Friday, August 21, 2009

Whats in a name

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet." - Romeo and Juliet

Juliet tells Romeo that name itself is meaningless and she loves the person for what he is and not for what his name stands for. Now you must be wondering what this has to do with UID! Actually nothing much except the fact that I wanted to write about one of the issues we are dealing with as part of UID.

Indian names can be from a single word to many words and naming styles vary from region to region. So, how do we map these to a standard structure such as "First Name - Middle Name - Last Name"? Why do we need to map, you may ask. If we do not map names, addresses, etc. to machine interpretable data, we will end up with the same mess as other existing systems. For example, if we capture name as a free flow text where a resident can fill anything, "Ram Lal Sharma" will be different from "Ram Sharma" from "R.L.Sharma" from "Ram Lal S." and so on. And treating these are different can end up with many records of same person because system interprets them as different.

That precisely is the reason we need to be able to structure names as much as possible. Of course, since we have no clear definition of what goes in First Name or Last Name fields, it is still possible for residents to swap them (managing uniqueness is altogether a different issue which I will one day talk about). But, if we have fully expanded and structured names, we at least have some hope of doing "fuzzy" comparisons to identify matches.

More than the technology issue, how does one person actually know what to fill (the upper strata of the society, the educated ones, have it all easy!) in these fields? We need to demonstrate with examples and suggest how to go about mapping their names. Eventually, since UID is expected to cover everyone and become part of birth certificate, we hope that people will start thinking names in this fashion.

We cannot consider name as part of a primary identifier for a person. What do we do with one word names, say, "Krishna" with no middle or last names? What do we do when they change their names, say after wedding? Or change because of some one told them that changing name from "Karthik" to "Kaarthick" will bring them good luck! All these need to be thought through as we build the system.

One thing is clear. Although we cannot depend on the name for any logic, we still need to try getting as much structure in place in all these attributes still supporting all the quirks. Good fun indeed!


  1. Interesting:


  2. Saw the news. Interesting...

    One issue I can think of is that people can own multiple mobile numbers. Fundamental assumption of UID is that every one get one and only one UID. Not a difficult issue to solve though.

    Another issue is that of privacy. Since UID will be used for identification in various systems (Tax, Bank, etc.), in general, people may want to keep those numbers as private as possible (it is not secret like PIN, but, nevertheless private).

  3. Yes. I couldn't agree more!

    I think you should enlighten the guys who wrote this article with your thoughts :)

  4. But what about a lot of nameless, faceless people who live on the pavements and the railway tracks? Will a unique name have to be assigned to them before they are brought under the scanner?