Clearing the Slate: usernames

Continuing my effort to clear out my Firefox tabs and my brain, let’s talk about usernames.

yuki_onna posted about this a little while ago, and I have to say I’m on her side. But first, let’s talk about the original poster’s argument.

I feel like pretty much everything he says can be turned around from a positive into a negative. True, on Facebook you don’t have the problem of signing up only to find your customary username has already been taken. Instead you have the problem of signing up with a name that’s maybe shared by 7,142 other people. An improvement, or only a differently annoying issue? Also, he says you don’t have to use your real name, just a name — but hang on, isn’t that essentially the username thing all over again, except without the restriction that it must be unique? And maybe a requirement that your chosen name has to come in two parts (e.g. Pony McRainbow). If you can still use a made-up name, you still have the problem he describes, of realizing belatedly that somebody you know in person and somebody you know online are actually, y’know, the same person.

But that has an easy fix. If you want your legal name associated with your pseud, put it in your profile or wherever. If you want to keep them separate, you can.

Which is part of Cat’s point. Facebook wants you to use your real name (and other real information) so you can be more effectively tracked: pinned down, advertised to, your information sold to third-party vendors, linked up with things you never intended to touch. Oh, so you’re the Melanie Dunn whose grocery purchases swing erratically between Hostess snack cakes and green vegetables (better sell you some diet aids!), who’s a registered Democratic voter in Kansas (do your neighbors know?), whose medical history shows a procedure at a particular doctor’s office three years ago (and we can guess what that was). So when you go posting on your blog about how you think bigots should get over the whole Islamic community center thing, rest assured people will have an easy time connecting that with your weight and your political activities and the fact that maybe you had an abortion. Aren’t you glad they know who you are?

False names, whether unique usernames or non-unique pseudonyms, can protect people.

But you know, even if that were taken out of the equation, I’d still like usernames, and my reason is the other part of Cat’s point. Choosing a username is an act of identity creation — one we don’t often get to do in modern American society, or (so far as I’m aware) in other high-tech nations. Your parents pick your name, without any input from you, and changing it is a legal hassle. Nicknames are generally assigned by those around you, though you can try to show up to college or your job in a new city and sell people on the idea that while your name is William, usually you go by Bear. We have very few opportunities to choose something that reflects who and what we are, or want to be — or we did, until usernames came along and gave us a whole new field to play in.

The fantasy writer in me can’t help but think about the mystical power of names, and how the process of choice invests them once more with a whiff of that power. They have meaning. How is that not cool?

Is the meaning sometimes stupid? Of course. You may get to a point where you’re embarrassed to be known as shake_that_bootay. But unlike Aschlyee, who’s embarrassed by her parents’ enthusiastic leap onto the bandwagon of “let’s find a totally new way to spell this name!,” you can put it behind you pretty easily. You can escape your party-hard high school years, major in Classics, get involved in radical politics, and rename yourself alecto_reborn. Then, when you’re tired of being a Fury, go into the business world, and settle down as dahlia_blue.

There have been times and places in the world where that sort of change was normal and expected, where having six names by the time you died was nothing unusual. (Read the Romance of the Three Kingdoms if you don’t believe me.) We’ve reinvented a form of that here, and I for one like it.

Celebrate your username! Tell me the story of why you chose it, whether you’re tempted to change it, and if so, what to.

0 Responses to “Clearing the Slate: usernames”

  1. oneminutemonkey

    I guess I really am a child of the online age. I grew up on BBSes and Prodigy, GEnie and Usenet, as everything was exploding in all directions.
    I’ve gone by a number of identifiers over the years. When I was young and foolish and mucking about local BBSes, it was Penguin, in honor of my love of Opus from Bloom County. When I hit GEnie, it was Everbard, which sounded nifty and evocative and suggested my love of stories. (That name still lingers in my primary email addresses….) For quite a while in some of the online communities I frequented, I was Peregrine, a name I picked from a name book which I liked for its sound and memorability.

    Then I came to Livejournal, and once again, I needed a name. By that point, I was, strangely enough, slightly embarrassed by the Everbard name, and ready to move on. I never actually thought LJ would last, and me with it, so I threw something together out of thin air. Inspired by a book I’d seen at work, I took the title “The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey” and compressed it into the snappy, strange, memorable Oneminutemonkey. I’ve been slightly embarrassed by it ever since, but it’s as much me as any other name. I’m occasionally tempted to move on, to change it to my real name or something, but it’s nice having the identity.

    I tell you, the weird thing was, for years I could go to cons and no one would know who Michael Jones was, but they’d sure as heck remember Everbard from GEnie….

