It Is Only Q

The programmers at British Gas are among the many who don’t believe that a surname can be only a single character, and their customer service agents have clearly worked around their validations (or just left a note for themselves in the problematic field!)… leading to hilarious postal mail1:

Letter from British Gas addressed to "Mr Dan Q (it Is Only Q)" and opening with "Hello Mr Q (it Is Only Q)".


This is getting a lot of attention, so I just wanted to add:


1 I’m ignoring for the moment that they’re using the wrong title for me.



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  1. That’s an issue straight out of the “Falicies Programmers Believe About Names” list 🫤🤷‍♂️

  2. The list about time is also a classic. I probably made most of the mistakes on that one myself.

    If it’s not an impertinent question what is the origin of your most excellent name? 🙂🤷‍♂️

    1. @simonzerafa

      Long version:

      tl;dr version: back in 2007 my then-partner (@esk) and I – who’d not wanted to marry but who wanted the same surname for a while but been too indecisive to choose one – decided to cut the choices down by selecting a single-character name. We later broke up and they married (and changed their name) but I’m quite attached to mine so I kept it.

      Fun bonus fact: approximately since my name change I’ve run to help British citizens change their names for free without a solicitor.

  3. Didn’t the Platters have a hit with your name back in the 1950s?

    Only Q
    Can make all this world seem right
    Only Q
    Can make the darkness bright

  4. I’m only here for the danq memes.

  5. at least it’s not “(no, really)”

  6. and GDPR did not help?

    1. Dan Q Dan Q says:

      The letter only arrived a few hours ago. But yeah, that’ll be a fun game to play with them!

  7. So British Gas programmers don’t allow for single letter names, but they allow for names containing spaces, parentheses and apostrophes.

    That’s boss.

  8. My mom worked for the Social Security Agency in the mid 1970s, driving around the corners of Idaho, getting folks registered. Lots of her customers were older folks who never got social security cards.

    One of her signups was a man named J B Smith – no names, just initials. The SSA computer would not accept this name – INITIALS ARE NOT ALLOWED.

    So she filled out the forms as J(only) B(only) Smith, and JB ended up getting his checks issued to Jonly Bonly Smith.

  9. Hmm interesting, you say ‘Firstly, you must have at least two names’ – I thought I knew at least one mononym

    1. Dan Q Dan Q says:

      Yes, mononyms are technically acceptable. You can’t register a birth (in the UK) with one, but you can change your name to one. I didn’t know that in 2007, when I wrote that post.

      Note that many government databases including the Passport Office don’t fully accept that, though (they, for example, will record your mononym as your first name and “XXX” as your surname).

  10. A lot of people have a legal name which is one word. If the system can’t cope then it’s the systems fault 🙂🤷‍♂️

  11. I used your web site to change my name when I started transition.

    Thank you for such a wonderful resource

    1. Dan Q Dan Q says:

      So glad to hear my site helped you!

  12. Ah right, yes it was @wookey I was thinking of.
    (Although I wonder if your single character surname will cause more interesting problems; my younger self had sharded a database based on 1st 2 characters of surname)

  13. and just when you think you handled all the edge cases

  14. I had a dispute with a (very slimy) service company a few years back and about a year after winning the credit card dispute with them, I got an email announcing that they were under new management and were trying to improve their customer experience. It was addressed to “TYLER GRIFFIN BLACKLIST”

  15. Simon Zerafa Simon Zerafa says:

    @StevieP: Indeed! Nice one Dan 🙂👍

  16. makes me wonder if they’d allow Bobby Tables’ name then

  17. Ri Ri says:

    when I put Ri on a form sometimes they assume those must be initials and they send mail to R. I. [last name].

  18. jack jack says:

    thanks, Wing Cdr Q

  19. Hi Dan, I get that’s frustrating. Would you like me to look into this further for you. Thanks Adele

  20. time to change your surname

  21. Q ✨ Q ✨ says:

    @POSSMx. Q Q?

  22. @POSS @Q I was just informed that Mx. Q T would be the correct name.

  23. Colin H. Colin H. says:

    You could have saved yourself a lot of trouble by simply suffixing a silent -ueue.

  24. Andy Smith Andy Smith says:

    is there some sort of GDPR thing about databases having to store your correct legal name? I thought I read of a bank getting fined for refusing to do this for someone, but I can’t find it now.

    1. Dan Q Dan Q says:

      Yes, this could well be suitable for a “right to rectification” request under the GDPR/DPA2018. I’ve used this route before to get information corrected, and have even sometimes been awarded cash by way of apology but this is more funny than actually-annoying and I’ve no interest in making somebody’s day difficult for no reason.

  25. Andreas K Andreas K says:

    Ah, names. Let’s be honest.

    If you allow for humans from any place on this planet, you can basically do away with nearly any conventions and assumptions about them. Almost any crazy thing you can think of is done somewhere on this planet.

  26. So we could say they need a cue 🤡

    Most programmers try to check “valid names”, “valid email adresses”, or “valid phone numbers” without knowing what “valid” actually means…

  27. My name has been breaking badly designed databases since the ’70s. And it’s not like a space is THAT unusual a character in a name.

  28. I wonder if their database supports Unicode and if so they could have added an invisible character or something 😇

    1. Dan Q Dan Q says:

      Folks have sometimes asked me – and which they choose says quite a lot about them, I find – “Q? Is that like Q from Star Trek, or Q from James Bond?”

