Dear Membership Software People

Please make sure that the membership software prompts a ward clerk to ask recently-married women about their preference for their surname. It’s 2014.

Some women don’t change their names when they marry. Some hyphenate. Some create a new hybrid name. Many Mormon women now live in countries where naming conventions are different than in the U.S. Though at one time it might have made sense to default to [first name] [husband’s surname], it no longer does.

Stop making women feel like they’re causing trouble by asserting their own preference in something as fundamental to identity as their NAME. Mormons, of all people, should understand and respect the power of names as a marker of identity and change.

I recognize that this may create some significant extra work for programmers and Membership Clerks. It’s ok. Think of all the time that will be saved when we don’t have to write conference talks or press releases assuring women that they matter, because we show them all the time in practical ways like this that we respect them and their agency.



  1. Curse that structural sexism. Someday our children can fly, when women can pray, wear pants and fill out paperwork with their preferred name. Until then it’s gratuitous blog posts for us.

  2. And allow a spot for separate phone numbers for each spouse. Most have only individual cell phones now rather than a home phone. Its so frustrating to try a contact a sister in the ward and only have contact information for their spouse. Like you said, its 2014.

  3. Corrina says:

    But if a woman lists another name different than her husband, won’t it be confusing to call her Sister X when she is married to Brother Y? I mean, gosh dangit, it sure would make a lot of confusion and possibly require people to think! (Purposefully making fun here and doing a pre-emptive strike as I know this will come up in comments.)

    Thank you for this, Kristine!

    I wouldn’t necessarily expect members to call me by my official name (Sister maiden-married), but it sure would be nice to have my church records match my legal name.

  4. Becca–totally. That drives me nuts and happens every. single. time. I get a new VT companion/VTeachee.

  5. Kristine says:

    Don’t worry, DQ–I’ve got plenty of material to annoy you for years.

  6. The software already has a “preferred name” field along with phone number fields for each member of the family. Maybe you have a clerk training issue?

  7. Rigel Hawthorne says:

    Have been in that clerk position and am all in favor of making the preferred name the name on the ward list. From my experience, I would like to give a small memo to those who will have a different name so they can return it to me with the correct spelling, sequence, and hyphenation. I felt like when I had to inquire about all of those personal details, either probing for the details OR not probing for the details were both, in either case, sometimes interpreted as disregard for the member’s individualism.

    It was also tricky in those past days to get a spouse who was not the head of household to appear as a separate listing on the ward phone list under their unique last name. It seemed to default married couples to a phone listing as one last name with two individual names…ie Jones, Bob and Paula. While some individuals would want to have both names listed under the husbands name so ward members could find them both and choose the correct persons number, others would want their listing to be separate and under their preferred last name. This would mean that some people will call the husbands number thinking that it covers both when the wife’s name is not there with the husband. As it has been awhile since I was ward clerk, perhaps the way the clerk can do things has changed.

  8. rpallred says:

    FWIW, there are spots for a household phone and email AND an individual phone and email in MLS. Also, you can update these for your own family through the directory app at

  9. Atlantic Toast Conference says:

    Seriously. My name was changed without consultation in 2011. That was mildly annoying, but the kicker was that when I asked to have it changed back, the membership clerk told me I needed to schedule a meeting and present a form of ID showing that I still used my maiden name. I pointed out how backwards that was (if anything, shouldn’t you need to present an ID to get your name changed to something other than what they already have on record?), but he didn’t budge. I complied, but it was totally asinine.

    The ward directory on LDS Tools could use some work in that regard, too. If you drill down to the detailed family record, it does show (for example) John Doe and Jane Deer. But if you search for “Deer,” nothing comes up, and the family listing just reads “Doe, John and Jane.” This has caused problems when people from the ward needed to contact me but didn’t realize my husband and I have different last names.

  10. Yes! I waited a year and a half after I got married to change my name “back” to my maiden name in the Church records, despite the fact that I had never changed my name legally at all! And yup, the reason I waited so long was that I was too chicken to approach the membership clerk and draw attention to my keeping of my maiden name, but after a year and a half, thankfully, my own husband became membership clerk and he promptly fixed it for me.

  11. Men and women are essentially different.
    Men and women are equal.
    Hmm, what could it be?

  12. We should also support nicknames, because that would be awesome. “So, Elder Chickenlips Nelson, when can we home teach you?”

