What’s in a Name?
What value do we place in our name? What meaning does it convey? How does it represent us? Juliet saw it as an artificial convention. I have some Cherokee blood, so I tend to believe there is a bond between the person and the name. However you might respond to such questions, I think we can all agree that they are questions worth asking.
Actually, what is really on my mind is a variation of the famous question that more pointedly asks, What’s in a social name?
By “social name” I am referring to those aliases that we create for our social networking profiles. We have our given names, but beyond that we sport our usernames, handles, and avatar names across multiple social networks. In some cases those social names are identical to our given names, and there is an identifiable correlation between the two. Facebook and LinkedIn come to mind (though there may possibly be fewer examples with Facebook in the near future). In many other instances, however, those social names do not match up with our given names. Sometimes they even are so unrelated that any attempt to try and match a real name with the corresponding social name could only be described as the stuff of Vegas. Drop a coin and pull the lever. And this can be further compounded when an individual’s social handles are not identical across his or her social network profiles. The Twitter handle may be one thing; the Foursquare username something else; and the SecondLife and World of Warcraft avatar names altogether different. Granted, many people do use the same social name on multiple social networks in an effort to brand themselves, but even then, differences can and do exist between the given name and the social name.
I am not trying to make an argument that it is bad to have usernames on social networking sites that are different from an individual’s given name. I am simply pointing to reality. Generally speaking, we have given names, and we have social names.
Some of my connections with others are entirely (or at least primarily) through Twitter, so I most naturally recognize those individuals under their Twitter name. And even in the cases where those Twitter connections have grown to include encounters in other venues (i.e. reading their blogs, face-to-face meetings at conferences), I still identify strongly with their Twitter presence. That Twitter handle is just as significant as their first name. It seems that I am not alone. I am noticing conference attendees agreeing to “pen in” their Twitter handles on their conference badges. This year’s Connecticut Library Association Conference went a step further by incorporating a space for Twitter handles into the design of their conference badges.
We continue to build, shape, absorb, and project our various social network identities–personal and professional–under the labels of our social names. As we do so, will we reach a point where it will be insufficient or difficult to fully associate with others under our given names only? Will our social usernames increasingly become more than something we type into a required field to create a profile? I don’t know. Just a thought that has been on my mind.
At the very least, I believe this topic is worth including among discussion of “social awareness” in digital literacy instruction efforts. The role of our social networking names will likely increase as the identities behind them continue to grow and evolve.
John Kennerly...library director, technology dabbler, and information handler. More bio
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