John Peter Gilhooly”, so maybe then I would be called “Peter.”

This is why formal letters use “Mr. Gilhooly”. It’s pretty obvious which one I want you to use for my last name.

If you see a middle name, do you assume the person wants you to use it instead of the first name?

By the way, if you’ll be my bodyguard, you can call me Al. Otherwise, “Kevin” will do.

Always Acknowledge a Request

I had a flashback to my early coding days this week, thanks to Dallas County. It then occurred to me it was the same issue that caused the Christmas miracle. (Summary: I signed up for a hydroponic garden from the city (well, I thought I was asking for more information), and after silence, it arrived. Out of the blue.)

This was caused by a computer system receiving a request and then not acknowledging it.

My wife signed us up for COVID-19 vaccines and got nothing in response. Silence. So, I assumed if questioned, I could just say I didn’t know (since I never got anything) and signed us up again. This time, we got an email acknowledging the entry, and telling us to sit tight for more information.

Obviously, somebody fixed the system so it would send a reply.

That’s when I had a flashback to 1983 or so. I’m working at a telecom company, doing systems programming, applications programming, operations .. (it was a small company.) There was a daily report that showed, actually, I don’t remember what exactly it showed, but it was really important to one of the finance people, a rather cranky old woman named Verna. (In my defense, I was in my early twenties, and I thought she was old, so she was probably 32.)

The problem that Verna had was that pretty much every day, the systems were out of balance, so there was a report for her to review. On the very rare occasions when everything was balanced (say, a full moon and a solar eclipse on the same day), there was no need for a report, so nothing printed. Everything had worked, so there was no out-of-balance report.

This was logical but it was also a problem. Since the report was usually a one-page report, if it didn’t show up on Verna’s desk, there was a possibility that everything had balanced out, but there was also a probability that the overnight operators had just misplaced it.

So, she said we had to print a report to say that there was no report.

Because I was young and foolish, and hadn’t received a hydroponic garden I had forgotten I had ordered arrive yet, I thought this was an insane request. Nonetheless, I was on call, so I found the source code, added a flag that was set to True (no report) at the beginning of the program, and got set to False as soon as something was out of balance.

At the end of the program, if the flag was still True, I added enough code to print a one-page report that said “Today there is no report.” Then, I forgot about it. Verna either got a report or she got a report that said there was no report. Peace in the valley.

Six months later, we had auditors come in. They were reviewing everything. I mean everything. They looked at the tape maintenance procedures, disk backup procedures, computer room access, and all sorts of procedures.

Then, they started reading source code. All the source code.

Two days later, one of the auditors came over to my desk. He looked puzzled. He said, “Uh, do you know about what the So_Verna_Wont_Bitch_Flag does?”

This is why people should not read other people’s code.

So, the auditor actually had to document that Verna had complained that was not a report that said there was no report, and I had to fix the original code to determine if a report had been created, and it not, print the “no report” report.

I may have been a wee bit cranky when I did the update, since I thought, “I’m wasting my time making a stupid program update to print a report that there was no report, specifically so Verna will stop bitching.”

The great thing about COBOL was that you could be very literal. So, I added the “So_Verna_Wont_Bitch_Flag”, and forgot about it. That’s the answer I gave him.

The auditor never asked me another question.

So, when Virginia registered with the county, nothing happened, which annoyed me no end. Did nothing happen? Did something happen and she threw the email out? Was I registered or not? When I registered a week later, I got an email. Now, I knew.

My assumption is that somebody in downtown added a So_Kevin_Wont_Bitch_Flag.

Well done.