August 15, 2011

The Wired Mom: What’s in a name?

Okay, I guess this Wired Mom is a thing now. Awhile back I thought I’d write a tech blog from the POV of a mom, but I just couldn’t populate a blog full time. So… I guess I’ll just do these posts as they come up and make a category so that you can weed through my tech posts quickly if that’s what you’re looking for.

What is in a name? Since the internet began, people had to figure out what name they were going to be known as. What AOL address they had, chat handles, etc. Some people used their real names from the start, while others preferred pseudonyms to hide behind. I had both. I actually was able to get my initials+drake on AOL, and had a screenname that I used for posting around. I was 10thIndian, as I loved reading Agatha Christie. That lasted until I found Livejournal and started to post using Wingedkiare, or variants of that s/n. That’s also when whitneyd surfaced.

Then came Facebook, which asks users to use your real name to connect. Though there are a lot of people who don’t. One of my “gaming friends” is named Lily Evans. Last week she had another Harry Potter related name. It’s just how it is. Where Facebook asked you to use your name, Google Plus insists. Plenty of users found themselves locked out of Google Plus because they weren’t using their legal name on the service.

Admittedly, I do not use my legal name. I write under my maiden name because that’s the name I first started to write as. Also, my parents gave me a perfect stage name, so why not use it? It gives my husband and children a little bit of extra anonymity, which I like.

I do see the downside of using legal names. It makes it easy to stalk someone, when we’re all using real names on the internet. Blizzard (the gaming company best known for World of Warcraft) tried to make their boards use real names, and the players became extremely upset. Female gamers, who had been harassed by male players (yes, it happens, see: this site which collects gamer reactions to female gamers across various platforms. NSFW) complained, and after a Blizzard moderator posted using their real name, people dug up any and all information about him that they could. Blizzard decided to make it an opt-in program, rather than mandatory.

Not only that, but it blurs the way we can separate our online personas from our real lives. Once upon a time, I had a job in advertising and was writing fanfiction (some of it a bit racy) at the same time. Did I really want our clients to be able to find that out about me just by Googling? No.

Some say it’s as simple as not using the service, which is true in a casual way. But if you’re a writer, artist or musician- why should you be barred from using a service simply because you prefer people to know you under a certain name? Are they going to Jay-Z go by Shawn Corey Carter?

I do understand that Google wants to keep there from being 400 people pretending to be Justin Beiber, or from saying that they’re the Coke Polar Bear Cub… but why force people to stop using a name that they’ve already branded themselves as on the internet? What if I’d written that tech blog, and you knew me as The Wired Mom? Why force me to call myself Whitney Drake when nobody would knew me as that?

I really enjoy using Google+. I’ve met a lot of wonderful writers, artists and musicians. I can’t imagine how many more I’d get to meet if Google would relax their name policy.

Probably the best (and geekiest) way to explain Google+’s naming policy from Ryan Estrada. Click to view it full size.
By Ryan Estrada

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