    Oneminutemonkey may be silly and frivolous, but it does stand out a little, and I can invent a thousand different stories behind its meaning and origin. “Oneminutemnonkey: when you don’t have an infinite amount of time for an infinite amount of monkeys” or some such.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

    • Marie Brennan

      It’s kind of hilarious, how many people’s answer to the “where’d the name come from?” question is, “I grabbed something at random because I didn’t think I’d go on using it.” That was my first LJ username, actually, which was my e-mail username, which was the one they’d assigned me when I got to college, i.e. first initial and part of my last name. But it was not what you’d call user-friendly, so I switched to swan_tower.

      I love the strata that can build up, as one goes through a series of transformations. (What can I say; I majored in archaeology.)

  2. zunger

    Quite an interesting post. πŸ™‚ I’d add one thing about the name-changing matter which has been troubling me of late: however much you attempt to maintain anonymity, a sufficiently motivated attacker will generally be able to tie your identities together. It may be as simple as noting lots of common relationships between the two potentially separate people, it may be as technical as noting that posts from the two people tend to come from the same class C subnets or as intricate as doing textual analysis of the two people’s written corpora to see that they have the same verbal tics, but at this point it would take an extraordinary effort — one probably beyond the practical reach of individuals — to avoid any linking by a sufficiently determined attacker.

    Now this is true of any sort of security, which is why you always have to start out deciding on your threat model — what kinds of attackers you expect and care about, and how far you’re willing to go to deal with them. But it takes on a different slant in the case of trying to separate identities for a few reasons.

    First, your textual and activity-record output is permanent and dispersed over the whole Internet; it’s simply not feasible to clean it up, much as the EU regulators would like to mandate that. Too many people know too much. This means that if you want to tighten your security in the future, forget it; the level of separation you get is the min over all levels you’ve ever wanted over time.

    Second, the technical ability of others to do these comparisons is increasing rapidly over time. Textual analysis to determine authorship used to be the province of a few hyperspecialized scholars, who did things like tracking forged insertions into the epistles of Paul. Nowadays it’s something which any CS undergrad can learn to do. (Thus the fate of “Richard Bachman”) And more complex comparisons, involving combining multiple types of data (text, IP addresses, web history, etc) are accessible to anyone with the information. So a level of paranoia which produces one level of identity separation now is unlikely to produce the same level of separation in the future — and mixing that with the first point, this means that as time goes to infinity, identity separation goes to zero.

    And third, there are more and more people doing identity merging on seemingly disparate net identities, many of them for perfectly “ordinary” reasons. You want to be able to look up a person’s name on the Internet? Well, the algorithms that determine that “Norma Jean Mortenson,” “Norma Jean Baker,” and “Marilyn Monroe” all refer to the same individual are the same as the ones that reveal that dahlia_blue and shake_that_bootay are the same individual. To say nothing of the number of people doing this for less-salubrious reasons. (Hi, DHS!)

    So the era of being able to change identities on the Internet seems to be fading. How this plays in to various recent public discussions of identity, anonymity, and so on is an interesting question, but I would say that this is an input to the discussion. Thanks to the “ratchet effect” of (1) and (2), no amount of legislation, regulation, or public outrage is likely to have any significant impact on the long-term trend. So we’re just going to have to deal with it.

  3. zunger

    [Continued, due to LJ text length restrictions]

    One thing which I think will come of this — and I’ve seen a lot of it in my own life, as well as that of many others — is that ordinary people are starting to adopt the strategy of celebrities, of developing a public persona similar to or distinct from one’s private persona as the taste may be. My username has been fixed for pretty much my entire time on the Internet, and it’s actually my last name. (A holdover from the academic age of the Net, when I first got it; one tended to use a last name, or a last name plus an initial, or [as a mark of honor, being “the” kt@ or whomever] simply ones initials) And I tend to sign pretty much everything I post in public with that username and often my full name as well. It’s a good systematic way of dealing with enforced publicity; forge a public persona and make sure that one displays it consistently.

    (Not dishonestly, mind you — as people who know me in daily life probably know, my day-to-day and .net personae are pretty much the same)

    Of course, this doesn’t work very well in all cases, especially cases like the example you gave. And I don’t have a very good answer to how to deal with that. But I want one.

    • Marie Brennan

      You’re right that actual, defensive anonymity is hard (perhaps impossible) to achieve against a truly determined attacker. My own particular level of concern has three facets:

      1) I don’t want companies to be automatically permitted to monetize my information. We may be able to legislate this one, though it isn’t certain.

