Choosing a username: real name vs. fake?

There’re a lot of sites trying to help you with the problem of choosing a username wisely. In this post I’d like to put some emphasis on whether you should use your real name or a made up nickname. It all seems to come down to one question: do you want people to instantly identify you by looking at your username?

If you’re thinking about this question in the broader sense – How do you want to manage your online presence? – you’ll have to take various things into account. Although I haven’t got a plan that fits everybody the ideas presented here may help you to come up with a sensible solution.

Some thoughts

I would like to share some thoughts and ideas regarding this issue. Of course the list isn’t complete, just some things off the top of my head. Second, I can’t really say that one thing is better than the other – judge for yourself. Depending on what you’re trying to do online you may come to another solution than somebody else.

Using your real name

Some things you may consider using your real name as a username. Again, there may be a lot more to consider when you’re creating a username.

Makes it easy to find you
If you’re using your real name or something very similar to it e.g. on social networking sites it will be easy for your friends to find you. Generally speaking, this may be a good thing but in case you’d like to start flame wars in the YouTube comments section it’s definitely not what you want.
Shows that it’s just you
Showing other people that it’s the real you – no strings attached – may result in a more personal conversation sometimes. Just ask yourself: how would like other people to talk to you? Do you want to read Hi crazy_j3 or Hi John instead? Psychologically speaking, isn’t hearing or reading your real name just nice when talking to somebody else?
Makes you look more reliable, serious
In case one of your business partners discovers that you’re posting nasty images on some photo sharing website using the screenname hotXXXJoe, how would you start explaining this? Maybe you shouldn’t upload nasty photos in the first place but an awkward username may make things worse.

As you can see there might be numerous questions you should answer for yourself before setting up a username using your real name or incorporating it somehow into the final username.

Using an arbitrary nickname

On the other hand it can be helpful protecting your identity with a made up nickname. This can be anything from wildGuy to an arbitrary combination of letters and numbers like Wch2pk7w.

Can’t be related to you that easy
If you don’t publish some information on your website about your usernames either on a simple page or maybe with a FOAF profile, it isn’t that easy to find the real person for a given username.
May underscore your message
Maybe you want to use your username to tell everybody what you’re talking about. For example: you’re all about Apple, prefix your name with a small i. You’re a comedian, just make up a funny combination of words maybe containing your first name.
Can be special, unique
You’ve got a very popular first or last name or maybe both? Using a unique username online will make it easy for other people to find you. It’ll be easier for you to stand out of the crowd.

Choosing a username that has got nothing to do with your real name needn’t be a bad thing. To the contrary, it may highlight what you’re trying to be online and make you unique.

Conclusion

I’ve tried to present some thoughts you may consider when choosing a username. It should be clear, that everybody has to answer questions like the above on his own. Depending on what you’re trying to archive you may come to a completely different conclusion than somebody else. Once you’ve made a decision I recommend being consistent about it.

If you still want to use multiple personalities online you should avoid connecting them. The idea behind this is that you create accounts for your private life which may contain things only your friends should know and some business accounts. I don’t think that you should connect these identities in any way; just keep them separate.

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