Honestly, I feel like I write this post every year. Or at least discuss writing it every year. Usually other people say what I think much better on these issues than I do. And yet, every time, I hear from people, via Twitter, Email, etc, saying I should join under my Real Name. That what I have to say is less valid, less useful, and I suppose, less interesting under “Scicurious” than it is under my Real Identity. And how using a pseudonym means I am untrustworthy, possibly a troll, and for all they know could mean I’m actually a cat whacking the keyboard rhythmically with its paws (which, hey, it’s true, you’ve outed me now).
(I’m pretty cute, yeah?)
And this year it’s down to Google +. I’ll admit right now I have no real desire to join Google +, mostly because of the pseud issue, but also because…well I don’t really need another thing sucking my time away. But I’m glad I didn’t respond to the piles of invites that came flooding in. The idea of getting my account totally suspended (no gmail!!!) for using a name not on my birth certificate is…well, it’s not thrilling, to say the least.
So WHY, you may ask? WHY am I not PROUD to speak under my own name!?1 Why should I not proudly bust out on the internet with my name and photo and videos of me smashing cake into my face when I was 6? After all, I SHOULD say things under my own name. Clearly, if I don’t, I must be a coward, hiding behind a fake name to say mean things about other people. Y’all know I spend a lot of time saying mean things to other people…
Ugh, this issue makes me so grumpy and begins to upset my usually intrepid prose.
Suffice it to say I have many reasons for not wanting my name and photo out on the internet. Reasons that are both personal and professional. And for those of you who can’t POSSIBLY think of ANY reason I shouldn’t be loud and proud about who I am…think a little harder. Have you ever felt threatened? Have you ever had someone trying to hunt down who you are and where you live and what you do because they want to do you harm? Have you ever feared for your safety because of who you are, or what job you do, and the people who might hate you because of that? If you haven’t felt any of these things, then be happy. If you have, you might understand why many people are not comfortable letting the world know their real names. My worries right now are more professional, but they are still concerns.
I don’t “hide behind my pseudonym” to troll people. I don’t hide to give myself mystique. And I CERTAINLY don’t gain anything by it. I’ve found that many people don’t trust Sci on principle. I have been not allowed to comment on some sites, even with extremely valid subject matter.
And there’s far more to be gained by coming out, if I felt that I could do so without professional (and potentially personal) repercussions. After all, Sci has her own well honed CV, her own list of accomplishments. They’re pretty impressive if I do say so myself (and I do). My real life CV could certainly benefit. And my “Sci” CV could probably benefit a great deal from my real life work. If I’m not combining those lists of accomplishments, you have to assume it’s not because half of them are from trolling on the internet. After all, what young post-doc DOESN’T want to pad their CV?!
Not only that, my pseudonym holds me back. I cannot write freelance work for many outlets, who would insist on a real “FirstName LastName” in the byline. I get passed over for many awards and positions in societies, for lack of a real sounding name. People want to invite me on to TV shows (really!!! Honest!! Isn’t that COOL!?), to conferences to speak, and they cannot, and I cannot accept, because of issues with live streaming and photos, and all that goes with it. All of these things would benefit my writing work as well as my professional career. But right now, I cannot come out for professional reasons.
I began my pseud as Sci mostly for personal reasons. As Scicurious, I am judged only on the quality of what I write, how well its written and how factual it is. I am not judged based on what I look like. People don’t say I write well “for a girl” (many people forget I’m a girl at all), people say I write well. Period. I’m not judged based on my age, my weight, my marital status, my cat. When I started writing, I found this enormously liberating. It also has allowed me some freedom of expression. I could hone my analytical and communication skills by trial and error. I could (and still do) make mistakes, and correct them, without suffering professionally for it. And it allows me to be playful, to communicate science in fun and amusing ways that could earn criticism from some (thankfully VERY few) professional colleagues who find anyone speaking science in the present tense (with humor no less!!! Get the smelling salts!) to be an offense to the senses.
Over time, the pseud has not only allowed me freedom, it has also become famous. Well, “famous”. I would say a few thousand people might know me (or they’ve stopped by at some point, maybe they don’t remember and I’m horribly un-famous). That’s an order of magnitude more than the people who “know” me in real life. If I were to join Google + under my own name, who would know me? Almost none of the people who read (except Mom. Hi Mom!). What is the point of a social networking site where I cannot network among the people I need to?
Finally, think of it this way. Right now, people have a problem with Pseuds because our names don’t sound real. We sound “inauthentic”. I could start a gmail, a Google+, a Facebook, TODAY under the name “Lydia Watson”. She sounds very authentic. She could have pictures and history. She could have a cat and links to my blog and a picture of her diploma. She sure as hell wouldn’t be me. “Scicurious” may not sound like something someone would even name their hamster, but it’s got years of writing, years of interactions, and years of experience behind it. How is Sci, at this point, less of a person? Sure, my birth certificate says something different, but as my dear Blogfather Bora points out
Different names are “real” in different worlds. They are all strings of letters, anyway, no more and no less. The name on the birth certificate is important to IRS, FBI, local cops, Homeland Security, CIA, your physician….but is useless in other areas of life, where a different name has much more relevance, authenticity, trust, respect and “real-ness”.
Many of you, I’m sure, have nicknames. Maybe you go by your middle name. Maybe you’re working it old British school style and people only call you by your last name. But those names are still YOU. They have a reputation, a history. At this point “Scicurious” may as well be my nickname. People certainly call my that in public, in real life and on the internet.
Sure, you may say, YOU are ok, but OTHER PEOPLE are horrid trolls. Well then, don’t read them. “Zacharias Smith” can be a troll just as easy as “Comrade Physioprof“. If you suffer from trolling, ban or warn the troller, regardless of what name they’re under. To rely on a real sounding name is naive at best. It’s your blog, your twitter, your Google +, and you’re perfectly able to control who can and cannot comment.
Someday, I would like to come out. I would like to combine my real life persona and Sci (and then, of course, we would set out on world domination. I give it two weeks. Your uniforms will consist solely of tinfoil hats and I will only be addressed as “Her most benevolent noodlyness”). But right now, that’s not possible. And I’d really like to know, exactly, how that makes my writing worse. How it makes my work untrustworthy. I’m sure Mark Twain and Lewis Carroll would very much like to know as well. But really, I would like to know the other side of this issue. Why is someone with a name that doesn’t sound real less trustworthy, even through years of work, than an unknown person with a real sounding name?