A group of students from around the world have been taking an English language course in London and over time have become great friends. They get together one lunchtime to fill in a form. It allows them to register online for a service that will send on their graduation certificates once they have returned to their home country.
The HTML form starts out like this:
Let's eavesdrop on what they're saying.
Song-yi: Do I need to add my name in Latin letters, or in Korean, since they're sending this to Korea?
László: Well the page is in English, so I guess – I don't know… Latin I suppose.
Mohamed: Yeah, it's probably better because I've had big problems in the past with them not being able to print Arabic properly. But it would get to me a lot easier if I was able to write my name and address in Arabic.
Enikő: Ok, here we go again… It asks for my first name. I always find this confusing. In Hungary my name is written Kovács Enikő. Kovács is my family name, of course. Do they want me to put that first, or what? I wish they'd write "Family name" and "Given name" instead.
Mohamed: Do you think they'd put them in the right order when they print your name??
Elsa: You think you have problems. Ha! I don't even have a family name. Guðmundsdóttir just means that i'm the daughter of Guðmund. You look me up in the Icelandic phone book as Elsa. If they send this to Ms. Guðmundsdóttir that's not going to be very helpful!
Isa: Hey, me too! In Indonesia i'm just Isa. Or Encik Isa, which basically means Mr. Isa.
Maria: Oh, hold on…. I just tried entering Carreño Quiñones as my last name, but it says i can't have any spaces! I'll have to add a hyphen instead. That looks so wierd!
Enikő: And it won't let me use the double accent at the end of my name.
Song-yi: I have another problem. It's telling me that my last name must have more than one letter, but my family name is just O.
Maria: ¡Madre mia! I ran out of space. I can't fit my name in the field….
Our valiant bunch struggle on. But they haven't even got to the bit where they try to fill in their address using a set of small, detailed boxes set up in the order of an English address…
Such are the perils of designing forms that gather information about people's names and addresses in a multilingual and multinational situation. Unfortunately, because the World Wide Web breaks down the barriers of nationality, being overly prescriptive when designing forms makes it difficult for users to enter data in a way that is appropriate to their culture and circumstances.
Find out more about how people's names can vary, and get some guidance on dealing with that by reading the W3C article, Personal names around the world.
The W3C is supporting the Grant for the Web program by offering advice about internationalization, but also accessibility, device independence, privacy, and security.
Preparing to handle personal names and addresses is only one of the things to consider for international users. To read more about how to prepare your content or application for international use read our gentle introduction, Internationalizing monetization, and check out our brief checklist for content developers.