  13. We’re in the world not of the world.
    <We're not out of touch.
    Hmm, still thinking.

  14. it's a series of tubes says:

    FWIW, there are spots for a household phone and email AND an individual phone and email in MLS. Also, you can update these for your own family through the directory app at

    rpallred, please stop posting facts like these! They run counter to the narrative of the OP.

    In all seriousness, Kristine, here’s my .02 as a former finance clerk, membership clerk, and ward clerk, and having been developing software for nearly 30 years now: the MLS software has structural, systemic flaws that go way, way beyond the occasional issues that are visible to the membership at large. Thankfully, much of the functionality has been migrated to the web, and that process is continuing. It will be a joyful day when MLS is no more. A fun anecdote: in connection with migration of certain finance capabilities in 2010, my stake showed a post-migration MLS balance of two billion dollars.

  15. Can anyone tell me what they do in other countries that have different customs with regards to surnames? Especially in Latin American. I would imagine it is different, but I have not idea.

  16. And while we’re at it, dear church leaders who make these decisions, can we PLEASE stop calling husbands “Head of Household” and wives “Spouses” in the ward directory? Again, it’s 2014. My husband is not my head, nor am I merely his appendage. Gender equality is a church doctrine, I’ve been repeatedly assured. How about some terminology to reflect that fact?

  17. CS Eric says:

    The only way I know to have the wife as the “Head of Household” is if she is a member and the husband is not.

    And I always ask about the preferred name when I update the information. But as has been pointed out, if a family member has a different last name than the father, it is hard to find them in the directory. Our ward has a family where a man has three of his grandchildren living with him, all with different last names than his and different from each other. The only way I traced the kids back to grandpa was because of the shared home address.

  18. Rebecca says:

    I feel sorry for those poor souls who end up having to do the genealogical research for people in this time period. Marriage. Gender. Surname preferences. If we can’t even find living people on the ward list, what will it be like trying to figure out family relationships from just these crazy records. Talk about complicated!

  19. Kristine says:

    it’s a series of tubes: I have heard that about the MLS software. All the more reason to fix this while we’re fixing bugs, right?

  20. Mark B. says:

    We don’t have a problem with any of that in our singles branch.

  21. Madeline says:

    My husband isn’t even a member, but I showed up under his last name. It took a few months, but now we show up as: “MyLastName, HisFirstName and MyFirstName”. Since my husband isn’t a member, this usually doesn’t cause any problems. But if my husband were a church member, then he would have the same problem I had where people wouldn’t be able to find him by his full name.

  22. Naismith says:

    Our ward has pretty good clerks, I guess, because we have had the separate phone numbers and preferred names for years, including lots of couples with different last names. The LDS tools app searches for people by first and last name.

    However, there is a downside to all that…..When you visit teach someone who is gravely ill, and know what hospital they are in but do not know the formal first name listed on their Medicare card. That is a challenge if the last name is very common. Do not know the best answer for that.

  23. Ugg. Our ward clerk filed all our family tithing/offerings under my husbands name, even when I often turned it in myself. During tithing settlement it ended up that I had $0 to my name. Of course I was assured that this was okay because my husband’s account reflected a full tithe. It still felt off to me.

    I come from a progressive ward where our past bishop hyphenated HIS name when he got married, to match-up with his wife. So things can change, one hyphen at a time.

  24. it's a series of tubes says:

    All the more reason to fix this while we’re fixing bugs, right?

    Your question presupposes that the MLS developers are capable of fixing bugs :) In my experience, they introduce more problems than they solve. But yes, there are TONS of things in MLS, like the issue you mention, that should be addressed.

  25. Yes! I didn’t change my name when I got married and it was such a headache to get it changed back to my actual name on the ward directory. And this goes for BYU, too, who automatically changed my name on correspondence when I moved away and got married 3 YEARS after graduation. It’s especially annoying to see the unrequested and incorrect name on their donation solicitations.

  26. As a ward clerk I am ashamed of my colleagues. If somebody gets married, it should be self-evident to ask not just the marriege date, but also the surnames (and address).
    The phone numbers might be annoying. It might be easiest to just have the individual phone numbers and leave the household number empty (although, I’m not completely sure if there are lists that uses only the household number. I hope not.).
    In our ward we have at least one sister who is the head of the household even though her husband is a member. He was just recently baptized, and since the wife was already the head of the household that didn’t change. I haven’t tried if it is possibly to change the head of the household. In many families the true head is the wife.