      2) I don’t want your average schmoe on the Internet to be able to “out” me with five minutes of work. A sufficiently advanced schmoe will be able to do it with enough time and effort, and I’m not advanced enough to stop him, but my comfort level — which may or may not be achievable in the long run — is one where trolls have to do some actual work to expose things I’d rather keep private. As you say, it’s a matter of deciding what kind of attacker you’re concerned about, and what you’ll do to stop them.

      3) When I wrote up that example persona, I wasn’t actually thinking about sweeping the old identities into the woodchipper, never to be found. The point I had in mind was about the face you present to the outside world: this is who I am now. Like someone taking a new name when he becomes a monk. It doesn’t hide who he was before entering the monastery, but it signals that he is (theoretically) trying to be a different person now.

      • zunger

        I suspect that (2) is going to become harder and harder as time goes by. (I’ll tell you some history about this matter in-person sometime) The difficulty of identity detection keeps going down, and the availability of tools to do so will only lag so far behind. At some point those will even transition from being explicit, “let’s find out who X is” tools to just being implicitly part of the way we look at information online. (Searching for X tells you “X, also known as Y”) And that seems to change the equation of privacy in some deep kind of way.

        For (3), wouldn’t this person potentially want to sweep an old identity into the woodchipper? There are all the examples we keep hearing about of drunken photos of people affecting their job interviews years down the line, and so on…

        • Marie Brennan

          People might potentially want to erase the old identities, yes. I just meant that my particular celebration of the capacity to change was intended to be more about self-presentation, less about actual security. The latter is much harder to achieve.

  4. moonandserpent

    What I don’t get from the “usernames are awesome!” camp is why don’t you then use them in meatspace?

    (Sitting at dinner doing an interview at GenCon. “Oh yeah, My name’s Kevin and I do stuff…” “Oh, nice to meet you.” “Sigh. Dude, that’s moonandserpent.” “HOLY SHIT! You’re moonandserpent?! I have some of your tweets printed out and taped to my monitor!”)

    I’m not so much anti-user name as I am anti-using your real name (or A real name) is inherently bad. I realize I swing farther towards radical transparency than most (currently trying to line up sponsors to turn my biometric information into a live 24/7 searchable feed) but I don’t understand why the User Names are Awesome stance doesn’t go both ways.

    The internet won’t grow up until people understand that anonymity isn’t guaranteed as a baseline. It is attainable, just like I can walk outside in a mask, but it’s not the baseline. And it’d be nice if people could learn from the net and shake off their hidebound cultural conditioning and go ahead and pick names they like.

    *grumble*

    Oh! And I’m “moonandserpent” because I didn’t expect to use this thing and I had a poster for Alan Moore’s The Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Mysteries up over my desk. And it stuck.

    Thinking about it, the ONLY people who call me Kevin, Schmidt, or some variation thereof, are folks I know from B’ton, growing up, or LARPing. Otherwise, I mostly answer to “moonandserpent” or “Lovelace.”

    I WISH I could change away from moonandserpent due to the Alan Moore stuff, but… alas. I’m told the old man approves, but thtat’s 2nd hand and still… makes me sound fanboyish.

    • Marie Brennan

      If you mean, why don’t I identify myself in meatspace as the same person who’s swan_tower, I do; I’ve gotten in the habit of writing it on my badge at cons. If you mean, why don’t I introduce myself under that name — the context is very different, and I’d face a lot more pushback if I tried to have people call me by something they don’t perceive as a “real” name.

      I don’t think there’s anything inherently bad about using your legal name (a term I generally employ in place of “real name,” you may note), though depending on circumstances it may be situationally bad.

      • ckd

        My username, when I can get it, is my initials; that’s a holdover from it being my choice when I was in college, and sticking with it since. This does limit my ability to “hide” my “true” identity from linkage, but as it turns out my policy of calculated ambiguity[1] still leaves many people guessing despite not-too-hard-to-find clues.

        I will happily identify myself as myself in meatspace, though.

        I still have a badge from the Minicon 40 LJ party with my username and this userpic, which I wear to cons; it often results in “oh, you’re the blue shark!” reactions from people. I like that. (That’s led me to using “ckdblueshark” as my second-choice username.)

        [1] I generally fuzz things just a bit, making few to no public references on LJ to certain facts about me like my legal name, gender, and so on; it leads people to make some interesting assumptions at times. That goes back to my college days, though; I was told that I sounded like a postdoc at a time when I was still an undergrad, and decided that I enjoyed finding out what people thought of me based only on my online writings….

