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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 October 2007, 16:13 GMT
What's in a Facebook name?
By Justine Parker
BBC News

Computer user
Facebook is based on "real people making real-world connections"
When Australian graphic designer Beta Yee joined social-networking website Facebook, she did not expect to be virtually snubbed before sending her first "friend request".

But after she filled out the website's sign-up form she was told her name was "illegitimate", and she would not be able to join.

Facebook has banned a range of words from people's user names to prevent abuse and profanity - and Beta is on the banned list.

Ms Yee decided to try again and was accepted as "Beatrice" Yee.

"I think it's quite amusing... my first reaction was laughter at being 'rejected' for my name," she said.

Online identity crisis

Facebook bills itself as a website "that connects you with the people around you", but using the name "Beatrice", Ms Yee found she was unable to connect with many of her real-life friends on the site.

To ensure that people do not register with fake names or identities, Facebook has blocked a list of common names people might use to abuse the site
Malorie Lucich, Facebook

"They were either amused or confused... while others had no idea who I was," Ms Yee said.

Many social-networking sites allow users an escape from their real-life identities. Users create online personas through profiles based on their photos, videos, music and other tastes - and choosing their own online names.

But Facebook is based on "real people making real-world connections", spokeswoman Malorie Lucich told the BBC News website.

Unless, of course, your real name has been banned.

The "real-world" networking is one of the key factors in Facebook's recent success, says Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist at the US-based Pew Internet Project, which studies the evolution of internet use.

"Facebook is trying to hold on to its initial differentiator, which is that it is more connected to your offline identity, which is why it is safer and which I think is why people were initially more attracted to it," Ms Lenhart said.

But the problem lies in the website's automated computer system, she says.

"This is really the problem, where we try to have a computer system and an online space fill in for our offline relationships," Ms Lenhart said. "It's not perfect."

Privacy controls

With nearly 50 million users around the world, Facebook is growing at a faster rate than rival social-networking websites such as MySpace and Bebo.

Facebook screen grab
The website has nearly 50 million users around the world

Facebook may only be three years old, but it is fast becoming part of the online establishment. Last week, Microsoft purchased a 1.6% share of the company, placing its value at $15bn (7.3bn).

The company would not reveal the words it had banned for user names - or why it had banned the name Beta - but Ms Lucich said: "To ensure that people do not register with fake names or identities, Facebook has blocked a list of common names people might use to abuse the site."

While this seems prudent to prevent offensive behaviour on the website, automated processes rarely take into account real-life circumstances.

In July, it was reported that New Zealand woman Rowena Gay was unable to sign up with her real name.

"The social-networking system isn't set up to deal with people who for whatever reason have unusual names or difficult names," Ms Lenhart said.

This could become more of an issue as the site's popularity spreads - already, 60% of Facebook users are outside the US.

As social-networking sites become more popular - Facebook alone is said to account for 1% of all internet traffic - they are also coming under pressure to tighten privacy and safety controls.

This month, Facebook agreed to enhance safety mechanisms and respond more quickly to complaints of inappropriate content and conduct on the site, after New York prosecutors accused it of false advertising over its safety claims.

"The safe thing for them to do is to default to the most stringent kinds of cut-offs and requirements," Ms Lenhart said.

'No Lords'

The policy has become such a joke among some Facebook members that user Patrick Lord initially signed up with the user name "Illegitimate name" when he found his surname was on the banned list.

Other users whose real names were also rejected have created groups on the website such as "Facebook Hates My Name" and the "Against Kate Beaver Joining Facebook Coz Her Name's Illegitimate Society".

Since coming under fire from users for its banned name list, Facebook has altered its sign-up procedure, allowing users with "illegitimate names" to contact a customer service team to verify their name.

But Ms Yee says that after joining once already, she cannot be bothered to go through the process again.

"My real life takes precedence over my virtual life," she said.


Have you had trouble registering your preferred user name with Facebook or any other social-networking websites?

I tried to sign up a few weeks ago and was rejected. Seems as if I'm not allowed use my own name, John Cusack, because it is the name of a celebrity! well done face(less)book
John Cusack, USA

You know, it all sounds so childish! "Ohh...I couldn't register my name...", or "Ohh...my feelings have been hurt by Facebook.." etc... Is that such a big deal?!?! People...
Julia Fjodorova, Riga, Latvia

I too had my name rejected but I guess I can understand why - I've struggled regularly when visiting the USA. After much persuasion from friends I agreed to go through Facebook's appeals process and I'm now up and running.
James Doe, London

I find it ironic that someone with the last name of Beer or Gay can't sign up with a legitimate name, but someone CAN sign up as Blobby B, Bob Blobby, Blobby Blobby and Blobby Blobby Blobby. This just too perfectly reflects the reality of life in the real world, which I guess Facebook users such as myself are looking to somehow ameliorate through democratic and entertaining social networking sites.
Christian, The Hague, Netherlands

Hi - I also received an error message from facebook prompting me to enter a valid last name. Jelly is apparently also on their banned name list. Thanks & have a great day, Dave
Dave Jelly, Ottawa, Canada

