On refusing to tell you my name

In one of those things that some people will nod along to and others will be confused by, I deleted a bunch of accounts late Monday and locked up the other ones as tightly as I could.


Because someone I work with sent my private email address to someone else. The one that a quick search on any search engine leads to me, directly, with all sorts of things that can get me fired from my job or cut my chances of getting employment.

Specifically, I’m “out” online as being “crazy” [1. I like the term crazy. I embrace the term crazy. I tend not to use it too much online because I know that others don’t like it at all. But I’m crazy, and I’m okay with that.]. I’ve spent most of the past year blogging about having a mental health condition – one that I’ve referred to as being considered “dangerous” to have someone with around.

I’ve tried to be really careful about separating work-online identities. “Anna” is not the name on my ID, and it is not what anyone I work with calls me. Googling my government-ID name and my work-related email address gets you either people who obviously aren’t me, or an unused account on one of the “sort your books” sites. But googling my email address, my private one, leads you here. Or to my now-locked journal. Or to my now-deleted tumblr account.

This is one of the reasons why I get angry when people talk dismissively of those who choose to use pseudonyms online. “Oh,” comes the dismissive sniff. “You’re not willing to stand up behind what you’ve said.” Or “If you really believed that, you’d say it behind your ‘real’ name.”

Women like me – and so many other women and men with “hidden” disabilities, women and men who are trans*, people who are non-gender binary, who are bi or lesbian or gay, people who write about their struggles with racism or sexism or homophobia or bullying at work, people who are otherwise marginalized – risk losing their jobs, having their children taken away from them, risk being attacked in their homes or at work, having their children threatened, just for writing about their lives online.

There are all sorts of reasons people are pseudonymous on the internet. This one was mine. It’s not hard to find people with different, but equally pressing – and even more pressing – reasons for being pseudonymous.

I’m hoping I’ve been overly cautious. I’m hoping this person – who spent Monday sending me threatening emails to my work account – doesn’t notice he now has my private email address. I’m hoping that I look silly and stupid in a couple of weeks when nothing comes of this.

But I can’t count on it.

If you don’t see me posting much for a while, now you know why.

Related Reading:
Once More, With Misdirection
An Object Lesson in pseudonymity and internet privacy
On being a no-name blogger using her real name

Note: Any comments on this post are going to be slow to moderate. I won’t be publishing anything that attacks the person I work with, though, since that person is both not here to defend against such comments, and because I do believe it was one of those things where someone did something thoughtless, rather than deliberately malicious. The results are still the same, though.

22 thoughts on “On refusing to tell you my name

  1. Although it’s fairly trivial to figure out my real name based on my pseudonym, I still post most things under my pseudonym rather than my real name.

    Why? I’m the *only person out there* with my combination of given name and surname, as far as I know. At least “codeman38” could plausibly be used by several people, but my real name only turns up… me.

  2. It’s a shame that a moment’s carelessness by someone else should cause you so much grief, Anna. I sincerely hope nothing more comes of it and that you won’t be absent for long.

  3. I also use a pseudonym online. Whirlwitch is me, and always me, since I’ve never seen any other one. And I use this name for anything that really counts. In my case, the reason I do not want my legal name connected is that I want to be able to talk freely about my abuse experiences, which include incest and child abuse, without family members knowing what I’m saying. I have placed no legal charges, so I could be in legal trouble as well as personal trouble if my “unproved allegations” were connected to my legal identity.

  4. codeman: Same here. Although I’m not overly careful about hiding my real name, it would be way too easy to find me if you knew my first name/surname combination. While either alone is very common, having a French-Scottish (and eventually German) name combination leaves me easy to identify. Although it’s not nearly as much of a concern for me as for others here, I still don’t want to make it easy for people online to figure out who I am IRL.

  5. I’m sorry to hear about your experience, Anna. Any of us who blog anonymously have our own reasons for doing so. Even so, I still find myself thinking twice (or many times) before hitting publish, wondering how what I write could be used against me (for me, it’s more personally, than professionally). I hope that this all turns out to be no big deal, and I’m sorry that a moment’s thoughtlessness can have such a drastic impact on your ability to write as/when/where you wish.