      My response: “No, it’s like Q, the set of all rational numbers.”

  29. oh, so you are related to Aleph Zero huh

  30. I will never fail to link this any time “What should a name field be in our database?” is answered as anything but VARCHAR(255) and NULLable. 😂

    1. Dan Q Dan Q says:

      And VARCHAR(255) only goes far enough if the collation allows Unicode!

      Also gotta bear in mind that most database searches are case-insensitive, which might not be correct for all people.

  31. Jastrow Jastrow says:

    The issue made the news in France when Cédric O (a Korean surname) became junior minister for the digital economy. As for me, my name contains a ÿ and many systems (including Amazon, for instance) don’t like it

  32. if you fly on British Airways, but they can manually change the title on your account to “Mx” upon request as of a year or two ago.

    1. Dan Q Dan Q says:

      I occasionally fly BA, but I wasn’t aware that they even had an honorific title for me (I prefer not to use one at all!). I’ve just checked all my recent emails from them and I don’t see one, so I suspect they’re not using one for me, which is great.

      However, they do (like most airlines, in my experience) insist on printing my surname as “QQ” on my tickets/boarding pass, which immediately causes raised-eyebrows by any human (or computer) that compares it to the surname on my passport (which is just “Q”)!

  33. @Ryan i did this and somehow now my name is “chaos mx lastname” or “chaos lastname mx” or “mr mx” depending on what system displays/prints it

  34. sanguish sanguish says:

    it looks like a reasonable sized pickup.

    Which they still made those

    1. Dan Q Dan Q says:

      Wot? Was this intended for me?

      1. sanguish sanguish says:

        @Dan lol, no. Not sure how that happened

  35. Bryce Wray Bryce Wray says:

    I once heard a story about a fellow who was named R. B. Jones — just those initials, no names. At one point, he signed up for some service and listed his name as “R(only) B(only) Jones,” so thereafter he received mail addressed to “Ronly Bonly Jones.”

    1. Dan Q Dan Q says:

      Grumble told me the same story, except it was Jonly Bonly Smith (who their mother met in the 1970s).

      Look around the Web, and you’ll sometimes find Donnelly as the surname too. Snopes traces the story to a letter published in a 1958 issue of Readers’ Digest, but it’s quite reasonable to assume that this urban legend was floating around for some time before then.

      Some versions of the story have Ronly/Jonly in the military (and the name appears on his dogtags), others have him receive a paycheque under it. In some recent twists, he (like me) sometimes has to enter his name funny to have it accepted by computer systems.

      Was there ever really a Ronly Bonly or Jonly Bonly? Who knows. The story’s changed so much in the telling over the decades, we might never know.

      Still a funny anecdote though.

      1. Bryce Wray Bryce Wray says:

        yes, I remember reading it in a Readers Digest although not nearly that long ago — perhaps it was a repeat from that 1958 issue.

        1. Grumble Grumble says:

          This story must have been going around mom’s office and I misunderstood what she was telling.

          Damn it – I was sure this was something that happened to mom. How much other stuff in my head is bullshit? 😩

          Shit, maybe these LLMs are as smart as people?

  36. It was interesting to read on your site that you need to have two names in the UK. Here in the U.S., I have a friend who is legally mononymic. Like you, they have had a hell of a time convincing people that their single name is real, legal, and accurate, not a stage name or nickname.

    1. Dan Q Dan Q says:

      I might have been misinformed about that, and I’m currently working with somebody to help test the case. It certainly seems to be required that two names are required when registering a birth, but it seems perfectly feasible (and has been done) to change your name to a mononym. Although yes: it causes hell with computer systems including government ones!

  37. In your FAQ you say that a Q is always followed by an u. Surely you do not know Klingon :D

  38. Harald Harald says:

    I had a friend whose first names were “A Gustav” which resulted him being unable to fly at least one airline that rejected single letter first names.

  39. Harald Harald says:

    And of course, they would deny boarding if the name on the ticket wouldn’t match his passport.

    1. Dan Q Dan Q says:

      I get this kind of thing a lot, but I’ve learned the workarounds now. For example, a problem I have when returning to the UK (although strangely never while abroad) is that the electronic passport gates at Border Control won’t let me in. With a bit of social engineering I’ve worked out that it’s my name that causes trouble with their computer systems, but it was annoying to have to try the gates three times before being rejected and sent to the queue-for-people-who-can’t-use-the-gates.

      So now I just go straight to that queue. Sometimes people try to stop me, and say “British passport? You need to go that way.” To which I answer “I’ve been told to join that queue.” Which is only a white lie: I WAS told to join that queue… on a previous visit to this airport. I know it’s the fastest way through for me, now. I don’t want to hold up the electronic gate queues when I know for a fact they’re not going to work anyway.

      Of course, by the time you turn up at the speak-to-a-human desk at border control for your own country, the human there immediately assumes there must be something wrong with you (or else why would they have to deal with you, when they normally only have to deal with complicated edge cases). So I inevitably get lots of questions. I’ve gotten pretty good at pre-empting them, now, too, and just give a spiel as I arrive and hand my passport over that gets me through as fast as possible.

      But yeah: I’ve never for a moment had any trouble with my name in any country other than the one I was born in and live in. 🙄

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