The truth is, caller ID, and more specifically Caller ID Name (CNAM), is not as simple as most people think.  You may believe it’s as easy as attaching a name to a number and voila.  However, there are many other factors that come into play when it comes to what identifier pops up when a phone call is made.

The first thing to consider is that not everyone uses the same phone service provider.  When a call is routed from one carrier to another it is up to the receiving end’s carrier to provide the correct name of the caller for their subscriber.  In other words, the only information that is passed from provider A to provider B is the phone number, and provider B must identify it.  If provider B attaches the wrong name then the name will be incorrect on the caller ID, regardless of if the correct name is associated with other carriers.

The good news is there is a CNAM database which all service providers subscribe to.  If a new phone number is created for a new customer and we want the world to see their caller ID name as “ABC123,” we can send an update to this database.  The not-so-good news is that it is still up to every carrier to pull this information from the database and attach it to the phone number through their service so that “ABC123” shows up on their caller IDs, and there are thousands of providers to choose from.  There are also costs associated with receiving updates from the national CNAM database, and unfortunately, there are providers who do not update as frequently as they should.  So while you may call someone with provider A your name may show as “ABC123,” you may call someone on provider M where your name displays as “PHOENIX, AZ” or even “XYZ COMPANY” who had your same phone number in the past.

Cell phones have made this exponentially more complicated.  On your mobile device, a phone number will come through numerically unless you personally attach a caller ID name by adding it to your contacts list.  The end user is the one with complete control of the caller ID name information – it is completely personalized.  There have been recent cell phone services to add caller ID functionality to non-contacts, and there are now also some downloadable apps to have come out that will look CNAM information up for you automatically.  Sadly, this confuses the name situation even more as some of these functions will use “crowd-sourcing” to obtain the names that show up on ID.

In shorter terms, accurate caller ID comes down to two things – how quickly the new data is related to the CNAM database, and how fast carriers pick up the changes.  Sometimes these changes may take a significant amount of time to port over, and there is no way to expedite the process as caller ID is not federally regulated.

So while we can do our part to ensure caller ID accuracy, the bottom line is we have very little control over what name is shown on in another carrier’s service.