It can stop you from voting, destroy your dental appointments, make it difficult to rent a car or book a flight, even interfere with your college exams.
More than 50 years into the Information Age, computers are still getting confused by the apostrophe. It’s a problem familiar to O’Connors, D’Angelos, N’Dours and D’Artagnans across America.
When Niall O’Dowd tried to book a flight to Atlanta earlier this year, the computer system refused to recognize his name. The editor of the Irish Voice newspaper could book the flight only by giving up his national identity.
“I dropped the apostrophe and ran my name as `ODowd,'” he said.
It’s not just the bad luck o’ the Irish. French, Italian and African names with apostrophes can befuddle computer systems, too. So can Arab names with hyphens, and Dutch surnames with “van” and a space in them.
Michael Rais, director of software development at Permission Data, an online marketing company in New York, said the problem is sloppy programming.
“It’s standard shortsightedness,” he said. “Most programs set a rule for first name and last name. They don’t think of foreign-sounding names.”
The trouble can happen in two ways, according to Rais.