Tuesday, June 1, 2010

On Usernames

On the topic of usernames, the first thing to consider is names in general. While it is of no use to think of names at a time before written record, it is important to think about the meaning and tradition built up around them. In some cultures your name comes directly from the names of your parents, in others it is given to you from an endless list of possibilities. Old fashioned Indonesian names are simply one name, while other cultures can produce more than five for one person. They may also have a greater meaning, belonging to the hopes parents have for their child, or omens witnessed around the time of birth. Names can simply relate to visual things, star, flower. They can also be concepts, like hope.

Names also traditionally hold power. Someone's true name allows magical influence over, or may call its eye upon you. While this idea is much older than the Christian faith, this is the reason why the Jewish people withhold the name of their lord, and don't write it somewhere that can be erased. Those who know your name are close to you sympathetically, they can have influence over you. Without the need for magic or faith, this is true on a base level. Names work as identification for accusation, commendation, all close human acts. When we do not wish to be moved by someone, to stay completely detached, we purposely neglect to learn their name. Those we have not learned the name of, we cannot truly know.

From just this we know a lot about names. Names can mean a lot just in their words, or mean very little. Words can relate to the world, or something greater than the world. Names can identify you as part of a culture. They can be long or short. Most of all, names have power.

This all applies to usernames as well, the monikers people self-apply for use online or within specific services. A username may relate to physical concepts like places or things, or to metaphysical concepts. Often usernames can identify you as part of a culture, 'azn' being shorthand for a generalization its users often hate to have aimed at them; they are Asian and want us to know. Usernames may have length longer than actually required, gaining decoration and numbers like 'xXcoolguyXx' or 'diamondprohere23' that may have no bearing on the name itself.

One thing that cannot be denied though is that usernames have power. Like any name, it allows for one to identify another, for the sake of admonishment or praise. The username will allow one to be singled out. Usernames and the identification with them can also lead to popularity, say the right things at the right places and people will remember you.

Yet a username is not a true name. Should they still be respected? One name is under another name meant only for virtual purposes. That username may only exist at that one place, or carry over to many others. It is possible then that when that username is being used, the person beneath is acting differently than they normally would. While their username can be held accountable for these actions, sometimes they (the person) cannot be. Several usernames all referring to one person is problematic for accountability, a basic piece of order.

Still, if that username can be punished, putting one internet troll to rest regardless of the repercussions for the true name behind it, the username has served its purpose. Within the community that username belongs to, the power of that name has been used. Even if the person behind the username was creating a false persona for that community, that person runs the risk of being punished based on the actions of that username. Therefore a username is very serious business, as serious as the internet itself even. Even if the content of a username seems like a joke, or the person behind the username seems less than serious, the username and person should be treated as just that. The username has meaning and power for that person, it may relate to history or concepts that they judged adequate to represent them. If they were in bad judgement based on the name alone, that is their choice, and they shall have to live with that choice.

This idea, of usernames representing the person as they exist within communities on the internet, gives way to discussion on the veil between user and community. The behavior created by anonymity is worth a look all by itself.

Image from Superpoop.com


  1. I had some cool joke, then I forgot it while I was reading. Ahh!!!! READING got me again.

  2. Dun dun DUUUN. Reading will do that to you.