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?