Searching for names in large databases containing spelling variations has always been a problem. One solution, known as soundex, is to encode each name into a number such that names that sound alike will encode to the same number. The search would then be based on finding matching numbers, which results in finding all names that sound like the target name.

The "sounds-alike" criteria used in soundex is based on the spelling, with no regard to how the name might be pronounced in a particular language. The phonetic encoding described here incorporates rules for determining the language based on the spelling of the name, along with pronunciation rules for the common languages. This has the advantage of eliminating matches that might appear to "sound alike" under the pure spelling criteria of soundex but are phonetically quite unrelated.

This work was developed jointly by Alexander Beider and Stephen Morse.