How to identify a name

If I do a Google search on my own name (let’s face it, we all do vanity searches from time to time) I see at the bottom of the results page a warning sentence ‘Some results may have been removed under data protection law in Europe’. This message is now appearing after all sets of search results where Google thinks you’ve searched on a personal name.

My name is mildly unusual (though I share it with a sometime First Lady of a large U.S. State), but it’s clearly a name, even though my surname is also a common noun. My husband’s name (unique, we believe, with a very unusual surname in Europe) also generates the message. A quick test on other names produces mixed results. A Chinese name is identified as such, for example. Quotes and capital letters are disregarded and initials + surname are also recognised as a potential name. However….

I know someone called ‘Fondant Fancy’. OK, that isn’t actually her name, but she has a name which could also easily be a kind of cake. Searching on it produces references to her, as well as cake recipes. But no warning message. Nor does searching for a bogus surname invented by a friend produce the message, even in combination with a real forename. Nor does searching on my surname, or my husband’s, with an invented forename.

This system for identifying names is obviously never going to work 100%. Clearly they have a list of forenames (so my name gets identified) and surnames (so my friend’s bogus name does not). But some kinds of name are going to cause problems:

  • very unusual forenames or surnames. It’s now quite common to ‘invent’ names out of bits of other names, for example, in an effort to be unique. (And to cause a lifetime of problems every time your child has to give their name. But at least it fools Google.)
  • names where both parts are unusual (at least according to Google’s lists).

I imagine Google has some way of trawling directories of known names, and other sources, in order to get its raw material. Meanwhile there will soon be ways of getting at information which has been withdrawn from Google search results in the European domain. Sites will spring up offering searching at, or comparing the results of with, or even offering to search pages which are found by one and not the other.

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