Posted by: unlikelygrad | October 18, 2010

impossible to find: thoughts on pseudonymity

I recently read this post over at the Chronicle and thought it made some good points. I can definitely see how appending my real name to my blog might be useful in networking. For a brief period of time–maybe 2 minutes–I actually considered posting my real name in the ‘about’ post. But only 2 minutes.

First, let me say that I love good pseudonyms. The second-ever science blog I read was Carbon-Based Curiosities (a lovely, eclectic mix of hilarity and actual science) and the very first thing I noticed on the blog was a pseudonym: psi*psi. Except she uses the real Greek symbols. (How do you do that on WordPress? I don’t know.) I was taking quantum mechanics at the time (which I loved) and this just tickled my funny bone. Of course, psi*psi goes by her pseudonym AND posts her name online, so there’s no reason you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

There were two reasons I almost immediately discarded the idea of “the reveal.” First, the Chronicle article suggested that you want people to be able to Google you and find out who you are. That’s nice if your name is Wilhelm Roentgen or something like that, but those of us with relatively common names are out of luck in that department anyway. If you Google my real name, you’ll usually find me somewhere about page 20. The year I was at my peak internet popularity–I spoke at four homeschool conferences in four months–I managed to get up to page 10. Sad.

My former research mentor, SL (note: these are the initials of his online avatar, not his real initials) is saddled with a top-10 first name, top-5 last name. When I was looking at grad schools, I actually corresponded with a potential advisor with the same name as SL. I mentioned this to him, and he said, “Oh. One of the other 9 million SLs.” I tried Googling him once and couldn’t find him. Even Googling SL + chemistry didn’t work.

Clearly, some people have to network without relying on Google.

The second reason I chose to remain pseudonymous is because of the people I write about on an everyday basis. For example, Dr. Hand-Waver is a very private, introverted person with a very uncommon moniker–she’s the very first hit on Google when you type in her name, and the second as well. (I notice that she does seem to share a name with a female boxer; hopefully this is not her secret hobby!)

My husband is also a private person, and his first name is slightly less common than mine. And, of course, I refuse to put my children’s real names online: this is just a matter of safety. (You won’t see their pictures here, either. But trust me, they are adorable.)

This is not to say that I won’t drop some huge hints about who I am, like linking to my book when it finally gets on Amazon in a couple of weeks. Some of my regular readers already know my real name, as we’ve been in email contact. But I will never actually post my name on this blog. Sorry.

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