    Steve Evans, the preffered name field could actually be used to record nicknames. Of some reason we clerks just don’t use it for that. Maybe we should.

  27. Ward clerk reporting here as well. I have a hard time getting the names corrected for our portugese members in our very dutch ward. I’m not privy to all the customs of southern europeans, and they even leave out words like ‘dos’ in regular communication. They’re usually aren’t very particular about their names. Very confusing, and to make matters worse, there often is a language barrier as well.

  28. Sure, let’s just keep trying to make it look like the women of this church are so oppressed. Why do I even read this crap anymore?

  29. Jeanette says:

    Not sure if it’s a related problem, but after I married my non-Mormon husband, I started receiving BYU alumni mail/solicitations with my husband’s last name. I hadn’t changed my name or alerted BYU to the fact that I had married. It seemed strange that my BYU alumni information would be connected to my membership records. (If it wasn’t that, there is the remote possibility that a family friend who works for the BYU alumni association and may have known about my marriage took it upon herself to make the change?) Several fund raising calls later, my last name was changed back.

  30. Oppression? This is common courtesy–call people by the name they want to be called.

    The oppression comes in when men are reluctant to grant women the same right (in this case, the right to choose what they are called) that men already have. And then sneer at women for asking.

  31. My wife and I have moved several times since graduating from BYU. My wife has moved even more times since graduating from Ricks/BYU-I. And judging by how quickly BYU and BYU-I find us (solicitations, BYU magazine, etc.) I’m fairly certain they use LDS membership records to track us down each time we move.

  32. Naismith says:

    Yes, but the point regarding “oppression” is that the existing software already allows for whatever name a person wants, and already has those spots for the individual phone numbers and emails (and photos). The LDS Tools app on the iphone does not even use “Head of Household” terminology. It just lists “Household Members” with their full names, which may have different last names.

    So to some of us it seems like this is all a moot point, perhaps only brought up to make it seem like oppression.

    I do not doubt that there are ward clerks who jump to conclusions, but the biggest reason I have seen for individual phone numbers not to be listed is that people do not make the effort to go in and do it themselves.

  33. Just Wondering says:

    I am in favor of the substance of this post, but not its tone. Why be so snarky when leaving a suggestion? Jeesh, it may be 2014, but does that mean civility can be cast aside in favor of moral condescension?

  34. Atlantic Toast Conference says:

    Naismith, you’re correct that the LDS Tools app does not specifically refer to a head of household. But, when you click on my family record, my husband’s name, calling, and contact information are prominently displayed at the top. You have to scroll down to “household members” to see me and my info. It seems that the app reflects the organization from the online LDS Tools, which does display a a head of household.

    My beef is not really with LDS Tools, though (although I think it could use some improvement). It’s pretty lame that my name was changed without asking me, and it’s pretty lame that it was such a hassle to change it back. This is the SOP in my stake, at least, and it seems to be common elsewhere too. It’s not oppressive, but it is lame, and there’s no reason for it. I’m not sure why Eddie’s so upset about that being pointed out.

  35. When we moved into our current ward, the couple sitting in front of us turned around to introduce themselves. They first were thrown off by the fact that we moved because of my job (most of the ward are grad students and their wives, although in recent years we have gotten more female grad students, so us moving there for me taking a job at said university didn’t make sense). When we introduced ourselves with just our first names, they inquired our last names and when we told them they were different, a moment of silence ensued. Finally, the well-meaning, but clueless sister with a confused look on her face said, “But I thought you were married?” I had to fight back the urge to say, “Oh no, we just live together in sin and still come to church.” Different last names did not compute. That was more humorous, but a few years earlier on the day of our sealing, the temple worker doing our paperwork before our sealing took a huge pen to emphatically cross out my last name before the ceremony without asking me (and stated something to the effect of, “well, that won’t be your name anymore) and I about had a heart attack. “I am keeping that!” I almost yelled it in the temple office.

