February 11, 2021

KYC obligations: Naming conventions

As governments, banks and institutions address the increase in cybercrime, it is imperative that businesses understand the nuances of international naming conventions when building their customer due diligence programmes. 

# Insights

Dr Fiona Swee-Lin Price is a world leader in practical onomatology (the study of personal names), an expert in practical cultural diversity management and holds a PhD in cross-cultural psychology. 

We live in a global world with the free flow of people, culture, money, and knowledge. Technological advancement has facilitated the exponential growth and strengthening of international trade and business, and by extension, the cross-border transfer of money. Technology has enabled the world to thrive; it has also been the cornerstone for criminals to operate across regions, expanding their reach, increasing crime and profits, particularly with recent advancements in blockchain technology, cryptocurrency and digital currency easing the concealment of profits from crime and illicit activities.

As governments, banks and institutions address the increase in cybercrime, it is imperative that businesses understand the nuances of international naming conventions when building their customer due diligence programmes. 

Recognise Biases and Assumptions

Biases and assumptions lead to inconsistency in personal name data, and consequently, the robustness and effectiveness of customer due diligence programmes.

English speaking countries present multiple biases and assumptions within their forms and databases. Typically built for Anglo-Saxon names, the forms assume knowledge of naming components, and do not cater to names of non-Anglo-Saxon structures. Individuals from other countries must then anglicise or transliterate their names to fit with the structure of title, given name(s) and surname. 

Behind the Name: Knowledge and Awareness = Improved KYC 

Understanding nuances in international naming can help you address systemic problems that result in ‘dirty data’. Businesses can improve their match rates through the use of the right measures to capture cleaner data.

Name structure and data components

For example, Chinese names traditionally have three components, a family name inherited from the father, a generation name shared with same-sex siblings and a personal name. Names in many Middle Eastern countries incorporate the father’s given name and sometimes also the given names or initials of further direct male ancestors. By being conscious and configuring their systems to align with different name structures, businesses can improve the quality of the data they capture and consequently enhance verification match rates.


While people with Anglo-Saxon names are usually addressed formally by their title followed by their surname, businesses need to be conscious that many different structures and titles are used internationally. For example, in Indonesia engineering professionals use the title ‘Insinyur’, shortened to ‘Ir’; in Vietnam, women’s names often contain the gender marker ‘Thi’, which people outside Vietnam may assume to be a given name. Understanding differences such as these can assist with capturing cleaner data and improving verification match rates.


Businesses need to capture the right information at the source to improve their verification results. For example, on the Hong Kong identity card the person’s official name is the Romanised version, and including the name in Chinese characters is optional. By contrast, on the Resident Identity Card used in China, the official name must be written in Chinese characters and Romanised versions are not included. Capturing the wrong information that deviates from source and verifying against the incorrect name format would return a non-verification result, and here an understanding of how source data is crucial to improve match rates.

Data insight through the power of knowledge

Knowing how ID cards are formulated and the history of naming practice in a country can also help businesses derive valuable information for their KYC programmes. For example, the ID number associated with a Chinese National ID can determine details such as gender and date of birth.

Organisations that operate globally need to recognise the limitations of forms, databases and due diligence programmes that assume all names use the Roman alphabet and follow Anglo-Saxon structure. Understanding international naming conventions can help businesses mitigate risk, capture cleaner data and build a robust and effective KYC programme.

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