Why Pseudo Names?

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William Shakespeare - What's in a name ?Pseudonyms, aliases, avatars, handles, monickers and nicknames are more popular than ever, but their popular use long-predates the internet and the reasoning for their use has never been more important (indeed necessary) than it is today. So why then do so many people get agitated enough to make petty insinuations at someone who writes online under an assumed name?

Do these armchair critics just operate under the simple-minded misconception that all professional writers should use their real names or risk losing credibility somehow. How is personal writing under an alias, less authentic than a byline with a given name?  Seems that most people forget that most mainstream writers are produce content that they hope will satisfy the needs of their editors and publishers, and ultimately their advertisers. So whether a journalist is required to pander to the large advertising account, or the satirist is supporting the editorial slant of a paper, the facts of life remain clear. You can’t eat blind idealism. Does the name that gets attached to a story change that in any way?

More importantly, in an age when almost all entertainment and journalism is produced with a commercial interest in mind, which is more important? The actual given birth-name of a writer, or the clear disclosure that they are hoping to be rewarded by a benefactor or paid by an advertiser for what they produce? Let’s consider what’s actually in a name, if we could.

A rose by any other name…

Would an obscurely named species from the Rosaceae family still smell as sweet? Does the proper Latin etymology for a flower make it any more beautiful than the common name of a garden variety? Such accuracy might make it easier for a botanist to identify it, but to the average person the word “rose” holds the widest and most useful meaning. So why do some people get so hung up on the use of proper names on the internet then?

Perhaps, they’re blissfully unaware of certain realities, or simply choose to ignore both the history of writing and current state of the medium.

Privacy

The power of the internet and the enormous potential for abuse has required governments to come up with all sorts of new privacy legislation to regulate how our personal information can be captured and re-sold online. If anybody thinks that all of these free services are being offered for philanthropic reasons or as loss-leaders to sell us merchendise at teh gift shop, then they clearly haven’t been paying attention to what is actually driving revenue on the Internet.

Advertising is the name of the game, and your personal habits and information is what is driving the technology that hopes to target you with the perfect advertising message. This means that every peice of info you provide on the net is being collated into profiles that can be aggregated, bought and sold.

Think twice before you go plastering your name all over these public bathroom walls, because it’s just a matter of time before somebody else associates a telephone number and postal address to your freely provided (yet clearly valuable) information. Just ask Mark Zuckerberg why Facebook has a valuation that’s larger than the GDP of most countries.

Security

If you believe that identity theft is something that only happens in the movies, then you should stay off the net, and just watch more tv. The first and most important thing that someone needs to know about you is your name. From there it’s just a matter of time, access, and inclination to violate privacy.

Just in case you haven’t noticed, there are still no solid and dependable personal identity protocols being adopted on the Net. Identity theft is usually just a matter of taking the information that people freely and foolishly provide and then looking for the weak link in the profile that leads someone to a clearly named mailbox or physical locale.

Of course Facebook would like you to take a simplistic approach and just use their logins to access everything, but do you really want to live in a world where Facebook is your trusted source of identity, location, associations and privacy?

Authenticity

Here’s where it get’s interesting. Punters and pundits like to proclaim that people who don’t use their real names (online) are more willing to say things that aren’t true. Well, that might be the case when it comes to slander and defamation, but those kinds of lies need to be exposed regardless of who writes/says them. In the meantime it’s foolish to base truth on a name if you can’t even tell what makes a name real to begin with. Only the foolish or naive would use what looks like a “real” name as a measuring stick for what’s true or not?

In fact, some of the most critical and controversial writers are the ones that have used pen-names in order to provide themselves with the security that they needed to actually tell and spread the truth!

Of course those writers still depended on the intelligence of the reader to see the value in what they wrote, not simply buying into an idea because someone with a well-known name said it. Perhaps someday, historians will emphasize the point by using names like George Bush and…Well here’s a list of properly named journalists to get you started with how much truth a “real” name can represent.

History

Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950) known by his pen name George OrwellThere are many famous writers and even accomplished journalists who’ve written under pen names or ‘noms de plummes’.

Moliere was a made up name and Charles Dickens hid behind the name “Boz”. More recently Stephen King moonlighted as Richard Bachman and Dean Koontz wrote under an even wider array of pen names. Even the English author and journalist Eric Arthur Blair is much better known for his profound awareness of social injustice, his brave stances against  “the establishment” and his  incisive views on the encroachment of totalitarianism, all written under the name George Orwell.

Leaving aside the risky world where important facts can be eitehr delivered or distorted through palatable servings fiction, we can look to the history of journalism in times when Freedom of teh PRess was a principal worth dyign for. Here we see even stronger arguments for the use of pseudonyms for satirists and critics who sought a clear and unfettered voice for presenting controversial subjects, and even revolutionary messages.

Benjamin Franklin actually wrote many of his most revolutionary thoughts either anonymously or under pseudonyms so that they could be freely expressed without repercussions or censorship. Unknown pamphleteers were a critical channel for generating the support required for America to gain its freedoms. So maybe the internet could still learn a few things from the founding fathers and the earliest supporters for a “Free Press”.

The Medium is the Message

In the end, nobody really knows anybody here on the internet, until we develop a genuine personal contact. So why would anybody presume that just because they see a name on an account or a comment that the name is a “real” one? Isn’t it in knowing someone that we get to know who they really are, and not simply what they call themselves? Shouldn’t we be more concerned about visible content and true substance than the names and labels that a more superficial world can easily affix or peel off at will.

The truth is out there….you just have to read to discover it.

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