Digital Life

Man's Name Blocks Internet Service

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Scott Simon reflects on a man whose last name made it difficult for him to upgrade his Internet service. Dr. Herman Libshitz says Verizon told him his service couldn't be installed because his name contains the s-word.


Dr. Herman I. Libshitz is a distinguished physician. He's healed and taught at hospitals from Philadelphia to Houston to San Francisco wearing a white surgical coat with his name on it, Dr. Libshitz. Given the sensitivities of the FCC, maybe we should make that Lib (bleep).

There is no joke now running through your mind that Herman Libshitz hasn't heard. He also served in the U.S. Air Force during the war in Vietnam wearing his name on his chest, Captain Libshitz. No one ever told Dr. Lipschitz that someone with a name that makes some people snicker couldn't save lives and serve his country. But when Dr. Libshitz and his wife tried to get a DSL line installed at their home in Delaware, Verizon refused to accept his name on the account. Dr. Libshitz told the Philadelphia Inquirer this week that someone on the Verizon helpline in the Philippines said, we can't install it because your name has (bleep) in it.

Now, imagine spending 20 minutes holding on a helpline, only to have someone on the other side of the world say, your name has (bleep) in it. Apparently, under Verizon guidelines, someone named Adolf Hitler can get a DSL account. Herman Libshitz can't. A supervisor advised Dr. Libshitz to alter his name. On principle he refused. Dr. Libshitz pointed out that Verizon certainly cashes his checks with the name "Libshitz" right on the front. He got to talk to a couple of supervisors who cooed with sympathy and vowed to find a solution. But no one from the company called back. Dr. Libshitz returned their DSL kit to Verizon saying, if I can't use my own name, the hell with them.

The doctor told Dan Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer that all he wanted, quote, "is for these people to stand at attention to explain themselves. I don't know if you've ever tried to get to Verizon. You cannot get to them."

The Verizon policy may make a bit more sense than it seems to with Dr. and Mrs. Libshitz. The company is probably mostly trying to prevent frat boy pranksters from sneaking lewd words, ha, ha, ha, into account names. But to be airily and summarily informed by a distant stranger that if you want to do business you'll have to alter your name? How smug!

As a character in Arthur Miller's "The Crucible" exclaims to officials who were about to hang him, which is, by the way, how you can feel left on hold with customer service, "I have given you my soul. Leave me my name."

After the Inquirer made inquiries, a spokesman for Verizon looked into the Libshitz matter. She said that although company guidelines prohibit including the four middle letters of the name "Libshitz" on an account, they would make an exception for Dr. and Mrs. Libshitz because "Libshitz," after all, is really their name. Sounds like they were brought to recognize a universal truth. Libshitz happens.

(Soundbite of song "When I Get My Name in Lights")

Mr. MITCHEL DAVID FEDERAN: (Singing) And that's why I won't let go till I'm on the radio. And when they come to see the sights. That will be my name spelt right. Lighting up Time Square. I'll sit on a flagpole whatever is the rage. Just to get my picture on the front page. And just to get my name in lights. So hold the front page. This boy was born to strut the stage. I tap and sing and play...

SIMON: From the original Broadway cast of "Boys from Oz." This is NPR News.

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NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Correction Aug. 5, 2008

In some broadcasts of this story, we said John Proctor, the character in Arthur Miller's play "The Crucible," was burned at the stake. He was hanged.



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