        • Marie Brennan

          I suspect that if you graphed out the anonymity thing, you’d find that early on, small amounts of effort produce large degrees of anonymity, but the further you go the more work you have to do for small improvements. In day-to-day life, it’s relatively easy to stay hidden. Get somebody’s attention, though, and it becomes a lot harder to fool them.

          • ckd

            Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it follow a Pareto distribution curve; the first bit of effort has a big payoff, then each additional bit has less and less of an effect.

  5. delkytlar

    Del Kytlar is a character who has been with me since my D&D days (late-80s to mid-90s). His first name is short for “Delrael”, a character name I picked up from an obscure Kevin J. Anderson trilogy (one even Kevin was surprised to learn I remembered when I told him about me being Del online). I have no idea where Kytlar came from.

    But, Del was my most successful D&D character, and he lasted through a lot of campaigns. Most of my friends called me “Del” periodically in those days. Then, he was reborn as a pulp sci-fi character on an author’s newsgroup on sff.net, where I posted short-shorts about his interactions with other people’s online avatars. Those shorts form the bare skeleton of my unpublished “Cluster Worlds” stories, from which came the name of my LJ.

    I picked delkytlar as my LJ username because he was linked to me; I was actively writing his Cluster Worlds stories at the time; and there is a connection between the concept of the Cluster Worlds and my professional life (in which I have been a publisher, writer, agent, and teacher all at the same time).

    Personally, while I understand the concept that people are afraid to be known for things they say and do, and often with good reason, I also think people need to own the things they say online. Anonymity removes a degree of personal responsibility. I’m not sure that’s a good thing in general, even if it may be a good thing in specific circumstances.

    I’ve never hidden my identity. My default LJ icon is a picture of myself. My name, my eponymous web address and my email address are all right on my LJ homepage. I’m me. I’m proud to be me. I’m proud of, and take ownership of, the things I say online. And, I’m Del, proud of Del, and take ownership of the things Del says online.

    • Marie Brennan

      Anonymity is definitely a blade that cuts both ways. On the other hand, we’ve got abundant proof that people will say all kinds of shit online even if it is linked to a recognized name; I think the bigger cause of the loss of responsibility is that you aren’t saying those things to anyone’s face. There are people who would be that rude or offensive in person, but a lot fewer. (I hope, anyway.)

  6. landofnowhere

    My LJ username is a tip of the hat to Fire and Hemlock. Also, I thought that it sounded cool and mysterious and that “The Land of Nowhere” would make a good journal title. I don’t have much presence on LJ anymore, so don’t really care about my LJ username, but I don’t feel inclined to change it.

    It’s also not my username for anything else (except Ravelry, but I have pretty much no content there); which makes me feel like it’s separate from my other identities (though I don’t try too hard to separate them: I use this usericon on another website and it also wouldn’t be hard to figure out my real name from my LJ profile). The other usernames I have on the web have more interesting stories:

    My yahoo mail address (which I’m too embarrassed to name here) is an alias I made up when I was 12 (and was a modified form of a pseudonym used by a character in a fanfic). It was also the username I used on a website for young writers. Around the time I was 14 I started getting embarrassed by it, and changed the username on the website, but didn’t change e-mail addresses until I got to college (since then all my e-mail addresses have been clearly my real name).

    My AIM username (chosen in mid-high school) consists of my first and middle names; I think I pretty much just use that on AIM. I use my real full name on a few websites nowadays (my name is also ridiculously common, but this hasn’t caused much confusion). There are also some websites where I just use my first name; those are often ones belonging to a community where many people know me IRL, or know me by reputation (though I once got asked if I was some other Alison from a different country).

    I also think I know what username I’ll choose if I start a blog (which would be about mathematics, and tied to my real-world identity); I’ve used it for a couple things so far. But that wouldn’t replace my LJ identity.

    • Marie Brennan

      And now I feel like an idiot for not guessing that was a Fire and Hemlock reference! That’s the book that made me into a writer.

      I hear ya about embarrassment over early choices. I’ve got a number of names for different contexts that I will not admit to in public. It’s frankly a miracle that my pen name, which I chose when I was about ten, escaped that particular trap….

  7. Anonymous

    My username (for forums, etc, since I don’t have an LJ) is Quara, which is a nickname given to me in high school by a *certain* HS friend after reading Ender’s Game far too quickly, and since it was basically the first non-generic name I’d ever had I’ve stuck with it ever since.

    My real name is very common, to the point that it’s almost unusable in an online context. I’ve never been in a class, a job or an activity where someone didn’t have either my same first or last name, or both. My uncle once dated a woman who not only had the same (full) name as his sister, but who also had a daughter my age with my exact name as well (even our middle names, though they were spelled slightly differently). There’s another astronomer in my organization with a very similar name, so we get each other’s email all the time–we have a lot of fun with it when we meet in person, but sometimes it gets embarrassing to correct the error.

