Names are Databases of Knowledge

We don't often think of names as compact databases of knowledge, but that's precisely what they are. In our multicultural society names have hidden meaning that can provide nuggets of information to help you cleanse your database or target a direct mail campaign. Name-recognition technology has been developed to help not only insurance, financial services, and the healthcare industry decipher names for security purposes, but also to improve marketing. Understanding that not all your employees can be expert linguists, name-recognition technology solves the difficult task of deconstructing names to gather detailed information about a name's origins, its culture, and the meanings of terms in the names. When you think about it, names are the last data type to be mined. Maria Luz Rodriguez v. de Luna, for example, is the widow of Luna. Most people, unless fluent in a culture, won't know this information. Dates, phone numbers, addresses, and currency all fit neatly into database fields. Names, however, are a different story. Chinese names may have two particles, but Arabic or Spanish names have up to eight particles. How do you fit all the elements into a standard database program? The important point to consider is that truncating names eliminates vital elements toward understanding your multicultural client base. Each part of a name tells a story, and even though certain parts of names reveal more information than others, evaluating your clients and prospects means examining their entire names. Name-recognition technology has been used extensively to verify people desiring visas, and to monitor individuals against terrorist-watch and antifraud lists. Recently, companies have been implementing it to do a better job of communicating with their customers. For example, a Canadian bank recently used a name-recognition tool to ensure that it could verify the mothers' maiden names of its customers to avoid embarrassing situations where the names initially had been entered incorrectly into the bank's database. The bank's phonology-oriented search engine provides ranked search results based on similarity of pronunciation, not just similarity of spellings (e.g., Li and Leigh). The engine applies language-specific letter-to-sound rules to identify potential pronunciations for names, so that two superficially dissimilar names can be matched by a shared spoken form. Name-recognition technology isn't only vital for direct marketing, but also helps do a better job of understanding and communicating with customers. When customers and prospects receive multiple mailings with their names spelled incorrectly, they are less likely to have a favorable disposition toward that company. "Data ecology" is a term that we've coined to address this issue. What we mean by the term is that a customer's name should be verified for its accuracy during the initial encounter. By doing so, the personnel dealing with the name in the future have a better opportunity of ensuring that it stays accurate, according to the wishes of that person. Knowing names and understanding their variances are important components of any marketing strategy. Name-recognition technology can help you be sensitive to the names of your multicultural customers. About the Author Dr. John Hermansen is the founder and CEO of Language Analysis Systems, a maker of name-recognition software based in Herndon, VA. Contact him at
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