If you've got a surname or even live in a town that features a subset of letters that accidentally make a vulgar word, you could find yourself unable to get email accounts or website URLs. PC Advisor investigates the Scunthorpe Problem.

There's no doubt that along with thousands of useful websites, the net is littered with filth. So it's surprising, to say the least, that despite the fact risque content is widely available on the web, some individuals are struggling to open email accounts and websites, because their names are similar to vulgar phrases.

What's in a name?

Before you think I've gone off at the deep end, take for instance the Lincolnshire town of Scunthorpe. The name Scunthorpe - whose unassuming syllables are, of course, pronounced as 'Scun' and 'thorpe' - is believed to be derived from an Old Norse word, 'escumetorp', meaning 'farmstead belonging to Skuma', But the name's etymology isn't what made it notorious.

In 1996, legend has it, AOL's automated filtering system kept Scunthorpians from registering for accounts because of a certain sequence of four letters found within their town's name. Ahem.

As recently as 2004, services such as Google's SafeSearch were still flagging websites that contained the term.

All of those episodes of misplaced nannydom led to the christening of a new term, the 'Scunthorpe Problem', referring to the blocking of an otherwise unobjectionable name because an unintended naughty word resides within its borders.

It's something that residents of the Yorkshire town of Penistone, which is about an hour west of Scunthorpe, know well, as do families living in England's less blatantly blasphemous village of Lightwater (look carefully).

So what's in a name? A lot, it would seem, especially in the automated matrix of the Information Age. But the Scunthorpe Problem isn't limited to geographic locations. Get ready to meet a retired radiologist who unexpectedly found his life shifting from X-rays to accusations of being X-rated.

Next Page: Virtual rejection

  1. ISPs block the individuals who have 'vulgar' names
  2. Virtual rejection
  3. Service provider policies
  4. Seven dirty words

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