    My username is such a permanent part of my online identity that I do actually use it in person when I’m meeting people from the online world for the first time, On my PO box I have my username listed as a valid name, and to many, if not all of the people I’ve become friends with online first, I’m known almost exclusively as Quara in real life.

    For me my username gives a uniqueness to my identity–the origins of the name mean relatively little at this point, it’s just the one name I can fall back on without worrying that someone else will have the same name. At one summer job there were three people with my first name, and two with my last, so I was known as Quara for 3 months.

    I honestly don’t know what I’d choose if I did choose a username. Probably something to do with astronomy, I guess.

    • Marie Brennan

      <whistles innocently>

      You’re a great example of why using a unique (or closer to unique) chosen moniker can be preferable to a highly common legal name. I’ve been in groups where people ended up with nicknames for exactly that reason, because there were just too many Heathers or Bens or Steves.

  8. alecaustin

    I am in favor of people having the option of anonymity or creating their own online identity, for all of the reasons you mention. Obviously I haven’t chosen to exercise that option in my LJ username, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want it for other people. I also don’t put certain kinds of information online, both for privacy reasons and because it’s not anyone’s business.

    These days when I’m not using my actual name, I go by either Malefor or Malavaunt (character names from a novel). Before that I used to go by Leandral (character name from a MUD – my then-girlfriend used Andariel, and I didn’t realize it was a Diablo II reference), and before that it was Diogenes, which kind of became a problem when I moved off of Usenet and it was always already taken.

    • Marie Brennan

      I’ve tried to err on the side of not putting information online, but the problem is, I don’t know what’s available without my having okayed it.

      • alecaustin

        Yeah, no, that much is true.

        I may have understated a little on the “don’t put certain kinds of information online,” because my actual practice is more extreme – a lot of even semi-personal things mostly don’t get communicated. To anyone, or at least values of “anyone” which exceed “an exceedingly small group of close-mouthed people.”

        I also wanted to mention that I really liked your reference to the multiple names for characters in the Romance of Three Kingdoms. While it can be kind of annoying as a reader (unless you already know who the various other names are referring to), it’s the kind of thing that definitely used to come up a lot more often. You get people like Zhuge Liang and Pang Tong having “sage names” – i.e. Wu Long (Crouching Dragon) and Feng Chu (Young Phoenix) – as well as other epithets. Mostly those were externally imposed, in the same way that Homeric epithets were, though, so I don’t know if the comparison is entirely apt. Though you did get people taking on new names due to adoptions and whatnot who still had allegiances to their old family (notably Cao Cao & the Xiahou clan).

        …and I’ll stop there, because mentioning the Romance of Three Kingdoms in any context tends to trigger a Pavlovian yammer response in me.

        • Marie Brennan

          I only made it partway into reading the Romance before I got sidetracked and haven’t gotten back to it*, but my impression is that people sometimes took on new names at different stages in their life, too. Certainly Egyptian pharaohs did — throne names, divine names, etc — and I want to say Japanese emperors did, too.

          *I will someday; it’s just that for the last four years, most of my reading has been either modern fiction or English history.

          • alecaustin

            So I’m thinking back to the beginning of the book, and yes, Zhang Liang and his brothers – the leaders of the Yellow Turban uprising – definitely took on names deliberately. That was part of their revolutionary shtick, though, much like Stalin and Lenin were cadre names. Emperors definitely took throne names, and I vaguely recall that Zhang Fei and other former bandits may have adopted new names as well, though I’m less sure about that part.

            Most of the primary characters who have style names appear to have been given them by others, though since a lot of them were heroes and have rather grandiose style names, it’s not surprising that tradition doesn’t claim that they gave them to themselves.

          • Marie Brennan

            That was part of their revolutionary shtick, though

            Which is exactly my point: “we are revolutionaries; therefore we will come up with new names for ourselves.” Or they get given new names. Either way, it’s a situation where names are treated as alterable labels, rather than fixed, permanent IDs (which is what a modern society, for practical reasons, is more likely to treat them as).

  9. kendokamel

    My username is a compound noun describing my passion at the time (kendo) and my name. Unfortunately, since it didn’t dawn on me that people try to sound out usernames (whereas I tend to internalize them as some sort of unspoken thing – like that weird symbol that the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince but who is now once again Prince used to go by), I didn’t figure out until too late the importance of an underscore.

