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Margaret Gerard reports problems with people's names in American English:
<<We have a set of name fields on the interface which are labelled: Surname
/ Given name We thought these were OK but have now received customer
feedback from the
States indicating that they do not understand these terms. Would it be
better to use: Last name / First name (but what about names where the
surname is usually written first?) or should we use: Family name / Given
Definitely use the last one; it's clearest and relies least on understanding
a relatively uncommon English term. Although the first option is technically
correct, it's not something you can count on an average audience
understanding. Your second point is well taken, since you'd confuse many
Chinese Americans as to your goal.
<<There are several helpful wewbsites which detail the differences between
British and American English but I haven't been able to find an answer to
These sites can be a great aid, but never accept their advice blindly. For
example, you'll often see advice on numerical date formats (DD/MM/YY etc.)
that is technically correct, but that simply doesn't work in practice. Here
in Canada, for example, we use pretty much any possible permutation of the
order of the three parts of the date format: American, Canadian, and
Quebecois. And we use them inconsistently. So even if you picked a date
format that's technically correct, you're going to confuse a whole batch of
your audience. Stick with using the name of the month and you'll never run
into this problem--something that the Web sites won't tell you.
--Geoff Hart, geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada
580 boul. St-Jean
Pointe-Claire, Que., H9R 3J9 Canada
"User's advocate" online monthly at
"The skill of writing is to create a context in which other people can
think."--Edwin Schlossberg, designer (1945- )
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