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I've recently started at a new job. Since starting, I've been unable to access an internal IT system I need.

Support have told me that it is likely because my email address has an apostrophe. My last name includes an apostrophe, and it seems they have the convention of making the email address exactly match the full name.

I assumed it would be possible to simply change the email address to remove the apostrophe.

However the support person has informed me that in order to change my email, I must first change my last name to remove the apostrophe there as well.

This will mean that in all company systems, my name will be wrong. I'm unhappy about this, but I'm not sure how much to push the issue.

A quick search of the company directory shows that there are other people with the same last name, who do not have the apostrophe in their email address.

Part of me wants to tell them that they must find a work-around, to avoid the need for me to change my name. However, I'd also like to avoid causing drama, when I'm only new in the company.

Is it unreasonable to expect that the IT systems should support my name, without modification? Is it reasonable for them to expect me to change my name in the system?

Update: 2nd April


I realised this question is causing some confusion as written. They're not asking me to change my legal name, as in changing by deed poll. Of course that would be unacceptable. They're asking me to change my name in the official HR system, which they will then use to re-create my email address. So it will just mean that in all official company systems my name will be missing the apostrophe.
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  • 13
    You have found multiple people in your company directory with apostrophes in their names. Are they located in a place that uses the same timesheet system? Is it possible to reach out to one of them to understand how their accounts were set up?
    – Lyrl
    Apr 2 at 14:44
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    Not a dupe, but relevant. stackoverflow.com/questions/8527180/…
    – Criggie
    Apr 3 at 8:27
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    There're several similar-looking but distinct Unicode characters that can represent an apostrophe. There is a possibility that their system doesn't like the one that was entered as part of your name: ' APOSTROPHE (U+0027), FULLWIDTH APOSTROPHE (U+FF07), ‘ LEFT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK (U+2018), ’ RIGHT SINGLE QUOTATION MARK (U+2019), ‛ SINGLE HIGH-REVERSED-9 QUOTATION MARK (U+201B), ` GRAVE ACCENT (U+0060), ˋ MODIFIER LETTER GRAVE ACCENT (U+02CB), ´ ACUTE ACCENT (U+00B4), ˊ MODIFIER LETTER ACUTE ACCENT (U+02CA), ′ PRIME (U+2032), ʹ MODIFIER LETTER PRIME (U+02B9), ‵ REVERSED PRIME (U+2035), etc. Apr 4 at 3:14
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    The 1933 Mayor of New York was John P. O'Brien. Apostrophes in surnames predate computers and were known to Americans.
    – Bohemian
    Apr 4 at 7:46
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    If the change is to b ein the HR system, make sure you will not have problems after you leave that company and retire (because the papers they will give you, or the data they send to the government do not match your actual name)
    – WoJ
    Apr 4 at 10:07

13 Answers 13

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However the support person is now insisting that in order to change my email, I must first change my last name to remove the apostrophe there as well.

Ask them whether that will change your legal last name on your paystubs that go to your version of the IRS (taxes). If that is the case (and it will), tell them you will not be part in falsifying any legal records.

That they transfer last names exactly into email addresses means those IT people are clueless morons. It does not work for so many last names, not only yours. And it hasn't, for decades. It's not that your name is somehow new to this world. IT people had to deal with names that do not make up valid computer usage all their life. The US invented computers and used a very limited set of characters, that wouldn't even work for all languages spoken inside the US. And certainly not outside. We have dealt with it. Having a valid email address to any given name is not rocket science by any means. It might be a good practice test for IT people's first year exams. But it's certainly not a hard business problem for anyone having finished their education.

Obviously, you cannot tell a stupid idiot they are a stupid idiot. So just tell them you won't be part in changing your last name on legal documents and let them figure out the rest of it.

