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Civica UK is wrong about middle names

In early 2023 my wife applied for a job in the NHS and was required to undergo a DBS check, which was now being outsourced to a company called Civica UK Ltd (I'm not sure whether or not they're related to the public-sector software company called Civica). Her application was delayed, and considerable call-handling time wasted, by a simple labelling mistake in the implementation of Civica UK Ltd's software: it insisted on calling her second given name a ``middle'' name.

Not only is her second given name not called a ``middle'' name in her own Chinese heritage, but it's not called a ``middle'' name in UK law either---UK law recognises only surnames and forenames. I have a ``middle'' name (which I rarely use), but legally it's just my second forename. If I had enough eyesight for a driver's license, it would go down as two forenames---the word ``middle'' is not used by the DVLA to label the second forename. It's not used in passports either.

Which is just as well, because people have different opinions and cultural heritages about which of their name(s) are used when. In the case of Chinese names, the most common case is one surname plus two given names, and both the given names must be used by everyone outside the family. So a letter to my wife can start ``Dear Yun Wen'' but never ``Dear Yun''---circulars printed that way can be shouted at. Within the family only it can be permissible to use just one name, but even then it's not always the first name---my wife has two sisters and all three of them have Yun as a first given name, with the second given name being the individual differentiator. That's why her non-registered English name is Wendy, and that's why I put ``for Wen'' on the copyright line of Primer Pooler (which was exercising my family privilege to use just that part of her name by itself). That naming scheme ties in with Chinese being generally ``big-endian''---addresses start with the province, full names start with the surname and dates start with the year, unless someone feels they have to switch it around for Westerners. So it could well be that the second given name is more special to the person than the first.

So when Civica UK's web form presented the fields:

Forename:
Middle name(s):
Surname:
and tick to confirm you're honestly declaring it, my wife didn't want to say her first given name was more significant than her second given name (if anything it's the other way around, but really they're equal), so she tried to write ``Yun Wen'' in the Forename field and left the Middle name(s) field blank. That resulted in her application being cancelled by the case handler and told to resubmit with ``Wen'' as a ``middle'' name. ``But Wen isn't my middle name'' she said, and we queried it and were told her driving license lists it as her middle name, so if that's not what she wanted to declare then she'll have to get back to the employer and ask them to send a different piece of ID.

Actually, her driving license listed `Wen' as her second forename, so we called Civica UK's helpline and got someone who went into ``explain it really slowly'' mode and said the code on her license had YW in it, which meant they were treating `Yun' and `Wen' as separate given names, which meant Wen is a `middle' name. I said every part of that is correct except the bit at the end when you called it `middle'---the DVLA does not use that `M' word, and it hasn't had any legal standing in English law since at least the 18th century. The call operator then said that perhaps Civica UK's computers were ``not reading it in the way the DVLA intended'', and she might like to consider putting Wen as a `middle' name just as a workaround to cater to their database. It feels like you're compromising integrity when you tick to `honestly declare' something that you know had to be altered to cater to a badly-programmed database, but at least we had a Civica UK employee say we could.

Some people with two Chinese given names will write them for Westerners with no space in between, or with a hyphen, to make it clear that those two names are one item. That's why our PrimerPooler paper put ``Yun-Wen Chen'' (and Professor Ming-Qing Du does the same thing). But if you didn't get it written that way on your legal ID then you might want to use the UK law's provision of being able to have multiple forenames without having to give them different labels. DBS is supposed to be a government service, so I'm not entirely sure I understand why they outsourced it to a company that didn't fully know the law---but perhaps it persisted because the people concerned are less likely to complain for fear of having their job applications rejected if they question anything. (I on the other hand feel I'm doing them a favour by pointing out a bug they can easily fix if only it were forwarded to the design team; meanwhile I put this online in case it's useful to other applicants---but usual disclaimers apply.)

Oxford Dictionaries is not entirely helpful on this issue: the abridged ODE 3rd edition just says a ``middle name'' is ``a person's name placed after the first name and before the surname'' (very Anglocentric), without noting the common implication that it's less frequently used. The full OED says ``middle name'' was originally an American term and traces it to 1835 over there.

UK law does not make a judgement about which given name is what. In 1745 Judge Willes said ``a man cannot have two Christian names at the same time'' and treated `Henry Vaughan' as one name in `Henry Vaughan King', saying he could simultaneously hold the separate name Henry if he is ``a Jew or a Heathen'' (pp.554--559); by 1793 a James Richard Jones was ruled to have two ``Christian names'' but changing their order was unacceptable in legal documents; in 1839 Judges Alderson and Parke used ``name'' and ``names'' interchangeably, saying someone couldn't have two ``names of baptism'' but that one could be made up of multiple parts---none of this mentioned ``middle'' name, and according to the Deed Poll paralegals in Crewkerne these decisions are still current. That would explain why the term ``middle name'' is not generally used on UK legal documents, except by the DBS service outsourced to Civica UK, which is inconsistent with other major legal departments.

(The term is occasionally used by a low-level NHS surgery or a local authority. In 2019 Kensington and Chelsea filed a business case saying ``middle name'' was part of the identity required by the Local Government Finance Act 1992, but the Act itself refers only to ``name''---the local authority was extrapolating. Hopefully they wouldn't be as fussy about the formatting of the reply as Civica UK were.)

What Civica UK's software should do is just ask the user to input ``forename(s)'' and surname. If they then need to split the ``forename(s)'' at the first space and treat the first part as a different field to match an existing database, they can do that internally without bothering the end-user about it, as there is no UK legal requirement to have people declare different labels on their forenames.


All material © Silas S. Brown unless otherwise stated.