From the Comments Policy on Language Log:

… the software asks you for an email address, which is not published for other readers. Though there is no automatic check, this should be a genuine address. Comments from addresses like are likely to be deleted.

So it is on this blog. But neither blog asks for a real name, so people are free to supply a pseudonym — a “nick” or “handle” — and a great many do. Almost everyone on Livejournal goes by a nick (though I do not); it’s part of the culture of the place. And some people have personal blogs under a pseudonym. In contrast, people post to subscription mailing lists like the American Dialect Society mailing list (ADS-L) under their real names, and Facebook similarly insists on real names. Of course, people lie and cheat, but it’s part of the culture of these places for participants to be in principle identifiable.

The ADS-L and Facebook real-name scheme reduces all sorts of bad behavior — an especially important goal in places where there are a great many participants. On the other hand, using a nick allows you to construct an on-line persona. Or several different personas, as has happened on Language Log and in many newsgroups.

I’ve had people who use nicks say that they want people to take what they say on its own, without regard for who they are in the real world, a position emphasized by many who use multiple nicks, who want each thing they write to be judged on its own, without regard for the history of their postings or their postings in different places. Some people who use nicks are just being playful, of course, but it seems to me that some of these uses undermine the character of the sites they post in as social media, by insisting that their writing be detached from the social world of the site and the larger social world.

We have commenters on this blog who use nicks (occasionally, more than one) here but post in other places (ADS-L, for example, and of course Facebook) under their real names — a fact that makes life difficult for me when I want to transport material from one place to another, and even when I just want to reply to them here, since my replies will often be colored by my knowledge of who they are (but this is knowledge other readers of this blog do not have).

I don’t want to get into a scheme of having commenters register with WordPress. Though I believe that’s possible, it would make more work for me here, and a huge amount of work for the LLoggers there, since LLog has hugely more readers than this blog.

Here’s a suggestion: If you’re willing to be identifiable in your comments but want to go on using a nick (or just your first name), sign your (whole) real name to them. That would be helpful to people who reply to you or import your comments into some other context.

(That would be the opposite of my long-time practice on the newsgroup soc.motss, where I posted under my real name and university e-address, but signed most of my postings with a pseudonym. More about those pseudonyms in another posting.)


One Response to “Nicks”

  1. More on nicks « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] dismayed to see that though I suggested in my “Nicks” posting that commenters on this blog who wanted to continue posting under a nick or with only their first […]

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