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    The tax thing is something that concerns me as well. At this stage I've been getting my payslips with all details correct. I really hate the idea of intentionally messing up my details, using a name that doesn't match my ATO record (our equivalent of IRS), and bank account, just to work with 1 slightly faulty company system. Apr 1 at 8:12
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    "It does not work for so many last names, not only yours. And it hasn't, for decades." - Well I mean technically, apostrophes are allowed in e-mail addresses (and have been, for decades).
    – marcelm
    Apr 1 at 18:56
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    This seems passive aggressive to me. Why not simply state that this doesn't sound like a workable solution and respectfully ask the support associate to either escalate the ticket to a higher tier support or pull in a fellow associate to spitball other options? If you message it nicely it shouldn't turn into a conflict in the slightest.
    – DanK
    Apr 1 at 19:03
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    @XavierJ This question is not tagged with any country, I highly doubt that that people report to their tax authority across the globe using a US method of identification.
    – nvoigt
    Apr 2 at 6:16
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    tell them you will not be part in falsifying any legal records => I'm on OPs side but this is a stretch of imagination. Removing an apostrophe is not the same as "falsifying legal records". Apr 2 at 22:51
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EDIT: Ok, the OP is assuring us that this issue started a couple of weeks ago and that that this isn't an April fool's joke.

In which case, I would still do this:

Stay your ground. Do not change your name. Send out an email requesting that they implement the same solution that they used for your coworkers with apostrophes in their name. Be a broken record about this.

But at the same time, be open to the possibility that your situation is different than theirs. Perhaps, your name is significantly longer than theirs. Or perhaps, there is a some hidden field that you're not aware of. Or perhaps, the others were able to change their active directory name without messing up their "display name" in other parts of the system. So be sure to phrase your email in such a way that allows them to come back to you and explain what's going on.

Part of me wants to tell them that they must find a work-around, because I'm not changing my name. However, another part of me really wants to avoid causing drama, when I'm only new in the company.

If you don't like drama, don't change your name.

If you agree to change your name to suit their system, without knowing why the others didn't need to change theirs, you will regret it. You will resent them for forcing you into that situation.

And once you do give them your permission, you won't be able to change it back because it will no longer be that IT person's problem, it will be yours now.

And yes, having the correct name can be important. Not having matching names can screw up employee directory autocomplete searches when people try to get ahold of you. It can screw up reference checks. It could delay bank deposits. It could screw with some of your benefits/taxes. It can delay visa applications. It can get you a secondary screening anytime you need to take a plane. But if nothing else, this issue will mean that you'll need to re-introduce yourself every time someone misuses the incorrect name.

And again, I'm not saying you should be categorical about this. I'm only saying that the burden is on them to explain to you why your situation is so different from the other employees (that have apostrophes in their name). The time to ask questions is now, not later. Don't agree to something you do not fully understand.

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    If it's a joke it is quite an offensive one.
    – rvs
    Apr 1 at 13:33
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    @rvs It probably depends a bit on the joker, but wouldn't call it really offensive generally. A funny retaliation would be suggesting to change your name to IT guy's name imho. If it turns out that it is not a joke, you could scold the guy a bit for offering such a stupid solution.
    – s.alem
    Apr 1 at 14:12
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    It would be a very unprofessional thing to do but in some offices might be a prank. Though if the office is bureaucratic I doubt it. Bureaucracies tend to be humorless blobs that resist change, fun, and all creativity. :)
    – bob
    Apr 1 at 17:12
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    It's not a joke unfortunately. Posting this on 1st April was entirely coincidental, but the issue has been ongoing since I started at the company a few weeks ago, and the first comment about changing my name happened a few days ago. Apr 1 at 20:45
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    @user1751825, Either way, it doesn't matter. If they solved the issue with your coworkers (having the same apostrophes), they can use the same workaround for your name. The burden is on them to explain to you why your case is different. The burden is not on you to fix the problem for them. And if they don't know why there is a difference, they need to find out why. Most likely, there is a way to make the change in one location only. Apr 1 at 21:55
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The IT person is ignoring another common problem that they must certainly have to deal with, which has nothing to do with the technical details of your name. Let's say that your name was Susan Smith. There might be three employees in a large (American) organization with that same name. For that they already have to deal with the complexity of not following "the convention of making the email address exactly match the full name", so they can simply treat your name in a similar fashion. Use a variation. The simplest might be to drop the apostrophe, but as you say there are other people in the company with your name even that may not be sufficient. Work with them to choose an email address that you like. Just because the standard is first.last@my.company doesn't mean they can always do that.

