Pseudonym

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Synonyms: pseud, online identity, user name, nickname, nick, handle, pen name, nom de plume
See also: sockpuppet, Anonymous, Reviewers with Pseuds
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Contents

Many fans choose to participate in fandom under a pseudonym, rather than under their "RL" (given or legal) name. In many cases, fans who choose to be pseudonymous choose a persistent pseudonym. (In other words, each fan chooses a pseudonym and retains it, using it for her various fannish interactions, so that her identity within the community comes to be associated with that pseudonym.)

On social media sites like journaling services, Twitter or Facebook, many fans' pseudonyms are the same as their usernames or account names. Other fans are known in conversation by a different pseud, often one that either is a part of their legal name or seems like it could be. The fan's legal or given name might also be known to some or all of the people they interact with, or be used in some places and not others. This results in layers of identity and some fans use these layers as a marker of social closeness or trust.

Fans may find themselves changing pseuds when making accounts on social media platforms if the name they have been identified with is already claimed in a new database; many fans had to add numbers or underscores, or otherwise alter their pseuds in the migration to livejournal. Some fans may also change pseudonyms, e.g., when they move to a new fandom or begin to create a different kind of fanwork. They may or may not be open about the number of names they write, vid, or manip under. In some long-running fandoms, Supernatural for example, many fans have changed journal names, reorganized their fanworks into separate journals from their "real life" journal, or both more than once. The result is fan creators who are known by multiple pseuds that most veteran fans know are connected while many fandom newcomers may not.

Pseudonyms can also be used as a form of performance art. This happens when fans create multiple, overlapping pseudonyms with their own custom fictional backstory and history and online personas that tie into their fanfiction or their vids. An example of this is Morgan Logan who maintains three separate pseudonyms for her Stargate Atlantis and Hawaii 5-0 fiction (esteefee), her Due South fan fiction (Arrow) and Agent Molo (an undercover agent infiltrating Starsky & Hutch fandom).[1]

Other fans adopt different pseudonyms to get around submission requirements to vid shows or other fannish contests. The Clucking Belles, a two person fan vidding collective was created because they could not submit their own videos to conventions because they were also members of the larger vidding group The Media Cannibals. They justified this by pointing out that as a two person vidding team their work was distinctive from the vids created by the group. Other fans felt this was disingenuous given that the Media Cannibals stopped producing group vids a few years after The Clucking Belles were formed.

When fans maintain multiple account pseudonyms for purposes of deception, they are sockpuppeting. Not all sockpuppetry is malicious (much of it is self-aggrandizing), but maintaining two identities in a single conversation, especially if those identities appear to converse with each other, amounts to a public lie. Most fan communities disapprove of this behavior.

Fan pseudonyms (or "pseuds") range from ordinary names to fanciful titles.

A partial list of reasons why some fans might choose pseudonymity includes:

  • Because it is a standard identity and privacy-protection precaution
  • Because they wish to keep their private lives, activities, and tastes separate from their professional lives, employers, or potential employers
  • Because it's the custom among their Internet cohort
  • They are writing in a number of fandoms and use a different penname in each fandom (mirroring the use of pseuds in pro publishing)
  • To separate different fannish identities, eg reviewing versus fiction writing, explicit/slash writing versus gen
  • It is seen as crass or a sign of poor quality for an editor/website to publish too many of their own works in a single fanzine or site (an editor might use pseudonyms to hide the fact that they'd written most of the contents of a fanzine or that one of their authors had been responsible for most of the contents of a fanzine)

Part of this list was created by coffeeandink as part of a longer post about her own pseudonymity, after she was outed during what some fans are calling "RaceFail '09".[2]

Some History

While fans today don't blink an eye at the use of pseuds, this wasn't always the case. Pseuds were rarer in early media fandom. Fans in the 1970s and 1980s generally used their real names. In the many letterzines of the time, fans' full names, addresses, and even telephone numbers appeared at the top of each submission.

