Zelophehad’s Daughters

Names and Identities

Posted by Lynnette

When we started ZD nearly seven years ago, I don’t recall that we had much discussion about whether or not to use pseudonyms—I think we simply took it for granted that we would. Some of my co-bloggers spent some time coming up with creative names. Seraphine originally went by “S”, and I recall an extended email conversation about name ideas for her. In contrast, I was pretty boring; I decided to just use my middle name, of which I’ve always been rather fond.

Names have always been a serious thing in my family, something to be discussed at great length. Many of us have had various nicknames over the years, and family members have been expected to keep up with the changes, whether people were legally changing their name, switching to their middle name, or adopting a nickname completely unrelated to their actual name. That last category describes me. My brother gave me a nickname in high school that I used for around ten years, at which point I switched to another rather random nickname, which is the name that most of my siblings now call me.

With the blog pseudonyms, it’s interesting to see how they get used in our private conversations. When we talk to each other on our backroom email list, we casually switch between using people’s real names and their blog names—my co-bloggers are as likely to refer to me as Lynnette in that context as anything else. And when I’ve initially met other bloggernaclers who use pseudonyms, I’ve noticed that even knowing their real names, I have a tendency to use their blog names anyway.

In the beginning, my major reasons for wanting to blog under a pseudonym were twofold: when we started the blog, I had a fair amount of anxiety about publicly raising feminist questions, and I was also concerned about being googleable while I was on the academic job market. I’m much less worried about the former these days, but I still have reservations related to the latter. I think I initially also liked the idea of being somewhat hidden—the first couple of times I met other bloggers I found it a bit nervewracking to reveal my real name—but that’s become less and less of an issue as I’ve met more people and gotten more comfortable with people knowing who I am.

Another development which I’ve found has made a big difference in how these questions play out is the rise of Facebook, which provides a context for people to exchange real names. As I’m sure is the case with many of you, I’m friends with a whole lot of bloggers, which means I know the real names of a lot of people in the bloggernacle even if I haven’t met them (and, of course, vice versa). I find that the challenge there, if people are using online pseudonyms, is simply to remember who is who.

I can see pros and cons to using pseudonyms. I do wonder about how it affects issues of accountability—do you feel less responsible for what you say if your real name isn’t attached to it? Does it  make you more likely to behave in ways that you wouldn’t behave otherwise? I feel like I’ve used the same pseudonym for so long, and that so many people know my real name, that this isn’t a major issue for me, though I could be wrong—I have to admit that something still feels different when I sign something “Lynnette,” as opposed to my real name.

I also think that the use of pseudonyms, or even nicknames, can create some fascinating dynamics. I feel like Lynnette isn’t quite the same person as S (my real name) or J (my nickname). All of us, of course, find ourselves being somewhat different people in different contexts, but it perhaps adds another layer to this if you go by a different name in those different contexts. When I’m writing online, I don’t feel like I’m being fake, but I do think I emphasize particular aspects of my personality, and sometimes I wonder: who is this Lynnette person I’ve created? My nickname J is mostly only used by my siblings, which makes me associate it with silliness, and a kind of casual familiarity. I remember once a sister referring to me as J during a family prayer, and then quickly changing it to S.

So I’m curious about this—do you use your real name or not, and how do you think that affects you?

 

17 Responses to “Names and Identities”

  1. 1.

    .

    Wait.

    Who are you again?

  2. 2.

    .

    In all seriousness though, I’m frequently split between being Eric and being Theric. I don’t mind so much until I’m in split company—some knowing me as Theric and some as Eric—and we’re all left feeling terribly awkward.

  3. 3.

    I have no idea who I am anymore, let alone who any of you are.

  4. 4.

    I use a pseudonym. However I write the way I think and talk. MB and me are similar when I write.

    I use a pseudonym for two reasons.
    One is because my comments are static. Once they are posted they stay there in cyberspace and don’t change. I, on the other hand, am constantly changing, modifying, clarifying.

    Some day I may meet you. If we do, I will want you first to know me for who I am and how I think when we meet. I would save the “who I was and how I thought 10 years previously” for later in our relationship. I think that’s healthier. And so I have the fluid person who is me and the static commenter that I am go by different names to facilitate that.

    The other reason is because my experience is that ideas written by an unknown author can be read more clearly than ideas written by someone you know. I know that my prejudices or assumptions about a person will often cause me to bring bias, either pro or con, to my reading of what they write. I assume that other readers do the same.

    And I’d rather that the thoughts I express be responded to simply on their own merit (or lack thereof) rather than through a lens colored by someone’s like or dislike of me as a person.

  5. 5.

    My family calls me by a name that I have been to them my whole life. For many years only immediate family members used that name, and so I had the same kind of reaction to it as your J vs. S debate. But I’ve had many friends over the years give me a series of nicknames, and like the poster above, associate those names with times and places and memories that are me at certain times in my life.

    As my sister lives with me now, more people have taken to calling me by my family nickname which seems completely foreign to me as the people who have always called me by that name have known me since I was little. It took me five years of knowing my brother’s best friend until he was allowed to call me by it. Now, strangers greet me by that name, and it is so strange.

