Pseudonym

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Nym > Pseudonym


See also: Sayings | Name Withheld | Anonymity | Obfuscate

Shortform: Nym

Aka: Alias, Nick (Nickname), Handle, or Screen Name.


Introduction

From the root words Pseudo, meaning false, and nym, meaning name

Refers to someone's identity which is deliberately falsified possibly for both privacy and security concerns. Message content (written and artistic work) is often created with a fictious identity, or a pseudonymous name.

Pseudonymity in most cases does not confer anonymity, but merely obfuscates the user's identity, or represents but one element from a set of context-dependent identities.

Example: In Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, the man initially known as "Strider" amongst the hobbits was Aragorn, his name given at birth and amongst other men. "Strider" was Aragorn's pseudonym.

Online

In the age the Internet, pseudonyms are extremely common, even expected. Pseudonyms can have the advantage of often being small, genderless, and irrespective of nationality or ancestry. They are also very dynamic, unlike one's own legal realname.

History

While it is impossible to say where pseudonyms first came to be in the computer world, one could say that they have their source in login names on pre-Internet and pre-AOL Bulletin Board Services. Many early login names were shortforms of a user's first and last name. It is possible that pseudonyms were created as a way of having a more human-readable screen name.

It's possible that people saw an opportunity to take advantage of the general anonymity of computers and their login names and chose to propagate a screen name as a way of stepping outside their normal self. It is well known that on the Internet, there are people who act very differently than in real life. Much like a huge costume party, there is a certain security and/or joy in relative anonymity.

More recently in some groups, there has been a push to use real names in place of pseudonyms. The thinking appears to be that a real person can take real credit for their work, and that an alias is almost childish. This activity may be clearly seen displayed by Real Hackers.

Mail filter

Both online and in the real world, individuals can chose to use a name different than their legal one to work as a filter. E-mail or postal mail addressed to an individual chosen as a pseudonym can be quickly discarded as worthless or for a specific use.

For example: John Smith signs for a loan with his real name but gives flower shop a false or derrived name so that he will know if she sends him mailings who sent them. If in his e-mail box, he can set a filter to dump any mail from this pseudonym (knowing it to be spam) or move it to a separate "flowers" mailbox.

Other Literary Examples

  • In Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, the protagonist, Randy Waterhouse, receives e-mail from "root@eruditorium.org". He assumes this is from the system administrator account from that domain, when in fact "Root" is the last name of the person sending the message, Enoch Root. Writes Root to Waterhouse, upon Waterhouse's inquiries after Root's identity:
"I've already told you my name, and it meant nothing to you. Or rather, it meant the wrong thing. Names are tricky that way. The best way to know someone is to have a conversation with them."
  • In FreeBSD, root's default realname is "Charlie Root".
  • A common use for the term is in books, for example when Anne Rice wrote "Exit to Eden" as Anne Rampling. Many authors have used this for many years to escape the confines of genre, or to explore new ground after becoming successful. Of notable exception are Ray Bradbury and Issac Asimov, who have written for every genre.