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  • My company uses forename.surname.number, with the number exactly because of duplicates. The highest number I've seen so far was 4.
    – Trang Oul
    Apr 2 at 20:08
  • I'm somewhat reminded of the Screen Actors Guild, which from what I have read from actors and actresess, only permits one person per name, for all perpetuity. Several actors have had to change their name as part of joining SAG.
    – Cort Ammon
    Apr 6 at 4:19
  • @CortAmmon I've heard that. The significant difference is that when I want to look up "John Wayne" on IMDB I only have his name to go by, and we don't want to merge careers. In the employee database I almost certainly also have some sort of employee ID to allow me to differentiate one Susan from another, and will just have to deal with the multiples. (Yes, I deliberately picked John Wayne because he was one that changed his name, not likely because it was already used.)
    – Sinc
    Apr 6 at 20:42
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Analysis

It’s helpful to think what your goals are in this situation. I’d suggest that your goals should be to:

  1. not agree to go along with what is obviously a completely unacceptable idea of having any text string other than your legal name, correctly spelled, be used for the name field in your company’s HR systems; and

  2. do so in a way that’s friendly and respectful and could not be faulted in any way as unprofessional behavior, and yet leaves no room for ambiguity about your lack of consent.

Fortunately, you say that you have been asked to agree to the change of name. That means you can simply say no. There’s nothing unreasonable about saying no to a request (as opposed to saying no to a demand or a directive from a superior). You shouldn’t even provide the reasons why you are saying no - just decline the suggestion. And you can do all of that in a way that’s professional, respectful, and polite; see below.

Solution

I’d suggest responding to the request with an email along the following lines:

Hi [IT person],

Thanks for working with me on this issue. I appreciate your suggestion to change the spelling of my name in [company name]’s HR systems to something that the timesheet reporting subsystem can handle. That’s a creative idea, but I’m going to decline this solution for a host of reasons. It’s not acceptable to me, and I’d hazard a guess that it wouldn’t be consistent with company policy or what management wants either, to have the name field in the HR database be populated with something that’s not my legal name.

Please advise how we should move forward on this issue, and/or who else we should involve in the discussion to help figure out a solution. I’m happy to use any process you indicate to fill the timesheets, whether it’s on a paper form or electronically.

Yours,

[your name (correctly spelled with the apostrophe)]

Final thoughts

Your framing of the issue in terms of “are they being reasonable? Am I being reasonable? Are they disrespecting my heritage? Etc” seems unhelpful to me. You don’t want to make this about an issue of disrespecting someone’s heritage — that’s a highly subjective notion that people could have wildly differing ideas about and levels of sensitivity to. Instead, frame this as “this is my name; therefore this is what should go in the name field in the HR employee database”. That grounds your refusal in universal, culture-independent logic that I’m guessing no one will dare challenge or argue with.

Similarly, you don’t want to get into a pissing match about who’s being “reasonable” or “unreasonable”. Do not use those words in any discussions. You are being asked a a question about whether you agree to something. This implies you have the autonomy to say no. Well then, use that autonomy. “No” is a complete sentence. If they want to come back and later say that they’re demanding that you agree, then that’s a discussion for another day, presumably involving your direct superior and not some IT hack.

Finally, I would say it’s a common misconception that standing up for what you think is right in a workplace, in a way that antagonizes people and/or makes you seem unreasonable, is a bad thing. There are circumstances when it may be a bad thing. But by and large, I’ve found that people — even the same people who were momentarily antagonized by your failure to agree with them — end up respecting you more, not less, if you are able to stand up and argue against foolish ideas, and do so in a friendly and respectful way, while grounding your arguments in logic and facts as necessary.

