Friday, April 10, 2009
SINGLE NAME ISN'T ONLY REASON K-STATE PROFESSOR STANDS OUT
MANHATTAN -- Most people know Cher, Liberace, Prince, Bono and Madonna. They're noted not only for their talents, but their singular names.
And so is Kansas State University's Robby -- though instead of being a pop culture icon, he's known in the arena of software engineering research.
Robby, an assistant professor in K-State's department of computing and information sciences, researches and develops new techniques to check software and make sure it works properly. To anyone with a computer, Robby is somewhat of a star, albeit he operates behind the scenes.
"I was once introduced at a conference as the 'Madonna of software model checking' but the comparisons stop there," he said. "I'm not famous."
Besides his knowledge and expertise in programming and software systems, people on and off campus seem to remember Robby because of his distinctive name.
Robby is originally from Indonesia where, he said, single names are common -- like national leaders Sukarno and Suharto. Though having a single name was no big deal when he lived in Indonesia, when he migrated to the U.S. he started getting asked, mainly by people in governmental offices, for his "full" name.
In his dozen or so years in the U.S., various agencies have dubbed him "Robby" Robby; "First name unknown" or "FNU" Robby; "Unknown" Robby; "No Given Name" Robby; and, his favorite, "--" Robby.
"That last one's out of the K-State phone book," he said.
Though his name has caused what he characterizes as minor inconveniences, people do tend to remember it, he said.
"I think that people also are more easily confused because my name is like a nickname," he said, noting that it isn't short for anything.
Mostly, Robby finds himself explaining a lot, like when applying for visas to visit various countries. He once had to cancel a trip to Italy because his visa request was refused.
"The Italian consulate in Chicago rejected my visa application and shipped it back the next day because they required two names on the passport," he said. "I told them that I had received visas to go to Finland and the U.S. without any problem. The representative told me, 'We are Italians. We are not like the Americans or the Finns.'"
When he first came to K-State, he came dangerously close to not getting his first paycheck because of his single name.
Interestingly, the one government office that had no problem with his sole name was Social Security. But now his name has been changed to "Unknown" Robby in the agency's system, which meant Robby had to do some explaining when he recently renewed his Kansas driver's license.
"You can't change your name to from 'FNU' to 'Unknown' Robby just like that," he was sternly told.
Why not, he thought, everyone else does.