    So, instead of people reading it as Kendoka Mel (i.e., Mel, who is a kendoka – a player of kendo), they apparently were reading it as Kendo Kamel (i.e., some cutsie, aliterative dromadory martial artist).

    By the time that LJ allowed for username changes, however, I lost the motivation to change it, and settled for occasionally explaining it.

    • Marie Brennan

      I still think you need an animated icon, with five frames:

      KENDOKA MEL

      (pic of you in kendo gear)

      NOT

      KENDO KAMEL

      (pic of camel with photoshopped shinai)

      • zunger

        *grin*

        And there are far worse word-separating ambiguities to have. Just ask the Pen Island chamber of commerce. πŸ™‚

    • tooth_and_claw

      Huh. I feel educated now. Consider me one of the masses who always misread it.

    • Anonymous

      I find this funny because “Kamel” is also a perfectly cromulent Jewish last name (possessed by, among other people, my grandmother).

      So I read “compound noun describing my passion and my name” and still parsed it as “Kendo Kamel”. And wondered if we might be related somehow…

      -M.

  10. mrissa

    Though you can’t tell by my username, I do support people taking whatever username they like. (I had one person who knows me face-to-face think my first name is actually Mrissa, when in fact is is Marissa. Sigh. Silly that-person. But I go by Mris, Mrissa, or Marissa equally.)

    Me, I got lucky. I am, as far as I can tell, the only Marissa Lingen in the world and both of my names are moderately spellable. This is an extremely rare combo. Most of my friends who have unique names have names that are difficult for people to spell. So while I occasionally use things like Mrissahainen and for my own projects and purposes, my own name is likely to be a unique enough signifier that I don’t have to worry about “which Mris is that?”

  11. ailaes

    I too, still like usernames. They show a part of your personality, while giving you the anonymity some so desperately crave. Those who need to know who I am, do.

    My original username started out as something so horrible, it will stay hidden within the depths of Internet obscurity until the end of time. It doesn’t help I was a complete newb to this thing called the Interwebz.

    After that, it was Rose. I have a huge thing for roses, it only made sense. Of course, I had to finiggle it a bit and make it R0SE, but that’s neither here nor there. There were several variations, including the Gaelic spelling, RΓ³isin. I still use this some places.

    Ailaes came about for my love of Alice in Wonderland. The ‘correct’ Gaelic spelling is Aileas, but I prefer the ae spelling of things.

    As to my own ‘real’ name, it’s one of those that no-one can seem to spell correctly, and my nickname makes it look like I don’t know how to spell it (though how that came about is about as mundane as you can get: when I called a specific person, the last letter of my name didn’t appear on the caller ID).

    Sometimes I think I’m too forthright with the information I give out, yet almost every service I use (LJ, Fbook, etc.) is set to friends only. Those on that list I have no problem with knowing certain things about me. It’s people I’ve known for years, or those whom would have no need to use this information.

    Usernames are not redundant in this day and age of information overload. If anything, they are more necessary than ever.

    • Marie Brennan

      Friends-only doesn’t go as far as one might hope, unfortunately. Between LJ’s setup for crossposting comments (even on locked entries) to Twitter or Facebook, and Facebook’s repeated decisions to change their privacy setup in ways you have to actively work to opt out of, it’s hard to make information properly secure. As others have pointed out above, casual anonymity is easy, but making it hold up under any scrutiny is hard.

  12. d_c_m

    Alright here goes.

    I was working as a Barnes & Noble barista in the cafe, slinging coffee drinks and thoroughly enjoying the camaraderie of my barista and B&N buddies. Suddenly the barista buddies began talking about LiveJournal. What is this? I asked. They told me. I immediately went to get an account. As I struggled over a username I realized I was getting it because I loved my B&N peeps. And I loved serving coffee. Plus my Hubby loved to call me the Dirty Coffee Monkey as a nickname. I decided it was really Divine Coffee Maven. Either way you look at it, I chose d_c_m. Which, happily enough, also stands for Department of Civilian Marksmanship which also suits me just fine. πŸ™‚

    Later on I found my EtM gaming buddies also had LJ accounts and this was very wonderful for me as I could keep in touch with them as well.

    Great question and post, BTW. I just may have to repost this myself.

  13. miintikwa

    I actually did change my username not too long ago. My old username was a role playing character that I didn’t feel like I ‘fit’ any longer.

    This new name is the Illini-Miami word for owl. Since owls are my totem, and I’m originally from Illinois and now living in Florida, it had several connections, and I just fell in love with it.

