An Analysis of the Online Identity Battleground 2: Defining a “Nym”

aestetix dwells herein on the essence of name, nym, identity, and social network, and provides non-trivial examples thereof as well as their interrelations.

Myth #1

Myth #1

So, myth #1, and there are 5 of these myths, just so you know. Only pedophiles, criminals and cyber-bullies do not want to use their legal names online. Also, what is a “nym”? And we’re joined by Adam Savage who’s going to help us debunk some of these myths.

Different sorts of IDs

Different sorts of IDs

Let’s take a look at what is a “nym”, and nyms vs. names, things like that. These are just some typical ID type things (see left-hand image), all these little documents, some of them are government, some of them are not. How many people here have three or more of these IDs?

The other interesting thing I want to point out is that – let’s say you have all five of these, your name on each of them can be different and valid at the same time. That tells you a bit about how these systems all work together or don’t work together.

I define name as a label or symbol that is used to identify a person, thing or concept within a context.

An example that I have used – I have a legal first and last name and I had a boarding pass when I was flying from Europe to America, I think I was at a conference or something; and the flight screwed up the name, so there was no space and it was all one word, and I came into border patrol and they tried to scan it and that broke the system, it didn’t work, because it was looking for compartmentalization and it couldn’t stomach it. Yeah, server fail, so the guy had to sit there and manually type it, I kind of felt bad for him, but he was an asshole to me, so fuck him, right?

Identity vs. name

Identity vs. name

I started thinking more about what is a name and how does it relate to identity, and I think one important thing is that they’re not the same thing. I define here name as a label or symbol that is used to identify a person, thing or concept within a context.

Up on the left there you see Adam naming the animals, and if anybody studied Genesis at all, Adam names the animals and has a degree of power over them. And there’s also some discussion about the Adamic language, the language that was spoken inside of the Garden of Eden, and the true name of God and all this other stuff.

Later on in Genesis you have something even more interesting, which is the tower of Babel, where God comes along, or Yahweh I should say, the Old Testament God, destroys the language and makes everyone speak in a different tongue, thus destroying the tower of Babel. So, if you don’t think names have any power, take a look at Genesis.

And on the right there you have the royal seal that made sure it came from the king. So names can be used for authentication too, or symbolization I should say.

Well-known Nom de Plumes

Well-known Nom de Plumes

Here’s some various Nom de Plumes (see right-hand image). Nom de Plume is another form of the word for “pseudonym”, and we’ll get into etymology in a minute, but Nom de Plumes literally means “feather name”. I’m guessing in DC, how many people here know who Publius was? Besides the Roman century and whatnot, Publius was the name that was on all the Federalist Papers. There were three main authors of the Federalist Papers: it was James Madison, John Jay, and I always forget the third. Does anybody know? Hamilton, yes, thank you! They wrote letters to these newspapers to defend the constitution and make sure it will get ratified under the pseudonym of Publius.

J.K. Rowling, anyone heard of her? Do you know why it’s a pseudonym, by the way? Because her name is Joanne Rowling, she doesn’t have a middle name, and the publisher didn’t want to publish a book by a woman, and made her come up with a gender-neutral name. She added the K, the K is just made up for the book.

Turns out there’s an entire Wikipedia section on female writers who wrote under male or gender-neutral pseudonyms.

Nicholas Bourbaki is an interesting one; it was a group of, I think, French mathematicians in the 1930s who would try to write mathematics from the ground up. And one of my favorites here – Ian Donald Calvin Euclid Zappa – anybody know this story? They say your parents name you, right? So, Frank Zappa, anyone heard of Frank Zappa? He named his kids like Dweezil and Moon Unit, right?

So, Frank Zappa was in a hospital, and they gave birth to Dweezil, and the nurse is like: “Ok, what name do you want to give your kid?” And they’re like: “Dweezil”, and the nurse is like: “No, use a real name”. So, what Frank did is he just sat there and he listed off four random names of musicians he knew, and the nurse put that down on the birth certificate. So, move along five year later, and they’ve been calling him Dweezil all along, and the kid turns five and he discovers that the name on his birth certificate is that, and he’s like: “Fuck no, my name is Dweezil”. And he had his name at 5 years old legally changed to Dweezil.

Female writers using male / gender-neutral pseudonyms

Female writers using male / gender-neutral pseudonyms

Some other points here: Richard Bachman aka Stephen King; you have Deep Throat who is purported to be Mark Felt – that was all about the whole Watergate. He admitted it, ok. Voltaire who published Candide and the King of France wanted to kill the author of it but couldn’t. George Eliot, anyone know that? George Eliot’s actual name is Mary Anne Evans; it was a woman who couldn’t get published as a man, just like the Bronte sisters, who published under male pseudonyms because they couldn’t get published as women. That’s really interesting, isn’t it? Turns out there is an entire Wikipedia section on female writers who wrote under male or gender-neutral pseudonyms. That’s kind of fucked up, isn’t it?

So let’s move on a little bit and ask some questions about why names matter. There’s Valerie Plame, the CIA employee who was outed. Also you have things like the witness protection program, and most people will consider that a valid pseudonym being a cover shield.

Anybody remember the Odysseus and the Cyclops story, where he tries to escape the Cyclops’ cave, and Cyclops says: “Who are you?” And he says: “My name is no one?” So then he stabs the Cyclops in the eye and he escapes and Cyclops says: “Come help me, something horrible has happened” – “Well, who did this to you?” – “No one”. And they’re like: “What the hell?” This is a very old thing.

And then things like the AOL and Netflix databases, which they tried to anonymize the data they put out; this was a few years ago. And it turned out that people were able to take the search histories and collect them together and determine who the people were. So, interesting things to think about.

Some terms within social network concept

Some terms within social network concept

A couple of definitions here: a “social network” – I call that a force that brings people or their personas – it could be your IRC or any screen names or something like that – together on a regular basis. A “friend” is a person that you would choose to be in contact with. And really important in this discussion – an “institution” is a custom, practice, relationship, or significant behavior within a social network. And when I mean institution, I also think of phrases like “institutionalized depression”, and I’m sure people here are familiar with that term.

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