    I have a lot of boundary issues, and my walls are up to those who don’t know me, and use of my nickname used to indicate you’d made it past.

    I also have used my commentary name since I started commenting on things online (since I was 16 or so), so I am not ready to get rid of it either. It also has its own leanings as well. Though I feel like it is closer to my nickname than my real name sometimes.

    I think this basically gets us down to our search for identity and who we really are vs. who we put out to the world. And which one is actually who we are.

  6. 6.

    I use a pseudonym in the Bloggernacle, but it sounds like a real name. I don’t do it to be deceptive; it just worked out that way. (I started commenting on blogs just using the name “Keri”, but I was getting confused with other people with similar names, so I threw my grandmother’s maiden name on there as a surname.) I started participating under a pseudonym for much the same reasons as Lynette. I’ve toyed with the idea of just switching to my real name, but I’ve been around for so long as Keri Brooks that I’ve built up some brand identity, and I’m afraid people wouldn’t know who I am if I switch.

    It is kind of weird now that I’m really active in the fMh Facebook group under my real name. I suppose in a group of 1,800 people, I’m pretty much “out” with my real identity, but I still for some reason cling to the separation. I think part of it is that I was the only active church member in my family growing up, so I never got used to having spiritual conversations with others. My faith is intensely private to me, so by having a blog handle, Keri gets the chance to be much more open about spirituality than I get to be under my own name.

  7. 7.

    I’ve always blogged under my real name. I would definitely use a pseudonym if I had academic job concerns, but I don’t, so the concern is moot for me. I think using my actual name makes me realize I’m going to have to take responsibility for what I write, so I’m probably a kinder and gentler blogger than I would have been were I Thor or something like that.

  8. 8.

    I blog under my actual name, but shortened in a way that really doesn’t actually hide anything…

    Sometimes I wonder about getting dooced or whatever, but I guess I’m reckless enough that I don’t really care. I just don’t have any cool ideas for pseudonyms…

    I don’t have an issue with people using pseudonyms — I tend to be pretty poor at remembering names, whether pseudonym or not — but I will say that meeting a lot of the ZD bloggers at Sunstone was super confusing.

  9. 9.

    Andrew, I think that is most people’s reaction upon meeting the ZD bloggers. It certainly was for me.

    Oh, you mean because of the names. Ahh, yes. That too.

  10. 10.

    Being super confusing is one of the many services we here at ZD offer. It’s unfortunately not often that we get the opportunity to baffle people irl en masse, but if you’re, err, lucky enough to be facebook friends with more than one of us, you can get the effect virtually as well.

  11. 11.

    “I feel like Lynnette isn’t quite the same person as S (my real name) or J (my nickname). All of us, of course, find ourselves being somewhat different people in different contexts, but it perhaps adds another layer to this if you go by a different name in those different contexts. When I’m writing online, I don’t feel like I’m being fake, but I do think I emphasize particular aspects of my personality, and sometimes I wonder: who is this Lynnette person I’ve created? My nickname J is mostly only used by my siblings, which makes me associate it with silliness, and a kind of casual familiarity. I remember once a sister referring to me as J during a family prayer, and then quickly changing it to S.”

    Really interesting stuff, Lynnette. It reminds me a conversation I had with a genderqueer friend who talked about the different identities that she felt when she presented her sort of standard, heteronormative identity versus her genderqueer identity. And that, in a sense, they were kind of like two different people — except that they weren’t, they were really just two different ways that she presented.

    Names have power. After all, how many myths and books and tropes are based on the power of knowing something’s name, or the idea that only the particularly wise know the real names of things and people? And so, yes, it totally makes sense that J and S and L are slightly different faces of the same person. And that’s okay, and it makes a lot of sense.

    Signed, Batman

  12. 12.

    real name (comments only, no blogging) because i have no imagination and no memory.

  13. 13.

    The main reason I identify myself the way I do is because I don’t care to have prospective employers know everything about my religious and political beliefs and my personal life. If it weren’t for Google and other search engines, I’d feel comfortable using my full name.

    I’m an introvert, so I say more online than I would in an in-person conversation. But I don’t think I say anything different than if I were using my real name.

  14. 14.

    I use a pseudonym – two, actually. Like Eric – if it weren’t for Google, I’d be a bit more open. But my job and my husband’s job require a certain level of discretion.

  15. 15.

    I have a pseudonym and in my early days of blogging I was very careful about not using my real name. But when I started blogging about something I was involved in and made national news, I decided, “To heck with it!” So you can very easily find my real name connected to my pseudonym, but I don’t use my real name with my blogs or comments.

    Also, Lynette, it took me until this summer to connect “Lynette” with “S” even though I know you. Because I’m way smart like that.

  16. 16.

    TopHat, that’s really funny. I might be more reticent about my identity than I think I am!

  17. 17.

    I think this is a really interesting question, Lynnette. Like you, I guess I’ve used the same pseudonym for such a long time that I think it kind of forces me to be (at least a little bit) accountable. But I’m probably still more willing to be argumentative under my pseudonym than under my real name on Facebook, where I am the very model of civility. ;)

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