    Usernames are important and powerful. I’m a fan. πŸ˜€

  14. gollumgollum

    My first username, on aol, was ksgoddess. This came from a high school in-joke where my friends and i all had ridiculous nicknames, and mine was ‘kitchen sink’ (because i got my nickname last, and i complained that my friends had taken everything but the kitchen sink). And then we decided that was weird, so i became Kitchen Sink Goddess. Which lasted until college, when some high school chick in Kansas decided to get the nickname ksgodess, but her friends would IM me all the damn time thinking i was her. (This is how i started to hate chat programs, and learned the joys of being invisible.)

    Then i joined the Strangers in Paradise message board (and then helped start the spinoff Stranger than Paradise board) and needed a name. I was burnt on ksgoddess at this point, plus it seemed a bit pretentious, so i decided to go with… gollum. Which was basically just a random thing (i think i had the Hobbit comic at my desk or something). But i picked it, and it stuck, and i started signing everything -g- so i have friends who still call me g. When i came to LJ, it was with some of my StP friends (back in the wilds of 2001) and i tried gollum, but it was already taken. My friend starkyld always called me gollumgollum, so i went for that instead and found it open.

    k8 was a name i’ve used off and on for yeeeeears now; every time i’ve tried to give it up it ends up resurrecting itself, to the point that i’ve now adopted it proudly. But that’s how i was known as a camp counselor, and that’s how i’m known at work (because it’s how i sign my emails), and it honestly pisses me off that Facebook won’t let me have a number in my name because i’d be k8 there if i could (and i reeeeeeeally want to be).

    And i’m thinking about changing my name on Facebook, to Kate Bear or Kate Monster or something like that. Haven’t decided for sure, and i think my extended family (who’re the whole reason i’m on fb in the first place) would think it quite weird. But i’m considering.

    • Marie Brennan

      You are so firmly k8 in my head that you would have to undergo major self-reinvention — possibly involving plastic surgery — before I could think of you as anything else.

      • gollumgollum

        I know, right? But there was a time when i was deeply ambivalent about k8. I thought maybe it was juvenile.

        I’m tempted to change my Facebook name to K Eight, but i think that might be lame.

        • Marie Brennan

          “k8” has this sort of compact, sideways quality in my mind, that just fits you.

          I’m all in favor of jabbing your thumb into Facebook’s eye at every opportunity, so to hell with their wish for you to use your real name; I say be K Eight.

        • Anonymous

          I’ll take credit for introducing you to Strangers in Paradise thankyouverymuch.

          And you’re right k8 is juvenile. You’re so childish. I can’t believe I still talk to you.

          Tony

  15. diatryma

    Cassie is a name for dogs, mostly. I’ve met more Cassies who are human than canine now, but I have also met quite a few dogs and people who have Cassie-dogs. Yes, my name’s Catherine, and I like it, but I answer to Cassie in daily life. I’ve never made the switch over, but a new job will probably do it.

    My first online name was dragonlexi. I was writing a gigantic fantasy EPIC (which was inspired by the Story portion of the Diddy Kong Racing booklet) and there was a dragon goddess, Lexi. This lasted a couple years, then I decided that a change was in order. I had my After the Dinosaurs book out for some reason– can’t find another copy, which is a shame– and the diatryma caught my eye. Diatryma_dragon was next, simplified to Diatryma because dragons were everywhere.

    There was a time that I didn’t ping to Cassie in print, but Diatryma. I kind of miss it, having two names, one spoken and one in text.

    I’m Diatryma almost everywhere now. I pronounce it potentially wrong– I think the penultimate syllable is tree, not try– but eh, diatrymas do not come up in conversation nearly as often for me as for other people.

    I like the idea of inventing myself. I would like to live on purpose, though it is scary. This is part of that.

    • Marie Brennan

      I like Diatryma as a name. It’s visually interesting, and it means something cool.

      (I may be mispronouncing it, too. In my head, it’s always been dye-AH-trih-muh. I suspect I have the accent on the wrong syllable.)

      • diatryma

        You mispronounce it in an interesting way, at least.

        I think I like it because it looks like a name. It’s not something that everyone recognizes, but it looks, um, nouny. Some scientific words are better for that than others, of course.

      • diatryma

        And actually, it doesn’t matter how you pronounce it. It’s my name in text, not spoken aloud, most of the time. At least to my face.

  16. yuuo

    Yuuo is a romaization of the letters UO, which is short for Unoriginality, my real online name. Unoriginality and UO were both taken, so I took the fangirl Japanese route. I kinda like it.