  36. Ten years after graduating from BYU, I started receiving solicitations from the alumni association. I was not interested in contributing, and after several futile attempts to get them to stop contacting me, I wrote a letter saying that I had died. The letters and phone calls stopped. A couple of months later my ward clerk informed me that my membership status in MLS had been changed to deceased. It took a while to get my membership resurrected, but being left alone was worth the hassle. It did bother me that someone in Provo could trigger a change in my official church membership.

  37. The first Sunday after my honeymoon I couldn’t find my name on the Relief Society role. It took me a few minutes to realize that my ward had already changed my last name to my husband’s last name. I told my husband about it, and he promptly went to the clerk’s office to tell them that I was keeping my maiden name. The clerk insisted that there wasn’t a way for a wife to be listed under a different last name than their husband. My husband, a former membership clerk, assured him that there was, and then showed him how to do it. But I still wish people could find me in the ward directory.

  38. I had to update a couple of records this past week because of marriage- and when I entered the marriage it asked me if the husband’s surname was being adopted. The couple were sat with me, I asked and clicked the box they chose. It seems as though it’s already there- maybe just in England though!

  39. LDS Tools does not use the Head of Household term or even concept anymore. I filed a bug a few years ago indicating that you could deduce that a male member had been excommunicated if his wife was suddenly listed first in the household in LDS Tools. The next update resolved that issue. Now it simply lists the husband first regardless of membership status.

    MLS is a nightmare in many ways. The worst are when it codifies are prejudices into processes that you can’t escape within the software. But most of the issues here are issues with insensitive clerks and members that are unaware of how much you can edit your own info online if you get an login.

  40. In my ward directory, both parents are listed under Head of Household, and children are listed under Other Household Members.

  41. Next step: fix the defect that attaches a “not deductible” tag to all contributions made to the “Other” category. We have members and non-members who give $ to the church-sponsored Scout troop, which is unquestionably tax-deductible, but the MLS output is automatically “non-deductible” for anything that goes into the only category the system permits to be used for that type of donation. As if the church doesn’t have enough attorneys, CPAs, and IT types to figure out a better way.

  42. I lived a decade in another country where a wife doesn’t take her husband’s last name. One of my relatives, who’d returned to the country after 20 years in the U.S., kept using her husband’s last name (as she’d grown accustomed to doing in the U.S.) People were like, “Why’d you want to make people think you’re related?” Ironically, in some less progressive nations, this name thing is a non-issue.

    Church culture, literature, and temple worship reinforces the idea that a good husband IS the head of the household, unless he’s a schmuck. It seems like the Church tries to build men into being that head of the household. And it starts with a name. Outdated-sounding, yes; but in world full of schmucks, it’s a little heartening.

    I’m the head of my household. After so many years of it, I’d laugh hysterically if I was suddenly married and expected to forget the years of leadership I’ve exercised and play along with a more traditional model. Even so, that’s what a great many people and families know, so I cut them some slack. They can’t understand why something might be important to me because they haven’t been down the same road (and vice versa).

  43. Kristine says:

    Eddie, in this case, I think snark is in the eye of the beholder.

  44. Chris Kimball says:

    This kind of problem persists in lots of areas. I wouldn’t have jumped to the MLS or LDS Tools first, but that’s just because I think about the Federal income tax system much more often than the MLS. While we can always do better, I believe that the peculiarities and discontinuities will continue so long as the fundamental unit is thought of as “family” or “household”. The only way out is to start over with a mindset fixed on the individual as the fundamental unit. I believe it will take the Church longer than most to make that move.

  45. As a former clerk and NOC analyst, I can tell you a lot of the necessary changes to MLS justify a complete distance redesign and migration, probably a five to six year process.

  46. A Ward Clerk Who Doesnt Totally Hate MLS (We Do Exist. Maybe) says:

    mwolv: MLS is actually correct about how it handles tax deductible status of Other. Such donations are often NOT tax-deductible (if you donate to Other to pay for your kid to go to scout camp, for example, that’s not tax deductible since you received a direct tangible benefit for your “donation”). Because the church has no way of knowing from what’s on the slip if your Other donation is a true donation, or is a payment for something, the church deliberately lists those as not automatically tax deductible. You still have the choice of declaring them to be tax deductible and so filing on your taxes — but be prepared to back that assertion up if audited. The year end paperwork you get from your clerk even explains all that.

