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Who is FNU?

I’ve been teaching at WSU for 12 years now, and on more than one occassion, I’ve had a student whose first name is FNU. These have always been international students, and I’ve worked hard to pronounce last names as best I could, and often refer to “Mr. Blank” and “Ms. Blank” of my students. I never thought to ask what FNU was short for. I assumed it was an abbreviated family name. After all, one of my favorite students (I have a lot of favorites) actually had more than 7 names. She said she was jealous that my last name had as fewer letters than she had names.

Anyway, while visiting the mall recently, I saw a student from last semester working at a restaurant. I remembered that she was FNU PretendName. Wanting to be extra friendly, I decided to finally google FNU to decipher the code. And man was I embarassed.

FNU means “first name unknown.”

I read the story of Naqibullah in the Wall Street Journal 1 who has one name, Naqibullah. After helping the US military in Afghanistan, came to the United States. A land of fixed data systems requiring a first and last name. Because he had only one name, our form-fillers can’t have NULL in the system, so he is reborn First Name Unknown.

And so, too, my students. And I’ve gone entire semesters unaware. I’m a little embarrassed, and I wanted to share. I wish that university database would have something to indicate they have only one name (clarifying that cryptic abbreviation), but I guess that’s also the purpose of the abbreviation. And our tightly-typed system requires something in that field, and it’s a whole lot better than naming someone “No first name’); DROP TABLE Students”

xkcd comic
XKCD by Randall Munroe

  1. Jordan, M. (2016, March 21). How Do You Do, FNU? Some in U.S. Handle Just One Name. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from (Archived via ↩︎