Wednesday, May 03, 2006

To: The world in general
Re: Hyphenated last names

OK, that does it. I can't withhold my question anymore. WHY is it that people with short names never hyphenate them? Do we get patients in here with easy names, like Fox-Day? NO. Of course not. The people who hyphenate their last names have to be the ones with about two zillion letters in BOTH halves of their name. I can't use examples of real patients' names, obviously, but I can think of some surnames of people I know (or know about) that could serve as equivalent examples of what we are dealing with on a daily basis at the front desk.

Imagine asking someone who is making their first appointment in your clinic to spell their last name, and hearing "Alabrudzinski-Radivojevic" come through the telephone. "That's hyphenated. Alabrudzinski HYPHEN Radivojevic". You think it's impossible for names like that to exist? Believe me, it isn't. I know.

So here are some rules of thumb for you people out there who are thinking of hyphenating your last name.

First of all, if the combination of names has more than six syllables or 20 letters, DON'T COMBINE NAMES. Pick a name and freaking stick with it, but don't try to stand with one foot in both camps. There are only 26 freaking letters in the alphabet, for Pete's sake. Why should someon's last name have more than that?

Second of all, listen to this programmer when I tell you that many, MANY software programs will allow a maximum of 20 letters for a surname. So what's going to happen? Your name will be truncated, that's what will happen. This will, and I do mean WILL, cause problems. For example, it's a colossal PITA to have to search online for doctors' referrals without having the EXACT patient's surname as it exists in the computer system. So of course, here I sit typing in "Alabrudzinski-Radivojevic" into the Navinet system, and no referrals are found. Why? Because letters have been truncated from the patient's surname in the Navinet system, and therefore I should be searching for "Alabrudzinski-Radivo" instead. Well, how in blazes am I supposed to know this? So time is wasted calling the primary care doctor and asking them to create a referral, when in fact they have already done so and the problem is that we can't FIND the thing.

Then there's the other bugaboo regarding computer software: not every system accepts hypens. Some programs will give an error message to the data entry peon who is trying to enter a hyphenated name into their computer system. So what's a peon to do? They might use a space (Alabrudzinski Radivojevic") or they might run the names together as one word "Alabrudzinskiradivojevic"). Did I mention that if you don't know the exact way that a name is spelled in the computer system, some search functions will return "no results found" when you try to search for it? So if you insist on combining surnames like this, PLEASE try to keep track of whose system spells your name which way. This will save countless amounts of time for yourself and for whomever you're doing business with.

Last, have you ever tried to write a 30-letter surname on a receipt? Have you? Well, you haven't lived until you have received a copay from Alpharetta Alabrudzinski-Radivojevic, and have had to handwrite a receipt for said patient. Including the fact that you have to fit her entire name into the amount of space that's physically alloted for a NORMAL length first and last name. Yeah, right. Good luck with that one. It can be done, but not if you actually want to be able to READ the name without employing a magnifying glass.

Anyway, so that's my take on hyphenated names. My blood pressure will, I hope, return to its normal level at some point later today, after I've recovered from dealing with the Hyphenated Name from H*ll.

Disclaimer: All three of those names exist: Alpharetta, Alabrudzinski, and Radivojevic. However, to the best of my knowledge they do not all belong to the same person. Thank goodness. If this combination matches the actual name of someone living or dead, then A) it's a coincidence and B) they have my utmost sympathy.

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