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Innocent people with dirty-sounding last names face the “Scunthorpe problem”

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  • Edmund Heaphy
By Edmund Heaphy

Contributing writer

This article is more than 2 years old.

Sitting through roll call in school is already bad enough if you have a last name like Weiner, Butts, Cummings, Medick, Dickman, or Suconcock. But if that sounds rough, just try getting past the first stage of an online registration process.

The internet-related woes of people with dirty-sounding last names are officially known as the Scunthorpe problem. Websites routinely use tools to prevent users from making accounts with fake or obscene words—but overzealous filters and poorly written code often flag innocent phrases that either happen to contain obscene words within them, or are legitimate use cases of such words. The name “Scunthorpe problem,” for example, refers to the issues that residents of the English town have encountered with AOL and Google profanity filters because of the profane word contained within the town’s name.

The latest innocent person to run into an overly cautious algorithm is journalist Natalie Weiner, who noted on Twitter this week that she got an “Offensive language discovered in the last name field” message when trying to register for high school sports outlet MaxPreps yesterday (Aug. 28). She couldn’t join with her actual name—a pretty common one at that.

Cue a whole host of responses from similarly bedeviled internet users. A man named Steve Suconcock claimed to have “the worst name possible for usernames”—and said that even employers laugh at him in interviews. Philip Sporn had to set his name as “Spron” on his computer. This problem happens to Ben Shmuck “all the time.” Ditto for Kyle Medick. The “struggle is real” for Mike Dickman. And Matt Cummings has “been there,” too.

It’s an unfortunate problem for those who just want to create normal logins like the rest of us. And it gets worse when slow-witted programmers try to write code that swaps out offensive sequences of letters for more innocuous synonyms. That’s when you wind up reading about intelligence agencies’ secret plots to buttbuttinate world leaders.

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