I’ve often heard that anonymity can bring out the worst in people, but I have not found that to be true. Most often we see it in internet exchanges, people can give a “user name” and say whatever they like. Parents are warned that their children may unwittingly give personal information to predators, we are warned that if we play “find your elf name” or whatever, we are giving out the answers to common security questions and enabling hackers, and others of ill intent. Racists or Misogynists can express opinions that would be condemned in most places were they to admit to them in person, and we never know whether they really believe such things, or are just trying to irritate and tease anyone from whom they can get a response.
I have never liked internet user names because I have a hard time keeping track of peoples names under any circumstances. In the SCA we get to choose historical names, and adopt the persona of someone we’d want to be. Other groups adopt alternate names as well. Many religious groups, from nuns to pagans take on new names, sports teams often have nicknames they use among themselves. In some cultures one takes on a new name when entering adulthood. Even modern women still are more likely to adopt their husband’s last name as an indication of the economic unit that they are joining than not.
Your name is a label that defines which part of your self you are thinking in at the moment. Even those who don’t have alternate names may be Anne with friends, Annie with family (or Mom), and Ms. Smith at work. These roles may all mesh harmoniously, or may clash. Many of us when we return to our parents home discover that we are still “the good one”, the “wild one”, or, horribly, “the baby”- even in our fifties! We can fall back into patterns of behavior we have long abandoned the rest of the time, simply because of the expectations people have with that name.
This may be why the SCA has led me to believe that when someone chooses a name other than the one their parents gave them (Tchipakkan, for example), they are intentionally taking on a role that they want. People in the SCA tend to, if their persona is different than their “mundane” self, take on nobility, courage, generosity, and other chivalrous attributes that they associate with the Middle Ages. We join the SCA to get a taste of romance and adventure (without the crusades, fleas, and no toilet paper).
So when I bump into someone on the internet who has a name like BettyBoop or eternalviper, I figure they are pushing the parameters of what they could be. While they may be a teenager trying to escape their humdrum, boring life, or ANYTHING rather than the name of the dead relative they’ve been wearing for their growing years, there could be an entire back story I’ll never know because I’ll never have the connections to follow it. I like that they have a way to try on new names. Sometimes that’s all you need to get past a self image that has been listening to your “inner critic” too much. *I* may not be able to call up someone and tell them I feel I’ve been unfairly treated, but “Morgana” can do it!
So the SCA, among all the other things it’s done, has taught me to be more trusting of the people I meet on line. People are good to me. I hope they are to you.