Apostrophe in Name Causes Computer Chaos

Outdated Computer Codes A Problem for Many Nationalities

Back in Florida, trying to access airline reservations for our 25-day Prinsendam Mediterranean and Aegean Explorer cruise, I face an obstacle most people never encounter.  It is the dreaded  mark added to Irish surnames by the English. The  apostrophe almost always causes computer chaos.   

I never know how a computer will treat the apostrophe.  It may implant a gap between the letters O and K, use a hyphen to join them or entirely erase my name from the system. People with a deliberate name gap (as in van Damme) or a hyphen (Smythe-Jones) face a similar crapshoot with computers.

Apostrophe replaced by blank space 

My passport contains the apostrophe. Linda’s new one, however, does not.  I ask Holland America not register me with an apostrophe. They insist on using the apostrophe to comply with my passport.  But this causes computer chaos. The computer removes the apostrophe and inserts a blank space between the O and K. This new name certainly does not match my passport. I hoped the HAL system at least would bunch the letters together, as some systems do for easier name recognition.

For our cruise, I know in advance how Holland America spelled our names differently.  At least I can access my airline reservation but that space lodged between the O and K differs from my frequent flyer accounts.  Unable to link those accounts with my reservations, I will have to save the boarding passes and send them in afterwards for mileage credit.

It’s maddening that more than 50 years into the so-called Information Age, sloppy software programs are unable to handle anything but simple last names like Smith or Jones.  Computers are not capable of processing the world’s multi-ethnic names.  (Which is why this blog’s URL is Travels with Tim OKeefe without the apostrophe.)

Losing the apostrophe for foreign travel

Following the cruise, I apply for a new passport under the name OKeefe.  My old one was due to expire in a little over six months, anyway.  But will the new passport arrive with or without the dreaded punctuation mark? Thankfully, it does not contain the computer confounding apostrophe.

This experience is one more illustration how the Internet has taken over our lives in many incremental ways, just as Skynet did in the Terminator series.  My new U.S. passport may be computer compliant but the new name also strips away a distinctive part of my family heritage.

Yet I haven’t totally sold out to Skynet. Having dual citizenship, my Irish passport retains the apostrophe.    As does my driver’s license. And my tombstone damn well will read O’Keefe.

Note:  Google’s search engine is smart enough to understand the apostrophe, find a name with it and post it properly.  Corporate America’s computers are out of date.