One example of the rarity, and subsequent suspicion, is this 1987 by a fan who comments on another fan's name in a way that today seems almost gauche, and certainly unnecessary: "The second half of the zine, literally, is one long story by a new writer, Tishen Tirare (couldn't be a pen name, could it?) ..." [3]

By extension, fans who used pseuds to write reviews were highly controversial. See Reviewers Using Pseuds.

Some estimations of the number of fans using pseuds, something influenced by expectations in different fandoms, fanwork subject, as well as explicitness.

Some anecdotal comments:

  • Susan M. Garrett wrote in 2008: "As an active fanzine editor in media fandom from 1983 to 2007, about a third of my contributors used pseudonyms in the '80s." [4] Note: Garrett did not publish any sexually explicit material.
  • Regarding slash fandom, from the 2012 Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Kandy Fong and Marnie S: "MS: Everybody used pseudonyms, too. KF: Oh, yeah. MS: At the time almost — I would guess ninety percent or more of people in fandom used pseudonyms, because so many of them were in professions that had morals clauses, or that backlash from where they lived or what have you, would mean possible loss of job if not criminal charges."
  • In 2014, CatalenaMara wrote: "(Many of) the people who had pseuds back [in the 1970s] were either in sensitive professions, in the south, or had family concerns. Most of us were not worried about the public at large finding out - we had the expectation that something as geeky as fandom would be totally off the radar of most people." [5]
  • In 2014, an anonymous fan wrote: "I first got involved in fandom in the 60s. Everyone used their real names; there was no reason not to. The use of pseudonyms began because of slash. It was initials actually, the same method as in pr0n; "by Cathy T.", or "by F.S." (there's some stuff on fanlore about why slash wasn't just "weird", it was illegal to be bought or sold or sent through the mail) I saw very little mainstream attentionKirk/Spock|Kirk and Spock]]," and then Harry Potter and LotR. Then the publicity around the Victoria Bitter scandal... Today if I were involved in any fandoms beyond just watching/listening to the show or reading the books, I wouldn't use my real name any more either." [6]

Fans in the 1970s and 1980s also almost always chose pseuds that were simply a different "standard" first and last name. Example: Jane Smith would pick the pseud, Mary Jones. This made it nearly impossible to know if a fan's name was a fannish creation or not as pseuds so closely resembled legal names.

Fans who chose clearly obvious and playful pseuds were far and few between: two early examples are Dawn's Early Light, a fan who wrote meta in Not Tonight Spock! and H.O. Petard, a fan who wrote zine reviews in an often caustic tone.

It was when fandom began interacting online in the mid-1990s, that pseudonyms became more common - and more accepted. Pseudonyms also began to take on much more creative characteristics, something that has led to pseuds today being fanciful, meaningful, and personal statements by their creators. [7]

For example, in 1997, when an X-Files fan discovered that their fanfic posted to the public Usenet could be quoted or discussed by anyone in the world, even outside the newsgroup, they demanded that all copies of their fanfic be deleted.[8] Ignoring the virtual impossibility of such a request and the fact that fair use principles allows people to write or comment about fanfic or fanart, several fans suggested pseudonyms:

"We've been discussing this on the fictalk mailing list, and the consensus there seems to be that by posting with a pseudonym though an account that doesn't give your real name one can avoid any problems such as these. In fact, one of the Gossamer archivists provided suggestions for emailers that do well in protecting their customers' anonymity. So the archivists don't seem to have a problem at all, just so long as there is a pseudonym to use rather than there not be any name at all...Anyways, no one need hide their fanfic because of stuff like this. There is always a solution if we look deep enough. "[9]

While other fans expressed the opinion that the need for pseudonyms was not new to X-Files fandom,[10] others pointed out that X-Files fandom was actually one of the earliest online fanfiction communities and because of its size was often at the forefront of fandom issues.[11]

Specific Fandom-Influenced Pseuds

Some fandoms inspire fans to use names that echo the names of characters in that world.

