The Naming of Hackers

The Naming of Hackers – a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a hacker has THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.

Today I received a very polite email from a citizen of a non-Western country asking that about:credits be updated to put the components of his and his colleagues names in the order customary in that country (family name first), while still sorting them by family name with the others. I use scripts to manage additions to about:credits, and the page is generated from a CSV file which contains fields for “family name” and “first/common/Christian name”. The system does indeed currently make some Western assumptions about the order of names, and so fulfilling his request requires changing it significantly.

Before I rewrite it, I want to make sure I rewrite it only once. I am aware of falsehoods programmers believe about names, and I’m glad that we don’t have to make a system which copes with every edge case. We are not planning to serve, for example, people without names or people whose names use non-Unicode characters. But we do want to serve people with one name, as I know of hackers in that category.

Here is my design. To test it: can anyone think of a hacker (on any project, not just Mozilla) whose name would not fit into this scheme?


  • Name: name as they wish it to be printed
  • Sortkey: part of the name that they wish to be used for sorting; would be the component corresponding to “family name” in almost all cases

The charset is Unicode. The sort is by base Latin letter. If a submission does not contain details of how they want their name to be sorted, I will make my best guess based on my knowledge of customs in their part of the world.

The other policies I have been implementing for about:credits (on which comments are also welcome) are:

  • Names normally written in non-Latin letters should be in romanized form. (This is a common practice, makes them easier for everyone to read, and no-one has objected thusfar.)
  • I include a family name, plus a person’s common/first/Christian name, that they normally use. I am Gervase Richard Markham, but most people know me as Gerv, so my entry would say Gerv Markham or Gervase Markham, at my option. But if someone’s name is John Mark Smith, and he is known as “John Mark”, then I would list him as John Mark Smith.
  • I use initial caps for consistent presentation.
  • I don’t include initials – names are either present in full or not present.
  • Unless someone officially only has one name (e.g. on their passport), I ask for at least two so that names are as distinctive as possible (knowing that names are not unique in general).

6 thoughts on “The Naming of Hackers

  1. I’m not (yet) a Mozilla hacker, but I would fall foul of the “initials” rule. I always spell my name “Greg K Nicholson”; I would prefer not to be credited as “Greg Nicholson” or with my middle name in full.

    Many famous people are known primarily by their initials (even without a given name). Could you reconsider allowing initials?

    Also, it’s customary to print family names in all-caps or small-caps in some parts of the world. In case you ever want to implement this, it might be worth wrapping the sortkey part of the name in a suitably-classed span element.

  2. “name” and “sort key” are the sane fields to have here, yes.

    Personally, I often just use “name” and then sort by the name field; it’s not that unusual once you get used to it.

  3. Greg: I guess the initials rule is an “almost always”; if people consistently style themselves with an initial then I’d probably take it.

    I think the small-caps thing is more a function of where in the world the writing is rather than where in the world the person is from, so I’m content not to have to do that. (It would require further flags, and doing it for some and not all looks horrible.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *