Pseudonymity – is it always appropriate?

That’s very interesting, @HAWK. I wouldn’t have any issue with someone using a pseudonym at all. In my community, a full name is required for registration in order to create transparency between the user and the reviews they write. We feel it creates an honest environment. However, on a forum or through personal emails, I don’t see how it would or should be an issue.

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That’s not ideal! In the subject line you mean? Email or PM?

That’s interesting in itself, because different names in different places undermines the idea of a personal brand. What are your thoughts on that?

I do agree that full name should be required for registration, (and probably displayed somewhere in a community like this, which is predominantly professional).

Thanks for your perspectives.

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The PM - even here all your posts say “HAWK FeverBee”. I updated my post above with a screenshot now that I’m allowed to do it.

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Ah, I see what you’re saying. That’s just displaying my username and title, which does make sense.
Interestingly though, based on this feedback (mainly your point to not realising it was my real name) I have just tried to update my full name and can’t. I’ll have to dig a bit deeper.

Edit: Done! That probably makes more sense to people on a professional level now, as well as protecting my personal brand. Thoughts?

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Hi Hawk, I think this is a really interesting point of discussion.

Especially that you first adopted it to mask gender, even today as more women are working in tech industries people can act very differently towards you. I think this demonstrates your genuine reason for adopting your name which made you feel comfortable, and it’s unfair to challenge that.

Perhaps it is a cultural thing. Where I grew up in South East London calling people by their surname is what the ‘lads’ do, they consider it a cool way to refer to each other but other people from different areas sometimes find it a bit common. So it’s interesting how a name can have so many implications among different cultures.

In my eyes, there’s nothing obnoxious about it - I’d say that’s a highly judgmental view and with only a name to go by I’m not sure you can make any kind of informed judgment about someone’s character. Essentially it’s a name. It actually is your surname, and you’re not hiding your full name. And even if you’d made it up randomly because you didn’t feel connected to your given name that’s up to you. Who cares that much about a name?! It’s the person that counts (cheesy but true).

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Think we’re talking around 4 interesting interrelated concepts here.

1) The opinions of the loud minority rule out what most people are happy with.
I would never be worried with 1 to 3 complaints. More than that you might want to think about it. You might have 100 people who like it but never say so.

2) Expectations in different contexts.
In some professional contexts, using a pseudonym can sound off and off-putting. If we meet a client and introduce ourselves as Hawk and EliteSniper17, we’re probably not going to be appear very professional.

3) The psychology of pseudonyms.
We have a weaker connection to pseudonyms than real identities. I’d much prefer to enforce real names as usernames here, but not sure people would accept it. The reason is we feel a closer connection to ‘real’ people. Also, we can look each other up. I can get more info about your experience/expertise from LinkedIn etc…that’s pretty valuable. If we attend events, and we meet, we’ll probably introduce ourselves by real names etc…so we might not know who is who. That’s why I much prefer real names and faces in profiles. I wouldn’t enforce it, but I definitely prefer it. There are plenty of opportunities when pseudonyms are important for identities, this isn’t usually the case for professional communities.

4) Personal brand. Sarah Hawk is more powerful than HAWK. Hawk is too generic to be your brand. If I hear someone called Hawk created a great website and want to hire her, I’m not going to find you if I just search for Hawk. I’m going to find bird pictures :). Your personal brand is your name and work, not the pseudonym.


I dunno, I think it has quite a good ring to it. Like superheroes. When did you start calling your self EliteSniper17 btw?


I also like there were 16 snipers before who didn’t make the cut…


I come from the open source world, where pseudonymity is common and accepted. For some contributors, in certain parts of the world, keeping their real identity separate from their online identity might be necessary for their personal safety. Others are just adamant about privacy. Even when you know someone’s real name, even when they are coworkers, it’s common to refer to them by their online handle. So, I have the attitude that your name is whatever you tell me your name is. (I assumed “Hawk” was a nickname; didn’t realize it was your surname.)

I also strongly encourage responsibility and accountability for your identity. If the community supports pseudonyms, it should be difficult to change pseudonyms. It should be a “brand” within the community, in both the positive and the negative senses of the word. Yet, it should also be possible to migrate to a new identity. I’ve known people who started contributing to open source at a young age, and later wished to have a more “mature” identity than their younger selves had chosen.


I could write a novel on this but I’ll just share a thought that hopefully makes sense lol. Our largest and most popular portion of the community, the MISC, has been established as a “boy’s locker room” mentality, including all the juvenile and offensive (to many) behavior we can allow while still protecting the business. That’s not a very female friendly atmosphere and most females either receive extreme “white knighting” e.g. lots of reputation points and polite comments from a few or outright abuse from others. Many females will stay anonymous to avoid the issue altogether while the small group who proudly declare their gender either do so for attention or because they can hang with the guys. We also have a female section for those who don’t want to deal with it.

I have no issue with pseudonyms because it gives them the option to either share or hide information that will drastically affect their treatment, at least when they first join (which is the critical part in whether they stay). Once they show they can deal with the silly behavior they are often accepted (to the majority).

Full names are a no-no which is unfortunate because of the rise of “internet detectives” and those who want to track down people and just ruin their lives (much like swatting and the like).

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Thanks for your comments @Janet_Swisher – it sounds like we come from similar backgrounds in this regard.

That is what I mean when I say personal brand. I see that @richard_millington has a different definition of it, based on his response above. I’m not referring to how someone would find me if they Googled, but more how people think of me and address me. I was at a conference last year when someone said “Oh! So you’re SitePoint’s Hawk” and realised that it has very much become my brand.