Star Trek inspires the custom of "T'Name," putting a "T'" in front of a name, echoing the Vulcan name customs for females. Some fans who are especially interested in Klingons take on names that reflect Klingon naming patterns.

Dragonriders of Pern fans sometimes take on names similar in style to characters in that world, as do Darkover fans.

Forever Knight fans sometimes use pseudonyms that start with "Knight-".

Tolkien fans commonly use names constructed from elements of Tolkien's invented languages, particularly the Elven language Sindarin, or in imitation of the race that their interest focuses on.

Marion Zimmer Bradley often commented that one of the most-asked questions about Darkover was "what's my name in Darkovan?" She wrote about a variation of this custom in the editorial for Tales of the Free Amazons: "Some women have actually taken Amazon names, and live by them in the 'real world,' not only at meetings of the Friends of Darkover. I am very ambivalent toward people who change their names and reject their own roots or ethnic background... but Jaida n'ha Sandra or Sharrie n'ha Verana [two authors in this zine] is certainly no more annoying than Josie Anderdaughter or Helen Marychild or Rainbow Winddaughter or Treelight Blossom. What's in a name anyway? Acute Nomenclature is hardly a fatal disease, and it's not limited to feminisim; the hippie movement produced some ghastlies..." Of course, Bradley herself fanned some of this interest herself; "What's My Name in Darkovan" is the very title of an article in Darkovan Language Review, a work that explained in great detail how one's name could be translated to a version that would fit in with her world.

While not fandom-specific, other fans create pseuds that imply some sort of personal, familial connection to a character, or an actor that plays that character. Examples of this are pseuds that suggest the fan is married, using "Mrs" and a character's, or actor's, last name. Or taking on a name that suggests another personal relationship, perhaps that of sister or cousin. Some examples may include a fan who calls her or himself "Mrs. Hutchinson," "Mrs. Nimoy," "Jason Skywalker," or "Jennifer Winchester."

Further Reading

References

  1. Talk:Esteefee.
  2. RaceFail 09: Once More, With Misdirection, accessed March 7, 2009
  3. from a review of Shades of Gray #2 in On the Double #5
  4. from a Fan History Wiki talk page
  5. February 1, 2014, private correspondence with Morgan Dawn, quoted with permission.
  6. comment at fail-fanomanon
  7. Searching by author on Archive of Our Own will reveal the varied and creative pseuds of today.
  8. "If you have archived my story "The Five," please delete all copies of both Book 1 and Book 2 as soon as possible. Apparently that's the only way I can be sure parts of the story won't be quoted in somebody's book or magazine, journal or newspaper article. I had hoped not to have to do this, but I don't see any option....I didn't write "The Five" to get famous for it in some magazine or research paper. I wrote it for people to read. Period." Achivists HELP, please! post to alt.tv.x-files.creative dated March 8, 1995.
  9. Achivists HELP, please! post to alt.tv.x-files.creative dated March 8, 1995.
  10. "This problem didn't originate with X Files fanfiction - we're the new kids on the block - look at Star Trek, Star Wars... they've been around a lot longer and are all on the electronic highway - and they've managed to survive all the same problems that we're dealing with." Achivists HELP, please! post to alt.tv.x-files.creative dated March 8, 1995.
  11. "I really don't think we're quite the young'ns we seem. Trekkies have a long history behind them, but it's almost all in 'zines not the Net fanfic. One look at the archives for Trek fanfic will show that they could learn more from us and Gossamer than we from them ;-) Star Wars is expanding greatly, but the nature of the material (movies, novels, and comic books as opposed to a weekly series) makes it develop differently than us. B5 would probably be a lot bigger and more like us if JMS weren't so pig-headed on this stuff. Forever Knight, Due South, Highlander, Dr Who, and Quantum Leap all have similar forums to XF, but many of them haven't developed to quite our size or are only now beginning to grow in similar size. Simply put, we really are the pioneers when it comes to Internet fanfic, and I'm not sure there's any old folks we can turn to for advice." Achivists HELP, please! post to alt.tv.x-files.creative dated March 8, 1995.
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