  6. I don’t understand why such prudence is scoffed at! Maybe because I was prepubescent just as the web was becoming more than BBSes, but I STILL use pseudonyms where social-media friends of the same age use real names and attribute everything to their names. They may feel that everything they put online is above-board, but frivolous nonreasons are found to fire (or arrest) people often enough.

    Ugh I do sound paranoid.

    Best of luck with the threatening emails and the rest of the situation.

  7. I sympathise.

    I don’t use my real name online either. I use a number of different pseudonyms, simply because I prefer to compartmentalise my online life. My fandom identity isn’t the same as the one I use here, which is different again from the one I use on other forums. I felt it was a sensible policy when the internet was young and there were hardly any safegruards against stalking, identity theft and the like, but I see no reason to change it now.

  8. I understand this so much. I agonized for a long time about how much to connect my legal name to my online identity. I finally decided that in my case, I have less to lose by having my identities connected than I personally lose trying to keep them separate. But that’s because I have virtually nothing to lose, and even so I have started to filter things more and more since merging my identities. If I wanted to speak out to a public audience more about the few remaining things I am not open to everyone about, I would have to find a new psued.

  9. women and men who trans*

    I think you are missing an “are” there?

    I understand and support you in this; I don’t use my real name online for different reasons, but I absolutely panicked when my mentor sent an email to avendya and my RL email. I am very slowly putting out a few things under a pseudonym that are public, but I cling to my LJ friendslock.

  10. First, sorry to hear that you were outed, Anna.

    Second, I am one of those online naives who is pretty open (and used to be extremely open) and very often uses at least her first name. I rarely use my full name these days, but since it’s the URL to my blog and website, it is rather easy to “out” me as blind, autistic, a psychiatric inmate, and undoubtedly a hell of a lot of other things by simply googling me.

    I am sometimes surprised that I have never gotten in trouble over it except with people who found I violated their privacy. Then again, I’ve never been in situations where I came even close to employable, but maybe it’s surprising that I don’t get in trouble with my care payments (“if you can keep a blog, why can’t you live independently” and that nonsense) or at any of the colleges I studied at (though I am out as a psych patient, blind and autistic to the staff at my current university and don’t even know the students since I distance learn).

    At my mental instititution, people have asked my permission to read my blog/website. I always give it, but at this point, there is nothing all that personal that is recent enough for them to be interested in anyway, and I have not found any evidence that anyone had actually read anything.

    One last thing I do have my concerns about, is what if I ever become well-known in any area of political activism, and someone starts a “controversy blog” on me. It is pretty easy to grab stuff from 2004 that “proves” I’m not autistic, for example. I am already preparing myself for a response should that ever happen.

  11. This is one of the reasons why I get angry when people talk dismissively of those who choose to use pseudonyms online. “Oh,” comes the dismissive sniff. “You’re not willing to stand up behind what you’ve said.” Or “If you really believed that, you’d say it behind your ‘real’ name.”


    It’s frustrating on a petty level, because I’ve written a lot that I like under my pseudonym, but I can never ever use it professionally because I know how people in my future profession behave. I can never be entirely honest about my brain or body or sexuality, ever. I have nightmares about someone figuring out my IP address. I use scramblers half the time just in case.

    I really hope everything’s okay for you.

  12. I hope everything turns out to be okay.

    I have a lot of respect for people who work under pseudonyms. I don’t understand how it can be seen as cowardly when simply speaking out as a marginalized person is such a brave act, difficult even under the most ideal conditions. If it weren’t for circumstance and privilege largely pardoning me from the risks of others’ negative opinions, I would do the same, and I am made aware of that every day.

  13. That really sucks. While I currently use my name online, I had a set of stalkers deliberately out nearly every pseudonym I’d used since my teens, and then use the results (which included stuff from when I played along with nearly every psych diagnosis I was given) to claim I’m one of those people who gets online to fake disabilities, and to claim that any diagnosis I didn’t actually mention couldn’t possibly have been given to me. They proceeded to do a whole lot of other unethical shit and then threaten to kill me, attempt to solicit murderers/hit men/etc., and posted my address and a friend’s address next to the threats. And of course threw in a lot of homophobic crap where they claimed that friend and I were lovers and threatened to send one of us an exploding dildo. And harrassed my family and coworkers. And on and on. (This was a coordinated effort among several people who threatened to do all this long before it happened, and then staged a long drawn out sequence of events where they all pretended to have randomly bumped into each other.)