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    @user1751825 like I said in the other comment, you need to escalate. If it’s a question, you can just say no. If it’s a statement that you must do something, then in order to mean anything it should come from a person with authority to make such an decision. Coming from someone in an IT support role, I would interpret it as being essentially a request, and reply in a manner similar to how I proposed in my answer (maybe cc’ing my supervisor, and throwing in an extra line like “cc’ing Matt - hey boss, can you advise who is in charge of HR records and involve them in the discussion?”)
    – Dan Romik
    Apr 1 at 23:53
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Sadly, IT systems that can't handle apostrophes are real. Since the character is used for both contractions and for quoting, it's easy for real-world software to mis-handle it. Worse, if accepted as data input and not handled correctly, it can be used for data-injection attacks on backend systems, so a lot of security departments agitate to block it at the front end. Yes this is all very frustrating but it's very much the current state of affairs. A year ago the local gov't hired some outfit to cobble together a database to organize covid shots for employees in our sector of work, and guess what, it choked on apostrophes, which until that time had worked fine in our systems. Do they suck? Why yes they do, but if we wanted our staff to get their appointment notices, we had to assign them all apostrophe-free aliases. So we did.

And that's the obvious answer: for the company to assign you an email address (and login name etc) that comes as close as possible to your proper name, that works in their systems. This is bog-standard for names too long, too hyphenated, too accented or too apostrophe'd to work. It's very common for Juan Esperanza D'Souza-Rodriguez to end up with the email address juan.dsouza@company.com.

The idea that someone should change their real-world name is absurd, and as others have hinted, may be a joke, or the brainfart of a very misguided low-level IT operative. Not to be taken seriously.

Now, if your company is super rigid about this and proposes to change your name in their records to remove the apostrophe, so that you are consistently ONeil or OMalley or DSouza throughout the company, you might need to go along with it. I'm known to my (large bureaucratic and highly-regulated) employer as a short form of my legal name (think Mel instead of Melvin) and my bank is happy to deposit my pay, the govt happy to take my taxes, etc. IANAL but I'm very much under the impression that doing business in good faith under a variant or minor mis-spelling of your real name is absolutely no issue, unless you try to use it fraudulently, like to escape tax or double-dip on benefits. So if they propose this, it's probably the way to go.

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    Unicode was introduced in 1991. Apostrophes were part of MacOS since 1984 and part of Windows for a similar time. Today, not supporting it is quite simply inexcusable.
    – gnasher729
    Apr 1 at 22:25
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    @gnasher729 Apostrophes (single quotes) don't require Unicode. It's ASCII character 39.
    – Xavier J
    Apr 2 at 1:25
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    Take it from a programmer: any software written in the last 30 years that actually fails with an apostrophe was written by an incompetent fool and is not remotely fit for purpose. Any software that can't handle it but doesn't fail was merely written by a lazy fool. Neither are acceptable. Apr 2 at 10:38
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    @JackAidley I think you're overestimating the quality of the average programmer. I have a directory on my system named "C-Sharp" because multiple programs were puking on it being named "C#". That happened within the last decade. Apr 2 at 16:00
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    Also, so what? The programmer is, in Jack's opinion, a fool. What does that fix? Nothing. You don't find it acceptable. Are you telling the OP to quit? Rewrite the offending software themselves on a free weekend and persuade IT to adopt it? Campaign long and loud through the company to replace something that 99% works with something that might 100% work, but might 95% work and will in any case be a New Thing To Learn That No-one Wants? Your opinion of the developer doesn't help the OP with their problem in the slightest. Apr 2 at 16:57
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Part of me wants to tell them that they must find a work-around, because I'm not changing my name. However, another part of me really wants to avoid causing drama, when I'm only new in the company.