[quote=“Janet_Swisher, post:13, topic:985”]
I’ve known people who started contributing to open source at a young age, and later wished to have a more “mature” identity than their younger selves had chosen.
[/quote] That is a very good point and something that I think we should communicate to our children’s generation. I got stung by it to a degree (as did many, I believe) when Twitter started out. I joined relatively early on (early 2008) and @hawk was already taken, so I went for @ilovethehawk as a bit of a joke. I never dreamed that it would become what it has, especially in the professional arena. I occasionally cringe at myself, especially when it’s displayed on my lower third during Google hangouts!

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I totally think that pseudonymity is appropriate in certain circumstances. As long as you aren’t being dishonest about it.

I asked a similar question last year.

The short version is that I used to use a pseudonym online. I had a personal experience in the past which left me ultra vigilant, perhaps overly so, for my safety. When I posted that question, there was no problem using my pseudonym.

Now that has changed.

One of the requirements when I was hired by the company I used to volunteer for, was that I use a face picture on my profile. I’m not required to use my real name within our overall community, but I am required to use my real name with the other employees.

I would be more comfortable using Piper Wilson, but I’m a big kid now. :wink:

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I can completely understand how calling yourself Hawk served a beneficial purpose in the male-dominated context and I don’t blame you at all for doing that. In our 44,000-person internal community at my company, names are synced with official first and last names on record and display that way, but we’re adding in October the ability for people to use a preferred name instead of their official first name. We still want them to use the same preferred name that is used in Outlook and our employee directory and not come up with “The Terminator” or some such thing.

We also allow personas in the case of departments that have multiple people manning an account and they want to be known as HR4U, for example, instead of their individual names. This helps people know they are getting the “official” answer from the right business area, although there is a trade-off in doing it that way and as a rule we prefer people to use their real account for posting vs. a persona. That’s a bit different than your conext, though.

Years ago I got the nickname Blue from a lot of people outside work and I would be happy to go by it as well, although nobody at work knows me as that, so it would be a bit odd for me to use that here.

Nice to learn more about you, Hawk!

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It’s fantastic to hear of an organisation that is so flexible when it comes to identity @JeffKRoss
At one of my former employers, I was known by all my colleagues as Hawk (it was a social media agency so they met me on the internet), but when I used the name Hawk on an internal chat system I was specifically told to change it because “I didn’t deserve special treatment”. I found that pretty insulting, and surprising TBH.

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Funny you should bring this up, my full name is Michael Van Riper. People
know me professionally for the most part as Van Riper and call me Van.
Those that are not familiar with Dutch surnames assume Van is my first name
and Riper is my last name. It was a conscious thing that I did to drop the
"Michael" back in 1994 after my father’s death. Longer story behind the
name change here

Like you, I don’t go out of my way to hide the fact that my full name is
Michael Van Riper. I simply introduce myself as Van Riper and my
communications are always signed from Van Riper or Van.

Cheers, Van

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We allow pseudonym’s on our site due to the fact that many of our members work for companies that prohibit their users from representing themselves in their technical roles online, NDA’s are common at the top levels of this industry. We have people who work for “The House of Mouse” and other big name venues and production companies who aren’t allowed to reveal their employer to avoid the corporate liability for statements made by the employees online.

These people represent the top echelon of the industry and they would not be able to participate if we didn’t allow pseudonym’s on our site. We even go as far as to work to protect their real world identities, often from well-meaning but clueless colleagues who accidentally make a remark that could out them



Very interesting post!

Our experience is that we provide first names of our CM’s but not the last name.

At first, when we used name + surname, some if the CM’s got calls from members, who have found their phonenumber online. This we could not approve!

So we changed to only first names. This we wanted to do, because we demand names of the members profiles and we did not feel like we ourselves could avoid this completely, to be fair.

We have not had any problems with gender, but I follow your point in your situation @HAWK! :slight_smile:

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Really interesting discussion @HAWK My background is in Video Games and all gamers have their made up names and handles, nobody goes by their real name when playing games. However anonymity amongst gamers nearly always results in the keyboard warriors getting nasty with discussions and to the eternal shame of the video game industry the number of trolls out there is quite alarming and I personally think that this is down to people not using their real names when partaking in discussions.

That is why we took the decision to shut down a forum at one of the places I worked as it was becoming a really nasty place to visit as nobody goes online to tell you how great something is. As @richard_millington mentioned earlier in this thread, the complainers are always the ones that shout the loudest but when they have to use their real names, at least you can usually have a reasonable discussion about what is making them so angry.

Maybe, my industry is worse than others in this regard.

I would disagree with Rich’s point that pseudonyms (always) mean a weaker sense of connection. It’s probably true for some types of communities, but the one’s I’ve worked on might be dealing with things like a cancer patient talking about intimate details of their treatment, a carer wanting to talk about how hard caring is without upsetting the loved one they look after, or a bereaved person feeling let down that their friends haven’t supported them.

Few people would want to post these things under their real identities. Anonymity can give people the freedom to be more honest, and that honesty creates a stronger sense of connection between members.

I actually enforce a no full names rule for public usernames to make sure members protect their privacy. (They can choose to use first names or something completely anonymous, but full names get edited).


Bumping this old topic from last year because I recently watched this keynote from Alexis Ohanian which talks about the importance of pseudonymity to the survival of Reddit.