  47. Yes, thank you! Good ole Patriarchal society and Patriarchal church.
    When I ask for a blessing and I am asked my full name I always include my maiden name and it sure throws them off, lol.
    I am and will always be my maiden name and I hyphenite. When I speak to my parents friends I use my maiden so they know who I am. My children have four names which confuses people, lol, again. They have a first name, second name, my maiden name, their fathers last name. (my maiden name dies out in my generation :(, as there are no males in the family to continue it. my fathers only son only wanted one kid and he got a female. it is a rare middle eastern name , always misspelled even on church records)

    Great post.

  48. It sounds like the software could be better, and people could be more sensitive. Even good hearted people make wrong assumptions and can be momentarily taken aback when, for instance, you give your maiden name before a blessing. And there will probably always be the most conservative people who disapprove of your uniqueness. I feel some sympathy for anyone encountering such insensitivity. But only some sympathy. You did choose to be an outlier after all, and you probably had a pretty good idea of the attitudes you would encounter when you made the choice.

  49. Naismith says:

    “The only way out is to start over with a mindset fixed on the individual as the fundamental unit.”

    I have had my “LDS Tools” set to view as Individuals, which is why I never noticed some of the Household issues that folks have pointed out. So at least that option exists, if one chooses to view the world that way.

    I agree that listening to people’s preferences is important, and more training for clerks is an issue. But the LDS church is not the only organization to jump to conclusions from time to time. I have had a 30+ year debate with the US State Department regarding the name on my passport, which they only just fixed due to stricter homeland security concerns.

  50. I was a membership clerk two years ago. I found the training materials to be severely lacking, and I figured most things out by trial and error. There are many things you CAN do in MLS, but it’s not always very obvious, and sometimes you wonder if you’re going to mess something up. The training materials were so generic that I found them useless. Stake clerks are available to train ward clerks, but they may not know many of the “advanced” features.

    Also, I believe that the “preferred” name field is local to MLS and doesn’t transfer if you move wards (I go by a nickname and prefer that my legal first name not show up on directories). However, a sister using her maiden name, or a hyphenated name, would go in the “official” name of her record that does transfer. The “household” records can be a pain to manage.

    I recommend improving the training so that clerks know how to use the features (albeit flawed) that already exist. The training should also include examples of spouses using different last names, phone numbers, etc., so that clerks don’t act like deer in the headlights when the issue is raised.

  51. Kristine says:

    “You did choose to be an outlier after all”

    That’s exactly the attitude that is the problem. Lots of people are in these situations for reasons they don’t choose. And saying someone is choosing to be an outlier puts a normative weight on worldly convention that should have no place in the Church.

  52. Villate says:

    I don’t have a middle name, so I use my maiden name as my middle name. No one in or out of church has ever seemed to have a problem with that or be confused by it. My full name appears in most church records, for whatever that’s worth.
    Tangentially related: Before I got married, I told my then-fiancé that I was thinking of keeping my maiden name instead of taking his. He said that would be fine with him, but I saw just a flash of disappointment in his eyes before the words came out. In discussing this incident with a recently-married male friend shortly afterward, he commented that a lot of men (including him) dream about having a “Mrs.”, which I had never thought of before. Shortly after THAT, I was kidding around about wedding stuff with a female friend, also engaged, and we decided to practice writing our married names on a napkin or something like that. I was surprised by how emotional I got when I spelled out the full name. I suppose I could describe it as the Spirit testifying that I had made the right choice. The next time I spoke to my future husband, I said, “I think it’s fine to take your name after we’re married.” He tried very hard not to be too excited about it, but I could tell it meant a lot to him, and suddenly my feminist pretensions didn’t matter so much. I tell that not to denigrate anyone else’s choice, but to point out that everyone has a different story. Software by its nature can only accommodate so many differences, but keeping in mind that everyone is a unique individual helps to smooth out a lot of the bumps, as shown by several of the stories told in the comments.

  53. Kristine,

    I said I have some sympathy for people who encounter insensitivity because they chose to be an outlier. I feel much more sympathy for anyone who is born an outlier. And yes, there is a distinction between the two.

  54. Kristine says:

    RobL–either you missed my point, or you’re working very hard to demonstrate it.