If anyone would be causing drama, it would be the company for asking an employee to change their legal name due to the fact that it is "incompatible" with one of their systems.

Politely let your support know that you will not be changing your legal name to accommodate their system and make sure that you copy your boss as well. If you continue to receive pushback, I would start looking for a new company to work for.

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    -1 until I ensure you read the whole post. But maybe I am merely misreading this answer. They are not asking OP to change their legal name. Merely the value in the corporate system.
    – foreverska
    Apr 1 at 17:37
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    @foreverska The value currently in the corporate system should be the OP's legal name ( otherwise there wouldn't be an issue ). So yes, he was asked to change his legal name ( in the corporate system ) which is an unreasonable request.
    – sf02
    Apr 1 at 18:09
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    The phrase "Change legal name" has a deep connotation (even denotation?) of a government legal procedure. That is not what the company is asking for. Maybe "... the company asking an employee to change their name in the system to a value other than their legal name due to the fact that it is 'incompatible' with one of their systems" would more unambiguously get your point across.
    – foreverska
    Apr 1 at 18:34
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    Sorry I may need to clarify. Of course I won't be changing my actual legal name. They just want me to change my name in the company systems so it effectively won't match my actual legal name. Apr 1 at 20:51
  • @foreverska the problem is that the company is going to issue documents such as for tax reporting in the name given in company's computer systems. Which could have pretty severe consequences if those names don't match the legal name of the OP.
    – DaveG
    Apr 1 at 20:51
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The time sheet system should cope with a valid email address. So you cannot use it. You do not tell us how you log in. Is it Single Sign On?

In any case IT support should not be making business decisions...

IT support can tell you why this is a problem, they should also be able to tell you that they have escalated the problem and what the number of that problem ticket is. They CANNOT tell you to change your name. This is a chain of command issue. Their remarks should be taken as an informed comment and a root cause explanation.

You need to escalate this to the person that approves your time sheets for a workaround to be found. You may need to submit reports using an alternative method until a permanent resolution is found. Perhaps you can log on with an employee number. There will be someone authorised to enter time on your behalf. There may already be someone else that is affected in the same way.

In the meantime, the problem will be escalated, perhaps you may need to use a substitute or preceding (escape) character. You do not tell us much about the system, but if it is in-house they can fix it. They just need to be motivated.

Boarding passes must be fun too, I feel for you.

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  • This is surprisingly enough, the first time I've been required to do this, at any company, even back when I first started my professional career, over 20 years ago. To be encountering this problem in 2022 seems completely bizarre. Apr 1 at 20:55
  • This is a single sign-on system. You suggestion about addressing this with the person handling my timesheet approvals is a good one. I feel I've completely hit a wall with IT support, they're just resending their original responses. Clearly they have no intention of trying to find some alternative way to resolve this. Apr 1 at 20:59
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Also, a quick search of the company directory shows that there are lots of other people with the same last name, who do not have the apostrophe in their email address.

Clearly someone has been able to work around this issue in the past, so I see no reason why it would be impossible to do for me.

This is the obvious starting point to me. I would send the above to the support person and wait for their response.

Also, I would consider reaching out to one of those people with the same name as yourself, and ask them if they had any issues and how they got around it. The support person may never have seen this before, like you suspected, but someone sharing your name is likely to have.

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You shouldn't have this discussion with support, they can't decide on a thing like this. There are several reasons why neither you nor the company want your name changed, some of them legal. Neither support nor you know enough about it to avoid mistakes.

Involve your boss or even HR as soon as possible, and let them handle it. And don't agree to change your name everywhere no matter who asks.

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If all relevant legal documentation remains correctly spelled and they're only asking to change your names is it relates to email, etc. then I personally wouldn't have an issue with this.

As Brandin has stated in several comments changing it from Michael O'Neill to Michael Oneill isn't something I'd have issues with.