  17. theironchocho

    My username means The Iron Butterfly. I chose my user name eight years ago because I loved Japan and the band Iron Butterfly. I still love both of those things, and I never want to get rid of this name for my personal LJ. I use usernames because that is one way I choose to utilize the web. I have fun doing it, I enjoy creating online identities via different names, and I won’t stop just because some people someday might want to find all of my online activity under one handy dandy pseudonym.

    • Marie Brennan

      We may end up developing a system where you’ve got some unique ID that you can choose to link to various pseudonyms. (I’m pretty sure that’s how An Archive of Our Own, the fanfiction database, works.)

  18. green_knight

    I have a facebook account to hopefully head off people who are looking for me. There are three people with my first name on the Internet; and about twenty with my last name: I have no problems at all with SEO – but I do have problems keeping my private sphere private.

    I’ve had enough stalkerish behaviour in my life to know that this is a really, really good idea. Not being instantly visible to prospective clients, employers, or anyone who dislikes me gives me the opportunity to be myself and speak freely. It’s having a gathering in my living room, where the door is closed, as opposed to meeting my friends on a street corner where anyone could be listening.

    The Green Knight… grew. I like horses, and I like the concept of Chivalry, and green – being green – is important to me. I was also living in Wales at the time, so the historical nod to the poem further enhanced the thing – it felt right on so many levels. Then someone already registered ‘greenknight’ on LJ, so I acquired the underscore, and I kept it.

    (These days I usually use the icon in a rice field, for the incredible greens, because I felt that my default icon started to look dated.)

    • Marie Brennan

      The thing that keeps worrying me is, you can be having a gathering in your living room with the door closed, and then whatever online service you use can decide to throw the door open without asking. (Or even knock the walls down.) It seems like it should be a basic right that our privacy options don’t get changed unless we opt into the change — but we only have that right if somebody passes a law saying we do. Some of the user agreements for various services are nothing short of abusive, if you actually stop to read them.

  19. Anonymous

    When online I have always been Squid in some form or another. My username is in fact from way back in the days of BBSes.

    At the time there was a cartoon on MTV late in the evening called The Maxx. It was based off of a comic book. Anyway, there was a line in that cartoon where the main character Maxx was with a friend of his, and the two of them ran into another friend. Well Maxx and friend one were going to the aquarium, and they asked friend two if she wanted to come along, to which Maxx added, “They got squid.” Which I for some reason found hilarious. It had partially to do with Maxx’s low gravely voice, and that he was a simple enough guy that he felt this would obviously be a deciding factor. I mean after all who wouldn’t want to go to an aquarium once you found out they had squid.

    So when I needed a user name for my first BBS I chose Squid. I have ever since been Squid on any kind of online forum or what have you. I too suffer from having a fairly common online name. I go for the “add a number” route, as opposed to the “alternate spelling” route. I usually add 39 to it in some fashion. There is a reason behind the 39, but there are kids around so I won’t explain it.

    I have occasionally thought of changing my online name to something less common so I don’t always have to be Squid39, Squid039, Squid_39 or whatever, but anytime I do I can never think of anything else I’d like as much because. . . I’m just Squid.

    Tony. . . or Squid I guess.

    • Marie Brennan

      I’ve always wondered about the number thing. Do people choose them randomly, using the first thing they find that isn’t already taken, or is there a story behind it? Probably goes either way, depending on who you ask.

      And now I know why you’re Squid! Excellent.

  20. Anonymous

    Thought about hunter/gatherer societies — do you think it could be that the reason for more equal relations is that in a hunter/gatherer society with inherently limited resources, population growth isn’t necessarily a good thing, and so there isn’t reason for women to spend so much time pregnant? I mean, infant and child mortality can’t by themselves require it; population growth can and has occurred despite them.

    In regards to matrilineality, you might find this interesting: http://www.saunalahti.fi/penelope/Feminism/matriarchy.html . While matrilineality certainly doesn’t mean a society in which women are even close to equal to men, I’d like to contest the universal nature of patriarchy implied in your comment. (If in a rather shy way — I was a bit nervous about posting this comment because I’m not sure I’m qualified to discuss it intelligently. I did share the above site, which includes enough sources I feel it’s fairly reliable, with the thought that you might find it interesting, not to get into an argument.)

    In general, though, I agree with your above point — even if patriarchy was proven to have existed in every society that every existed, I would still be writing my wish fulfillment-related matriarchal fantasy until the sky turned green with purple stripes. It says very much about fantasy writing’s audience, and not very much that’s positive, that birth control or inverse gender relations are called wish fulfillment and too implausible when plausibility goes out the window if an author wants to write a properly dramatic war or have peasant son number 3,012 become a sword-wielding hero.

Comments are closed.