  55. Kristine, or both!

  56. Kristine,

    I must not understand your point then. I don’t really understand what you mean when you say that I’m putting a normative weight on a worldly convention. I’m not saying that taking your husband’s last name should be the norm. I never used the word normal because of all its implications. I said outlier. It’s a statistical fact that choosing to keep your maiden name makes you an outlier in that regard in the Mormon community. Should that result in insensitive reactions? No. But it does, and you probably knew it would when you made the decision.

  57. RobL, your comment sounds suspiciously like you are assuming that you know something about Kristine’s motivations and, even worse, that she should accept being treated poorly simply because she is currently an outlier. I am sure you would not have intended to make such an insensitive and unfounded comment and so it might be best if you tried again.

  58. Kristine says:

    Actually, I’m not really an outlier on the naming thing–no husband whose name I could take if I wanted to :) But what RobL is suggesting is that anyone who knowingly does something outside of the worldly norm that happens currently to be favored in US Mormon culture deserves to be treated badly, regardless of whether they made that choice because of personal revelation, different cultural convention, etc. That seems like the kind of “of the world” that we should try really hard not to be.

  59. Lew Scannon says:

    I haven’t read all the comments, so maybe someone has already brought this up, but the system also doesn’t list wives on the year-end tithing report. Even my mother-in-law, who has been a widow for some years now, gets a report with her deceased husband’s name on it, and not hers.

  60. Bryan S. says:

    I think RobL is saying something more along the lines that he feels more sympathy for someone who has burn scars all over their face when someone stares at them as opposed to someone who tattooed flames all over their face.

    He still thinks that it’s rude to stare at the tattooed person, but he feels more sympathy for the burn victim. The tattooed person knew it was something out of the norm regardless of reasons for doing it.

  61. Kristine says:

    Yes. I understand. And I think that is a morally indefensible position. You have no way of knowing why a person got tattoos, and no righteous basis for withholding empathy based on assumptions you have made about him.

  62. Lew Scannon – the tithing system uses an open field to record each tithe payer. It can’t use more than one persons name, as joint donations aren’t acceptable tax-wise. The government(s) like a single, clear person, not a joint entity. I know of some couples who tithe separately, and it’s recorded separately, and others who have everything incorrectly shifted to the husbands name.

    For the widow not having it changed, that’s really the Clerk not doing his job. She should be able to simply ask to have it fixed, and it be done. It’s really not that hard to do in the program.

  63. The “LDS Account” feature at permits you to edit your “Display Name” and enter phone numbers for each individual, as well as selecting visibility levels etc etc. Doesn’t that information get propagated into the Stake and Ward MLS records?

    Point being, I think the Church is on exactly the trajectory the OP wants to see. Who knows how long it will take, though.

  64. Im a ward clerk as well. My wife has taken on my last name in the day-to-day, but in our civil marriage record it states [maiden name]-[my last name]. And she’s from a working mother & stay-at-home father family who hasn’t taken on her husbands name at all.

    If all attend that are active, then we have 7 sisters [my last name] of which 4 by birth. Very confusing (and amusing) when its anounced that one of them is going to say the closing prayer which results in all of them looking at each other to figure out who was asked.

    I see a disconnect in the practise in the church for the living, and the dead. The living in The Netherlands usually choose to use the husbands name, but the dead alway’s are refered to their maiden-name, and thats global I believe?

  65. Jared vdH says:

    Eh, I’m the ward clerk of a YSA ward, and MLS causes a lot of problems for us, because the base assumption of family units that MLS was created with. Half the time I can’t even get it to record and transmit the callings correctly. Sometimes the callings on the Church website overwrite what’s in MLS and sometimes the opposite happens, and this is with several calls to Church tech support to get them to fix it.

    I think the reason it’s so broken is that the majority of the Church’s IT resources appear to be focused on migrating most of MLS to the Church website. They still have many features left to add, like Home & Visiting Teaching, all of the Financial functions, and recording ordinances, but the website functions better than MLS in pretty much every way. I only use the website if I need to make a change to members’ contact information or to move a record into or out of the ward.

  66. my stake showed a post-migration MLS balance of two billion dollars.

    Series of tubes, I hope you guys got a good start on a local temple before SLC discovered the discrepancy. :)

  67. Kristine says:

    I’m going to try really, really, really hard not to point out that the fact that we need men to explain the technical aspects of the system because no women are allowed to have experience is a whole ‘nother level of troublesome.

    Thanks, sincerely, for the comments, all. I think we’re done here.

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