Recipe 6.3 Find All Records with Names That Sound Alike

6.3.1 Problem

You enter people's names into a table in which misspellings are a common occurrence. You would like a way to search for a person's record disregarding slight differences in spelling. You've tried using the Like operator with the first letter of the person's last name, but that produces too many names. Is there any way to search for records that sound alike?

6.3.2 Solution

Access has no built-in sound-alike function, but you can create one that employs a standard algorithm called the Russell Soundex algorithm. Using this algorithm, it's fairly easy to search for a last name phonetically.

Run the qrySoundex query found in 06-03.MDB. Enter a last name in the query parameter dialog, and qrySoundex will return all records from tblStaff that sound like the name you entered. For example, if you enter the name "Jahnsin" at the parameter prompt, qrySoundex will return the records shown in Figure 6-5.

Figure 6-5. The records returned by searching for "Jahnsin"

To perform Soundex searches in your own applications, follow these steps:

  1. Import the basSoundex module from 06-03.MDB into your database.

  2. Create a query based on a table that contains a field that holds people's last names. Include the LastName field and any additional fields you wish to see in the output of the query.

  3. Create a calculated field that calculates the Soundex code for the LastName field using the acbSoundex function. In qrySoundex, we used the following calculation to create a new field called Soundex:

    Soundex: acbSoundex([LastName])
  4. Enter criteria for the calculated field that compare that field against the Soundex code of a user-entered parameter. Use the acbSoundex function to obtain the Soundex code of the parameter. We used the following criteria in qrySoundex:

    acbSoundex([Enter Last Name])

    This qrySoundex query is shown in Figure 6-6.

Figure 6-6. The qrySoundex query in design view
  1. Declare the parameter to be of type Text using the Query Parameters dialog.

  2. Save and run the query.

6.3.3 Discussion

You can find the acbSoundex function in basSoundex in 06-03.MDB. This function takes a last name and returns a four-digit Soundex code for the name. If you look at the fourth column in Figure 6-5, you can see that the Soundex code for all rows is the same. In this case?for names sounding like "Jahnsin"?the code is "J525". Soundex codes always begin with the first letter of the name followed by three digits ranging between 0 and 6 that represent the remaining significant consonants in the name.

The acbSoundex function is shown here:

Public Function acbSoundex( _
  ByVal varSurName As Variant) As Variant

    ' Purpose:
    '     Takes a surname string and returns a 4-digit
    '     code representing the Russell Soundex code.
    ' In:
    '     varSurName: A surname (last name) as a variant
    ' Out:
    '     Return value: A 4-digit Soundex code as a variant
    Const acbcSoundexLength = 4
    On Error GoTo HandleErr

    Dim intLength As Integer
    Dim intCharCount As Integer
    Dim intSdxCount As Integer
    Dim intSeparator As Integer
    Dim intSdxCode As Integer
    Dim intPrvCode As Integer
    Dim strChar As String * 1
    Dim strSdx As String * acbcSoundexLength
    Dim strName As String
    ' We add vbNullString to take care of a passed Null
    strName = varSurName & vbNullString
    intLength = Len(strName)
    strSdx = String(acbcSoundexLength, "0")
    If intLength > 0 Then
        intSeparator = 0     'Keeps track of vowel separators
        intPrvCode = 0       'The code of the previous char
        intCharCount = 0     'Counts number of input chars
        intSdxCount = 0      'Counts number of output chars
        'Loop until the soundex code is of acbcSoundexLength
        'or we have run out of characters in the surname
        Do Until (intSdxCount >= acbcSoundexLength Or intCharCount >= intLength)
            intCharCount = intCharCount + 1
            strChar = Mid$(strName, intCharCount, 1)
            'Calculate the code for the current character
            Select Case strChar
                Case "B", "F", "P", "V"
                    intSdxCode = 1
                Case "C", "G", "J", "K", "Q", "S", "X", "Z"
                    intSdxCode = 2
                Case "D", "T"
                    intSdxCode = 3
                Case "L"
                    intSdxCode = 4
                Case "M", "N"
                    intSdxCode = 5
                Case "R"
                    intSdxCode = 6
                Case "A", "E", "I", "O", "U", "Y"
                    intSdxCode = -1
                Case Else
                    intSdxCode = -2
            End Select
            'Special case the first character
            If intCharCount = 1 Then
                Mid$(strSdx, 1, 1) = UCase(strChar)
                intSdxCount = intSdxCount + 1
                intPrvCode = intSdxCode
                intSeparator = 0
            'If a significant constant and not a repeat
            'without a separator then code this character
            ElseIf intSdxCode > 0 And _
             (intSdxCode <> intPrvCode Or intSeparator = 1) Then
                Mid$(strSdx, intSdxCount + 1, 1) = intSdxCode
                intSdxCount = intSdxCount + 1
                intPrvCode = intSdxCode
                intSeparator = 0
            'If a vowel, this character is not coded,
            'but it will act as a separator
            ElseIf intSdxCode = -1 Then
                intSeparator = 1
            End If
        acbSoundex = strSdx
        acbSoundex = Null
    End If
    Exit Function

    Select Case Err.Number
    Case Else
        MsgBox Err.Number & ": " & Err.Description, _
         vbOKOnly + vbCritical, "acbSoundex"
    End Select
    Resume ExitHere
End Function

The acbSoundex function is based on the Russell Soundex standard algorithm. Soundex is the most commonly used sound-alike algorithm in the U.S. It works by discarding the most unreliable parts of a name, while retaining much of the name's discriminating power. It works best when used with the English versions of names of people of European descent. Its discriminating power is reduced when it is used with very short or very long names or names with a high percentage of vowels. Other sound-alike algorithms may work better in these situations.

The Soundex algorithm was created to work with people's last names. It appears to work reasonably well with people's first names also, but not for names of businesses. Soundex does not work well for business names primarily because these names tend to be longer than people's names, and Soundex encodes only the first four significant characters. We've found that extending the number of encoded characters to eight works better for business names, although this is a nonstandard implementation of the algorithm. You can easily extend the number of encoded characters by changing the acbcSoundexLength constant found at the beginning of acbSoundex. If you decide to do this, however, we suggest you rename the function to something like acbSoundex8 to distinguish it from the standard function.

Soundex will not work satisfactorily with data other than names.