Offbeat Name? Then Facebook's No Friend

Caitlin Batman Shaw was initially rejected by Facebook because of her superhero name. The site says it guards against potential "misuse" of such names.
Caitlin Batman Shaw was initially rejected by Facebook because of her superhero name. The site says it guards against potential "misuse" of such names. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
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By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 5, 2009

What Caitlin wanted did not seem that hard. She had signed up for Facebook after she married, as Caitlin Shaw. Now, to make it easier for old friends to find her, she wanted to add her maiden name. Her maiden name is Batman.

Facebook's name-change procedure suddenly required superhuman effort.

Because after Caitlin Batman Shaw, a mental health therapist in Arlington, submitted the brief online form, she received an automated response rejecting her. The faceless gatekeepers of Facebook had decided her name could not possibly be real. Batman Shaw appealed, and was rejected. Appealed, rejected. "The process took me three weeks" and several e-mail queries, she says, before she was finally able to use her full legal name.

She can join the Yodas, the Christmases, the Beers, the Pancakes and all of the other wannabe Facebookers whose online rejections represent the latest in a lifetime of name shame. And really, what's the point of Facebook if you can't be yourself?

"Try making a reservation at restaurants," says Tim Six. "I'd like a table for Six at 5 for three." His life reads like an extended "Who's on First?" routine, so the Springfield software developer was hardly surprised when Facebook rejected his application for an account.

The sad, sad stories of the denied.

"I've heard every Superman joke known to exist," says Becky Super. "People misspell it. People mispronounce it. People say it 'Supper.' " People say they've never met anyone else with that last name -- and how could they, when Facebook denied the existence of not only Super, a Lorton landscape designer, but her extended family?

"I think they think we're trying to run a breakfast scam or something," says Bess Pancake, who, along with her sister and father (a former Washington Post editor) spent days trying to convince customer service that she was not a waffle shop on the prowl (Relationship Status: It's sticky).

Super, Six and Pancake were all eventually awarded accounts after appealing their rejections with Facebook, but that doesn't address the real indignity.

People like them have endured decades of name-related annoyance (No, clever sir. No one else has ever suggested that it would be funny if my first name were Five. You are a genius.) Perhaps they experienced childhood ostracism or contemplated name changes. And when they accepted their own quirky identity -- to share it with the world and connect via Facebook like 175 million other people -- they were prevented from joining the virtual sandbox. Grade school all over again.

"You don't grow up with a last name like Kisser without developing a sense of humor and an appreciation for the absurd," says Keith Kisser, an Oregon librarian. Facebook, however, is "clearly not in touch with the sometimes eccentric names that people have."

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