Andy missed his plane and changed his name

Now that FOAF and FOAFnet give the opportunity to set new standards to interchange entire social network profiles and gain momentum, it seems like the right moment to fix a long standing omission in the naming scheme of people.

Ever since software took over the administrative work from human beings, this software has only captured firstname and surname, and, in some cases, middlename. Especially in the US, it’s only firstname and surname. In Europe, it’s a bit different.

In Europe, and possibly other places, many people also have a surnamePrefix like “van”, “van de”, “van der” (Holland, Belgium), “von”, “von der” (Germany), “de”, “de la” (France), etc. Most IT systems and websites do not support these surnamePrefixes.

Not being able to express your Surname feels like missing a part of your identity (small but significant). I once was told the story that Andreas von Bechtolsheim, one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, missed his plane because he was late and they could not find his ticket under ‘B’ (for Bechtolsheim). They found his ticket under ‘V’ (for Vonbechtolsheim), albeit too late. That was the day he conformed to the system (rather than the other way around) and changed his name to Andy Bechtolsheim.

Now is the time to add the following entry to the FOAF specs:

Property: foaf:surnamePrefix
surnamePrefix – the surname prefix of some person

Status: draft


The foaf:surnamePrefix and foaf:surnameRoot together form foaf:surname. However, use only foaf:surnameRoot for sorting.
Also see (European initiative to standardize postal addresses).

Published by Martien van Steenbergen

Martien is a Master Agile & Lean Trainer & Coach.

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