Pseudonyms, naming, and identity

It amuses me sometimes how the same questions come up in cycles for scholarship about emerging social software. Let’s face it, digital spaces, meat space… when it come to scholarship on identity, digital spaces have the huge advantage that people can quickly and successfully craft an identity that they feel is true and not be stuck with one based on sight-based physical characteristics. They can do it quickly too, and they leave an easy to follow breadcrumb trail of text, video, created images, and podcasts. This is what I love (among other things) about web-rhetorics. People can be who the want to be, and in doing so, mold themselves into their best selves (or in the case of trolls, their worst).

Given that this is a new space with my name for an URL, that is why I had to go back to my November 19, 2003 Kairosnews post about whether to go with a pseudonym or my real name for a domain. At the time, I intended to make a website for what I called an eportfolio, but it really ended up being a personal blog with a subdomain for classroom blogging and materials. Anyway, I took my debate public by asking for comments on Kairosnews, and the replies were nuanced and not homogenous. The subject kept coming up through my eight-plius years reading and participating in Kairosnews–in my search for my old post I found one where Matt Barton also muses on the power of a name in blogs and in wikis.

So, like many others, I crafted a pseudonym, one that would not hold up to much digging because I also wanted my web scholarship to be seen. Techsophist was a declaration of ideology (pro-tech, pro digital-sophism), and even though there were years when it was primarily a blog space, it did end up being a dossier of sorts, and it ended up being a positive part of my successful bid for tenure.

In November it will be nine years with that pseudonym. I still don’t know if people who know me through Computers and Writing or Computers and Composition Online knew me first as Techsophist or as Lanette. More locally, many of my students call me Dr. C., which was their naming, not mine. I suspect that my real-life name, after close to nine years as Techsophist, ended up being better known. Once people know me in real life, they tend to visit my blog space rather than the other way around, which would be seeing who I am IRL because of my blog space. In a way, using a pseudonym may have been a purposeful choice on my part to angle away from the full blast of internet scrutiny. My audience was more self-selected, the opposite of my overt intent, which was to broaden the audience with a pseudonym rather than my relatively unknown name.

Thus, my solution to my current dilemma. I’m keeping Techsophist up until Apple shuts down MobileMe. In the meantime, this new space under my real name will be my active space. I can’t promise more blogging, although that may happen, but sometimes only a blog will do, so there will be blogging.

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

6 thoughts on “Pseudonyms, naming, and identity

  1. Interesting post, Lanette. It’s definitely relevant to me, as I’ve changed my alias a few times in recent years (going from Plattitude to Aristotle Julep).

    I guess the reason I don’t use my given name as my domain is that I don’t know when I’ll want to/have to reinvent myself again.

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  2. I know! Good point about reinvention. That is one of the great things about web-identity. Changing names is more acceptable and easier than in RL, where your given name is what you have unless you legally change it. I did–to my maiden name when i started to get published more often and wanted my name to be “my” name.

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  3. Thanks! I thought of it when WordPress insisted in the setup process that I couldn’t have WordPress unless I needed my blog and named it right this minute, by gosh. Changing to thte domain name seemed boring by comparison, so I’m keeping it.

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  4. I am really impressed with your writing skills and also with the layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it’s rare to see a great blog like this one these days..

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