Facebook wouldn't accept my email address. When I contacted them to ask why, they said that to prevent abuse they wouldn't accept email addresses containing the word "mail". After I picked myself up off the floor, I decided not to bother creating a special email address for the sole purpose of joining. Life's too short and I will therefore remain facebookless. I don't think I'm actually missing much.
Andy Towler, Malta

Facebook is a waste of time anyway so i wasn't particularly annoyed, but it is a bit of a slap in the face after years of jokes and sniggers at my name.
Andy Gay, Columbus, USA

I fell foul of this as well - which is unfortunate, as Beer is not even that uncommon a name (cf Alice Beer, and, um... there's another one there somewhere). Thankfully, when I wrote and explained that I was actually a real person called Beer, they let me sign up. My suggestion would be to have a button to refer rejected names easily to Facebook's staff - otherwise there will be a lot of very miffed people out there...
Eliot Beer, Dubai, UAE

What an asinine policy! How on earth does blocking certain names prevent people from signing up with fake names? There's three people right there (Beta, Patrick and Rowena) who were forced to sign up with fake names! Facebook's reason for the ban is an out and out lie. The *only* reason for banning these names is to attempt to prevent people using offensive names. Which, of course, it won't prevent in any case. People should be aware that Facebook is just as safe as MySpace or Bebo.
Mike W, Howell, USA

Just recently I tried to register on Facebook, and the system simply wouldn't allow my two letter Catalan surname - an odd system limitation that I have encountered on a few other websites. Facebook staff did get back to me on this however, but I simply have not had the time to go through the process again.
Carlos Pi, Galapagos, Ecuador

A friend of mine couldn't register with his surname "Duck", so he was forced to sign up with a fake name... just goes to show how effective Facebook's filtering system is!
Nick, Melbourne, Australia

My real first name - China - was rejected by facebook as illegitimate, and I could not find a way via the facebook site to write to someone there to complain.
China Ageros, Portland, Oregon United States

I usually put my name joined and friends know this and can identify me amongst the many thousands of Ken Smiths but it was not allowed on facebook - they also refused me because I would not give my email password... that is personal to me. Why should I allow anyone to have access to my website and be open to fraud and enabling them to have access to all my friends? Although I was declined it has not stopped them sending me half a dozen messages when I understood that they or their partners would not contact me... My world is still turning without facebook...
KenSmith, Liverpool UK

I actually had the exact same problem as Ms Yee. My full first name is Beta and I don't understand why my name is banned. However after I emailed them they got back in a day or two and let me set one up then. I really wish that Facebook would explain why these names are banned, because I didn't know anyone else had this problem and I felt singled out. I wonder how many other Betas there are out there? I always thought it was an uncommon name, but maybe there are more of us than I thought.
Beta, San Diego USA

My name is Farika - just that one word and it is the first name. I do not have any surname or family name whatsoever. I come from Indonesia where one-word (first) name is common. I tried to open an account in Facebook but obviously I hit that 'illegitimate names' firewall. I contacted the customer service explaining the facts and requesting an exception to be made. They initially refused insisting that it is mandatory to fill in the first and last name entries. I argued back that inventing a last name for the sake of filling that entry will not only jeopardise the scope of my reach out in the Facebook (how could I possibly inform everyone and all about my new last name?), but will also, most importantly, contradict Facebook's policy itself. I offered them a scanned official document bearing my name as I claimed it is. This solved the problem. All is sorted out with just 2 emails. I am impressed with the quality of Facebook's customer service team: they are prompt, courteous and very helpful! To Ms Yee: it's worthwhile to go through the process again as their customer service is not the "usual bunch of ... you know!" Good luck!
Farika, Yokohama, Japan

Facebook banned my name too, because it was too common. I couldn't believe their audacity. I tried changing both my first and last names, but as long as I had either one intact, they still banned me.
Timothy King, US

It is astonishing that so many people pander to this electronic fantasy world. When it comes to Facebook, my first name is "Who" and my last name is "Cares".
Jeremy Mason, Houston, Texas

Finally a story I can relate too. My birth surname is Gayman but I have had to change it to Gale to avoid problems with Facebook and other sites. What a joke!
Markje Gayman, Hatfield

I've been a member of facebook for about 3 or 4 years now and during that time I've lived in 4 U.S. states and several countries. While living in Mexico, I changed my facebook name to Guillermo because everyone there referred to me as "Don Guillermo", so I switched my name so it would be easier to find me. That was two years ago, my facebook name is still Guillermo because they won't let me change it back to Bill
Bill Davidson, Long Beach, CA

I originally signed up in my maiden name 'Sonya Allan' so that old friends searching for me would recognise it. I later asked to change it to my married name 'Sonya Allan de Figueroa' and keep getting rejected - why?!
Sonya Allan de Figueroa, London



SEE ALSO
Microsoft buys stake in Facebook
24 Oct 07 |  Business
MySpace opens door to developers
18 Oct 07 |  Technology
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02 Jul 07 |  Technology

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