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A cautionary tale of names

Started: 2012-04-04 20:12:13

Submitted: 2012-04-04 20:41:17

Visibility: World-readable

I last renewed my passport in the fall of 2002, as I was preparing to go to Rome with my original nuclear family. (A detailed record of this trip exists, but I'm not going to link to it because I remember it far more fondly in retrospect than I was feeling at the time.) Since it was my first adult passport, it was good for ten years, until the fall of this year. I put renewing my passport on my general todo list but never quite got around to it until two weeks ago, when my lead called and asked if I wanted to go to Hyderabad to train a new member of my team who will be based out of the office there. I thought this was a fantastic idea (given my specific interest in the country, and in travel generally) and rushed to renew my passport. I express-mailed my passport to the National Passport Center in Philadelphia, confirmed that it had arrived, and waited for it to show up on the State Department's passport tracking widget.

When I renewed my passport, I had the option of requesting both a traditional passport book (good for all international travel) and a new-fangled passport card (good only for land and water travel within North America). I didn't have a specific use case for the passport card, but I figured it might come in handy sometime in the next ten years, so I decided to get one.

Yesterday morning I got a call from a number I didn't recognize and let it go to voicemail. When I listened to the message, I learned that the passport center had received my application and was processing it, but my name was too long to fit on the limited space available on the passport card. (They apparently sent me a letter the day before but noticed that I listed my expected date of travel as the middle of May, which was my best guess when I submitted the application, but since then my host suggested coming in June to avoid the brunt of the summer in Hyderabad. I also paid for expedited processing, which may have improved my service.) My full name is Theodore Douglas Tramblie Logan (with two middle names), and I wrote that on my application, but the passport card only had space for fifteen characters for both the first and middle name -- and even "Theodore Douglas" won't fit, at sixteen characters (counting the space). I could truncate my name if I wanted, but my name as printed on my passport book and passport card must match. I called back and left a message saying that I wanted to drop the passport card (to keep my name intact), and searched the Internet for other reports of the same thing. This did not seem especially common but I did find some anecdotes.

Last night I got another call from the passport center asking the same question and was told to fax a statement saying I wanted to drop the passport card application, but if I did that I ought to receive my passport by Friday. When I arrived at the office this morning I typed up a short note this morning and faxed my statement, and haven't heard anything back since.

I think I'm going to feel proud of myself for violating the sixth Falsehood Programmers Believe About Names.