A Boy Named Stilgherrian

When one adopts a one-word pseudo-elfin name, one might expect a spot of trouble

Stilgherrian has a delightful and expletive-laden rant about Google (“a data mining company in the United States”) and its controversial “real name policy.” In it, he makes several good points and tosses off a flurry of gratuitous invective.

His eponymous blog has an entire category titled “Only One Name.”

Stilgherrian really is my legal name. One given name, no surname. It’s on my passport, my Medicare card and all the nasty letters I get from my bank manager. It’s pronounced like this [MP3]. Most people call me “Stil” for short.

It’s not the name my parents gave me. It’s one I adopted when I was in my early 20s. I was, it must now be revealed, part of a nest of Dungeons and Dragons players at the University of Adelaide where one of the people was, like me, interested in linguistics. He coined the word “Stilgherrian” as a name for me — me personally, that is, not one of the game characters. It stuck, and for various reasons I decided to adopt it legally. It doesn’t mean anything, it was just intended to “sound right”.

This category includes posts about the problems I encounter when dealing with inflexible bureaucracies and computer systems — although as you’ll see I don’t write about it very often.

He’s got every right to call himself Stilgherrian–a right he’s exercised some three decades. And, having legally changed his name to Stilgherrian, secured passports and all the rest with that name on it, he has every right to travel, receive mail, and otherwise operate under the name Stilgherrian.

Further, given that whole societies still operate without surnames or include names with characters that don’t exist on the standard English keyboard, you’d think a global information company like Google could have avoided this unforced error.

On the other hand, if you’re a grown man and give yourself a made-up name derived from a made-up universe in defiance of the standard naming conventions in the society in which you intend to live your remaining decades, you might expect a spot of trouble now and again. And, having reached middle age with this as a fact of most of your adult life, you might have a sense of wry bemusement, rather than entitled outrage, over the matter.

Johnny Cash weighs in:

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. “Sue” is easier to spell (and pronounce)–although I bet Google+ wouldn’t let you go by just “Sue,” either.

  2. John Burgess says:

    Sure it would! All you have to do is enter, as your surname, NLN (No Last Name). Google might knock it down to ‘Nln’, but your soul remains pure, your point made. Only by insisting that Google (and others) adjust their systems to massage your ego do you end up with problems.

  3. Jay Tea says:

    My neighbor, Throatwarbler Mangrove, finds this incredibly stupid.


  4. Franklin says:

    I’m too lazy to look for it, but I once came across a list called something like, “things that programmers cannot assume about names” – it was fascinating, I’m surprised that Google failed to heed one of the first things in the list, IIRC.

    Oh, hell, I just found it first try:


  5. rodney dill says:

    @John Burgess: I never much liked adjusting my behavior to accomodate computer misbehavior. I really took exception to the grocery automatic check out station that kept asking me if I’d left anything on the bottom of my cart, when I didn’t have a cart.

  6. JKB says:

    Remember that “Don’t Be Evil” slogan of Google’s? Well, Google has become a bureaucracy and bureaucracies are evil. A necessary evil but evil none the less. See bureaucrats have forms and those forms must be filled out correctly, even if the correct way is some arbitrary internal practice. Or as in this case, just the way it was programmed.

    For instance, did you know that to file a federal worker’s compensation claim with the Department of Labor you had to have dependents? Well, not actually, but there is a box on the form for Dependents. This Dependents box lists, spouse, children, other. Notice what is missing? “None” But if you don’t mark something in the box, you claim is rejected due to “incomplete form.” No where on earth does it say that you must mark each box even when not applicable but if you want your form to make it past the cursory examination, you’d better have a “N/A” in every box where you don’t have a selection of answers.

    You learn this when you help employees file their claims so you see the “tricks”. By the way, don’t attempt to discuss the illogic with one of the claims processors. You see in this world, there are forms and the forms must be filled out properly. Whatever that means this week.

  7. Alex says:

    I have, since birth, always been called by my middle name (I’m named for my father, but using my middle name keeps us from being confused with each other). Whenever possible on official forms I use a first initial and a spelled-out middle name. While this isn’t “the norm” in the US, it’s certainly not uncommon by any means. And yet, most databases can’t handle it, so my financial records end up having a mish-mash of different formations: initial-and-name in the first name slot and blank middle initial; two initials with no spelled-out name; my first name spelled out because I wasn’t allowed to choose something different from what’s on my Social Security card; bizarre misspellings where the first initial got attached to my middle name with a random letter or two stuck in between. Whenever I call customer service for anything and they ask me to identify myself, I have to throw out a couple of possibilities and hope that it doesn’t sound too suspicious.

  8. Jay Tea says:

    @Alex: I have, since birth, always been called by my middle name (I’m named for my father, but using my middle name keeps us from being confused with each other).

    G. Gordon Liddy, Willard Mitt Romney, and M. Night Shamalan come to mind immediately,


  9. rodney dill says:

    L. Ron Hubbard

  10. Of course, there are also examples of one-namers: Madonna and Cher come immediately to mind.

    But, at least in terms of what Alex is talking about, the issue is legal documents and computer databases. I doubt that Madonna’s driver’s license says just “Madonna.”