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    Also as far as I understand, it won't just be for email. They're wanting me to change the name in the HR system, so I think it would then be what appears on my access card, my payslips, end-of-year taxation summary etc. Apr 3 at 6:05
  • Then you should get clarification from them on where it will be changed and what potential impact that might have. Again, if it's only a change in how your name is represented in internal systems, and doesn't have any legal impact, then it isn't something I'd be concerned with.
    – joeqwerty
    Apr 3 at 14:21
0

As a temporary fix, figure out how to get an email alias that the time sheet system can work with. The alias can send to your real, correctly-spelled email address.

PersonAlias@somecompany.com => my-real-name@otherdomain.com

If the company is using something like Microsoft Exchange / Office 365 for email, this should be a snap.

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  • I thought this would be easy also, but IT support are being absolutely uncompromising about this. They're just saying the name has to be changed and that's that. Apr 1 at 21:04
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    @user1751825 since when does IT support get to make those kinds of decisions? Have HR gotten involved? Your supervisor? It sounds like you need to escalate this to higher levels and not just trust that IT has the authority to make the decision for you. See my answer for additional thoughts.
    – Dan Romik
    Apr 1 at 23:34
  • @DanRomik Actually it's not directly IT support, they've forwarded the request on to the Access Management team. Technically it's now Access Management telling me that I need to change my last name in the HR system. Apr 1 at 23:45
  • @user1751825 same difference. What matters is not what their title is, but whether they have authority to decide how you should be listed in the HR database. Of course, it’s possible this is such a dysfunctional company that the question doesn’t even make sense and there is no clear chain of authority, with important decisions being made willy-nilly by people who have no business making them. In that case, I’m not even sure the name change issue is going to be your biggest problem working for such a company. Anyway, good luck and I hope you prevail in dealing with this Kafkaesque situation.
    – Dan Romik
    Apr 2 at 0:00
  • Thanks @DanRomik Ironically I was warned about the culture of this company, but only after I'd already signed on. Anyway I'll take your suggestions and raise this through other people, and hopefully get a workable resolution. The Access Manager's tone just seems a bit abrupt and inflexible. I guess they are probably dealing with hundreds of requests per day. It's a very large company. Apr 2 at 0:07
0

Obligatory XKCD cartoon: Little Bobby Tables.

The problem here is that people store a lot of things in SQL databases. In SQL, values can be quoted by putting apostrophes around them, such as Email='fred@example.org'. If the Name itself has apostrophes, everything breaks. Hackers can break in and modify the database by using a carefully crafted email address.

There are fixes. But the right way is harder. It's much easier to ban all apostrophes (and any other special characters that break SQL).

Even if you can get your IT department to fix the problem, you may find out that your email address is rejected by many online systems when you try to use it.

It may be easier in the long run to let them give you an email address with only common characters in, that don't break databases.

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  • And I'm completely fine with that. I would prefer to have my email without the apostrophe. My only issue, is that they're asking me to fix the problem by removing the apostrophe from my name as well. I want the name in the company directory, on my access pass, payslips etc. to be my actual proper name. Apr 2 at 21:52
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    Just about the proper way to fix apostrophe in SQL databases. It's actually not hard at all. All database connectors for all languages can handle this. The developers just need to know what they're doing. Apr 2 at 22:01
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    Ultimately though, I don't care at all about the format or punctuation of the email address, that's issued by the company, so they can mandate whatever they like. However my name belongs to me, and it's not for them to tell me which characters are allowed to be included in my name. Apr 3 at 6:02
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Is it unreasonable to expect that the IT systems should support my name, without modification?

No, it isn't many people have to do this. It doesn't really matter.

Is it reasonable for them to expect me to change my name in the system, and by doing so, to disrepect my heritage and culture?

There is no disrespect intended. They probably just have systems that don't support using diacritic marks or apostrophes in names.

I actually think it's more likely that it's not an apostrophe at all, but an inverted comma. Many languages use an inverted comma as a glottal stop diacritic, but I'm unaware if any use an apostrophe.

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    – Kilisi
    Apr 4 at 3:27

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