Names, and pseudonyms in particular, seem to be a hot topic on the internet at the moment, with Google’s real names policy for Google+ at the centre of a storm of controversy. But when it comes down to it, does it really matter what you call yourself?
I’ve had a few nicknames over the years. The first one I remember having was Taity. Hardly original, I’m sure you’ll agree, in fact I seem to recall my dad had the exact same nickname in certain circles. A variation on this, in my teenage years, was Tatsy. I don’t really know where it came from, but given my typically geeky social interaction problems, which some saw as a superiority complex, it was adapted to become Hare Tatsy (a corruption of Hare Krishna, which had shot into the public consciousness at the time after featuring in a drum and bass song) as a tongue-in-cheek indication that people felt that I expected them to worship me. I got involved in the Atari ST demo scene for a brief period around this time, and appeared in the “greetz” as Tithead. Yes, really!
In my online life I’ve gone through a few nicks/handles/identifiers, too. On Elephant MUD, I was Immoderator, bringer of chaos and ignorer of rules! On many IRC channels, talkers, IM networks and such-like, I’ve been JayTeeUK – the latter part answering at least part of the common question “A/S/L?” and filtering out a surprising amount of unwanted attention from amorous American males with web cams (although the unwanted attention from amorous British males with web cams was unsurprisingly unabated). These days I’m almost exclusively jamestait, or in some cases james.tait (one notable exception being in my daily dealings on the internal Canonical IRC server, where I’m jayteeuk again because having jamesh and jamestait in the same channel rendered tab completion useless when addressing either one of us, and he was there first).
When I left University and got my first job, I was quickly dubbed Chocolate, or Choc for short, because of my famous weakness for the treat tray. When I met the woman who was to become my wife, I was mostly just James. As the relationship progressed, I became honey, and later, when she conceived, I was “promoted” to Dad, and that’s still how I’m most often referred to in our household (apart from when I’ve done something stupid or inconsiderate, and in the interests of decency I’m not sharing with you the names I get called then). My wife became Mom, and my dad became Grandad.
Another popular one, and probably one of my personal favourites, was Taiters, often spoken with a mock Somerset farmer accent due to “‘taters” being an abbreviation of “potatoes”. This always reminds me of a school assembly in which our IT teacher (aptly enough) introduced a “family” of characters, all made from potatoes and each with their own characteristics. Spectater liked to watch things carefully through her thick glasses and keep herself to herself; Commentater was a gossip. But I’m straying from the point.
Which is this: different arenas called for different monikers. It wouldn’t have been appropriate for my teachers to call me Tithead or Hare Tatsy. I’d be concerned if my wife referred to me as Immoderator or jayteeuk. And frankly, if Google require me to use my full, real name in order to use their service, I’m not going to argue.
“But wait!” I hear you cry, “That’s exclusive! That means that people who want to remain anonymous can’t use the service!” Yes, it does. And yes, it sucks. But you know what? You wanna play in Google’s park, you gotta play by Google’s rules. Otherwise, you go and find another park to play in. Nobody is making you use Google+.
The way to remedy this isn’t to fix Google’s policy, but to fix social networking. But that’s a subject for another post.