    After that experience (which remains ongoing)? My blood boils when people equate pseudonyms with cowardice. It’s basic self-protection.
    .-= Amanda´s last blog ..Feline Ethics, Part 2: Avoiding Arrogance =-.

  14. Privacy of other people’s information is one of the reasons why I also prefer to, when asked for a third party’s contact details, contact said third party and ask permission before giving out details OR contact said third party and give them the details of the person asking (with THEIR permission). I do not want to facilitate harassment, and it’s much easier to be safer than to deal with the aftermath in the event that I misjudged someone’s intentions.

  15. “one that I’ve referred to as being considered “dangerous” to have someone with around.”

    I have one of these, Anna, and I would love to see a post here on how to deal with that instant stigma… you mention “x disorder” and people automatically see you as dangerous, uncurable, or worse. I spend a lot of my time arguing that mental health is a spectrum and some people with X disorder are in better condition than others, and not everyone with X disorder acts the same way.

  16. As soon as I became a teacher I locked down my facebook profile (by making different security levels for different friends, unfriending some people, and untagging every pic that could be problematic). But I have kept blogging using my real name. Hopefully this decision won’t come back and bite me later. However, because my real name is attached to my home blog, I’m more careful about what I say. I don’t talk about medical conditions that my family members have, because it could endanger their jobs (and violate their privacy) to have that information made public. I realize that this is slightly dangerous, especially since I have a unique first/last name combination. So I’m careful about what I write. And in the end, if a school district won’t hire me because of what they turn up when they google my name, then I guess I don’t want to work for them anyway.

    But I completely understand why Anna and others have chosen not to reveal who they are IRL. It’s one thing to comment anonymously on a blog so you can be a troll, but creating a full online identity that isn’t tied to your RL one is not cowardly, it’s being aware of your personal safety.

  17. Thank you everyone for your comments of support. Some of the things you’re telling me, and a couple of things I’ve gotten in email, make me so angry that people go at others for choosing to remain pseudonymous when talking about their lives. (Especially what’s happened to you, Amanda – that is my worst nightmare come true.)

    I knew I was eventually going to have to work harder to ensure my public and private life were separate – I was going to spend some time creating a nice google trail for my government-ID name and my work-issued email address – but I was hoping to do it in my way and on my timeline.

  18. I’d been wondering why I hadn’t seen you posting around as much lately, and I’m sad to hear that this is the reason. Much love, and I hope things sort themselves out soon.

    I use a variation on my real first name online, but – there are other folks with very busy internet presences who have the same name I do. And I live in an area that’s very liberal and “tolerant” and have a family that knows about my non-hetero sexuality and non-typical brain. It is a ridiculous privilege that I have that I think a lot of people don’t even think about when they start railing about people who use pseudonyms being cowards.


  19. *shudder* Oh yes, the pseudonym-real name implosion.

    Like codeman, I am, to my knowledge, the only person in the world with my first + last name combonation. As a matter of fact, if you google my first + middle + last name, you don’t even get any hits on ME!

    During my first year of law school, I had a roommate find my journal and my posts at a site where I talked a lot about my disability and learning to live with it. I’d mentioned my handle at the disability-related site months before, so she could look me up there if she wanted – back when she actually seemed to want to know about what was going on with me. She decided that I was a doctor-shopping hypochondriac, and proceeded to give me 30 days notice on the day I flew across country for 3 weeks to be with my family for Christmas. When I returned, she harassed me and endangered my life, and then locked me out one evening so I couldn’t get the remainder of my furniture.

    2 months later, a schoolmate found my journal – in which I described the horror I felt at the way a professor was treating me. We had a mutual friend, and as far as I’ve been able to figure out, that’s how I was found that time. He was…very unkind, at a point when I was recovering from being literally suidical (to the point where I couldn’t be alone for about a week)

    Since then, I’ve broken both of those off to unique names (they were the same before), neither of which is the same as the one attached to the journal I’m commenting from now. I also made the journal friends only. The combination of those 2 events made me so leery of exposing myself that in this current journal, I’m careful not to even mention where I’m from. I don’t want to risk ‘real me’ and ‘internet me’ being connected again.


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