Strange things happen when you let people choose their own name, part 3

Although Microsoft employees are internally assigned a cryptic email address by the IT department, the email address used for mail to and from the outside world is open to customization, to some degree.

For example, consider an imaginary employee named Christopher Columbus. Christopher might be assigned an email address like chrisco or chriscol or ccolum or possibly the Slavic-sounding chrco. But Christopher has the option of choosing the external email address: When he sends a message to somebody outside Microsoft, the "From" line will show the external address, and if somebody from outside Microsoft sends mail to the external address, it will get routed to Christopher.

When you choose your external name, you have a few options. The most basic version consists of your first and last name, separated with a dot: Christopher.Columbus∂ You can include your middle name or initial, to distinguish you from other people who have the same name: Christopher.Q.Columbus∂ There are other possibilities, like using your nickname or initials instead of your legal name, but that's the basic idea. There is one final option: Don't have separate external and internal email addresses; just use your internal email address for both.

I had a brief conversation with somebody who, as it happened, encountered a bug in the tool that lets you choose your external email address. This person wanted something fairly standard like Robin.Williams∂ but for reasons not worth going into since they're not important to the story, a bug in the system ended up assigning the external address Robin.Robin∂ (Note: Not Robin's real name, so don't try sending to it.)

The IT department fixed the bug, but Robin decided to keep the erroneously-assigned email address. I'm somewhat jealous: It's not often that a database glitch ends up giving you a cool email address.

Comments (24)
  1. Nish says:

    Uhm would you have wanted Raymond.Raymond∂ if it was available?

    Or perhaps Ray.Ray? Or even Chen.Chen? :-)

  2. Dave.Dave says:

    The guy’s name must have been Tom

  3. Ian Johns says:

    (Apologies in advance if this violates forum rules, but) Can you elaborate on the technical &/or interestnig issues why this bug occurred?

    [I don’t know. I just happened to see Robin’s business card and asked, “Whoa, how’d you do that?” -Raymond]
  4. Ian Johns says:

    "for reasons not worth going into since they’re not important to the story" — I suppose this negates my previous request.  Sigh.

    You’re very good at intriguing your audience with curious technical problems & then teasing us by asking us to pay no attention to the problem behind the curtain.

  5. Ian Johns says:

    And then, irony of ironies, you provided an honest reply to my previous request while I posted my follow-up rant to my previous request.

    (Online) Life is too funny.

  6. mikeb says:

    Maybe one of:

      major.major∂  (Catch 22)

      humbert.humbert∂  (Lolita)



  7. Aaargh! says:

    why the separate internal/external mail address ?

  8. J says:

    How about roger.roger?  Or marsha.marsha (marsha)?

    Aaargh!:  I don’t know, but their default address is probably their domain login, and the external addresses alias to that.

  9. AvWuff says:

    Is it really all that strange, the things that happen when people choose their own names? Ever since BBS’s and things like that, and much more now on the Internet, people have been using handles and nicknames that they pick themselves. The names people choose for themselves are not that exciting and hardly "strange"…

  10. Jeff Parker says:

    Weird I wonder if that glitch is an exchange glitch we had someone onetime that we could not explain had the email address tina.tina∂

    I found it as I was writing an app to run through our Active Directory.

  11. mikeb says:

    @J:  "marsha.marsha (marsha)" – I don’t think that can be topped!

  12. Igor Levicki says:


    Top.Top.Top.Top.Top∂ (Top)

  13. IFixYourXaml says:

    A similar thing happened with me, only the mistake was made with my alias, which was a mash-up of my first name twice.  When I went from contractor to full time, I was offered a new alias, but, by then everyone knew me by my unique alias and it was a conversation piece so I asked to keep it.  :)

  14. Anon says:

    About 10 years ago my UK ISP decided to do something about spam. Back then I got about 10 spam emails a day. They managed to get honey pot addresses onto the spammers lists, i.e. email addresses that only spammers used. Then if any email was sent to the honey pot address all copies of it were deleted from everyone else’s address. I wonder if Robin.Robin∂ is a honey pot address? Or if Microsoft’s IT department will start using it as one.

  15. Narr says:

    boutros,boutros∂ (-Ghali)

  16. JamesW says:


    Surely major.major.major.major∂

  17. hulver says:

    I used to work with somebody called Dot.

    Hearing her telling her email address over the phone was always amusing. (I’m easily amused).

    If this had happened to her, she’d have ended up with the email address∂

    Of course, this might make no sense to Americans if they say “Period” instead of “Dot” when they’re spelling out email addresses.

  18. Will says:


    In my experience, Americans say "dot" when talking about email addresses or URIs, but "period" pretty much everywhere else. Being consistent is too Old World for us.

  19. StevenLJackson1 says:

    Any 80’s music fans out there (or are you all too young?).

    How about Lisa.Lisa∂

  20. Johnny Skidmark says:

    Perhaps some discussions of the period-COM bubble or period-NET Framework would be in order?

  21. Worf says:

    @Johnny Skidmark: No. I have trouble with C-pound. (see link)

  22. Garry Trinder says:

    A bazillion years ago, I signed up for an AOL account. (This was back where it was still called "America Online"; they used Geo instead of Windows for their client; and before they started carpet bombing the world with floppies)

    During the sign-up process, they asked for your first name and last name, which they would then use to create your screen name. The format they used at the time was {First name}{Last Initial}{Numeric disambiguator}.  So, I probably should have been "JamesC1234" or something similar.

    However, since they didn’t say that this was going to become my screen name, and as I had recently finished college and entered the industry, and wanted to distinguish myself from my father (who had the same name), I appended my middle initial to my name in the First Name field. This produced a screen name distictive enough that only one previous person had it, yielding "James MC2"

    So, to AOL, I was "James MC-squared"!

  23. marsha.marsha (marsha)

    Kudos for the idea.

    But it’s marcia.marcia (marcia!)

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