Anonymous Names

+11 votes
WikiTree's slogan is appropriately "where genealogists collaborate."  

When one collaborates, it is helpful to know with whom one is collaborating.  There are some internet sites where the norm is anonymity, and you have conversations between "snowflake" and "gopher" and "madman" or perhaps even "sexylegs".  I completely avoid such sites as it seems like a waste of time to talk to people who don't even have names.

Unlike such sites, the convention at WikiTree is that we use real names. This is one of the features of WikiTree that makes it attractive to me.  Nevertheless we have some WikiTree users who identify themselves as Anonymous or use some other artificial name.  I would imagine some have a legitimate concern for identity and safety that prompts such use, but others may simply have gotten in the habit of fake names from other sites.  I do know that personally, I am less willing to collaborate with people who clearly have an artificial name, or even just an initial, even if the only reason is that it seems awkward to address a note, "Hi, "R", I was looking at the profile of __ and ...."

I'm wondering if it would be beneficial in promoting the WikiTree culture to insist that real names be used by everyone, and that use of "Anonymous" or other hidden identities including "first initial only" be permitted only when a request is made and approved by WikiTree leadership?
in Policy and Style by Jack Day G2G6 Pilot (375k points)
retagged by Maggie N.
Hi Jack, I changed my name from Colleen to C because I do not want to appear in google searches for personal reasons. Maybe someday I will change it back, but when someone has potential stalker exes I feel it is best to hide a bit.

Edit: Here's another thing that crosses my mind sometimes, what if you get a crazy internet stalker and they go to a loved ones gravesite on that loved ones birthday or death day in hopes of meeting you there? It could happen... Which is why I frown when I see people on here listing their actual birthdates and what school they are currently attending. Lots of strange folk out there...

Jack, I agree with you that one of the nice features here is that most of us don't cloak ourselves in anonymity.  Sites where people use "screen names" have always seemed to me to be places where people participate in make believe interactions that match their make believe identities.  I suppose the internet has enabled folks to get one step closer to escaping their realities and living their fantasy lives.  I think it's nice for children to have a place to play at being superheroes or Disney princesses, but personally I prefer the adult world of reality.

My concern with your suggestion about insisting on real names here is that those who do have reason to hide their identity and are granted approval by leadership would then suffer from the stigma of everyone knowing that there's something they have a need to hide. 

Perhaps rather than a formal approval for anonymous names, just some words in the joining process that we at WikiTree prefer real names but we understand if you're reluctant to use yours would do.  My main concern is that I don't want to see us shifting from real names to fake names because people joining don't realize we're not a site where people are supposed to pick fake handles.

2 Answers

+6 votes
So how would my friend BJ go, sure he must have real names to go with it, but I don’t know anyone who has ever heard them. If he was to join it would be as BJ,
by Marion Poole G2G Astronaut (1.2m points)
A lot of people go by two initials, and a few go by one.  "BJ" doesn't feel awkward and it sounds like something someone is actually known as.  One difficulty with all this is there's no clear line between real and fake names.  But I just saw someone posting with a name (I've changed this slightly) like "Baby Doll Smith".  I'm pretty sure this is not how Smith is addressed at her place of employment.  At least I hope it's not!

I would like to see it as a matter of policy that when
a new person joins WikiTree and seeks to use a fake name, that there at the very least be a query, "is this the name you go by in public or at work?  is there a good reason to not use your real name?"  

Because the more fake names we have on WikiTree, the more WikiTree begins to look like a fake site with fake information.
Point taken Jack.
I knew a guy in high school that was a teachers aid. His name was J. That was on his birth certificate.
I once worked on a team with several people who went by initials. We all knew their full names, because they weren't ashamed of them or anything, but they answered to "A.", "J.", and "M.A.". Personally, I prefer to know the name so I can use it until we get to know one another on a first initial basis.

On a more frivolous note, I once worked with a couple of people. One was named "Sharon", but another couldn't remember whether her name was "Sharon" or "Sherry" or "Cheryl" or what. He just remembered that it started with a "sh" sound, so one day when he needed to get her attention, he just stood outside her door and said, "Shhhhhh!" She actually answered to it. Then we all started calling her "Shh", and she even started signing her emails that way.
+6 votes

I share your dislike for "Anonymous" display names, Jack, especially since I'm not at all sure that there are any checks in the system to avoid duplication, so it could well be that we have dozens of "Anonymous Smith"s or "Anonymous Anonymous"es on the system. It would be nice to know, when interacting with an Anonymous Person, whether it's the same Anonymous Person with whom I have had previous interactions or not.

(I do know that there's a member who shares the same first and last name as one of my cousins and is fairly active on G2G, but is not, in fact, my cousin, who is on WikiTree, but has never, to my knowledge, posted on G2G, so it's kind of weird to see her name keep popping up when it's not actually her. I imagine that we'll have more of that happening as more people join the site, so it might be nice to be able to set my display name in G2G to something like "Greg (Grga) Slade" if any of my many co-named people show up here.)

Nonetheless, I recognise that there are plenty of people who really don't want their names out there in public for a variety of reasons (especially since G2G is searchable through search engines, which is good for cousin bait reasons, and I've had one old friend find me through my presence here after I quit Facebook a few years ago, but not good for people trying to avoid abusive exes or whomever). So while I would be wholeheartedly be in favour of encouraging the use of real names, I would be very uncomfortable with making it a policy. 

I also think that it might help with the whole "Anonymous Anonymous" issue if people could pick nicknames. While I would personally prefer to address people by their real names (because starting a message with "Dear Anonymous" is just weird), at least letting people use nicknames like "Conan the Librarian" or "Anne the Ancestor Hunter" or whatever would be a little less weird.

by Greg Slade G2G6 Pilot (481k points)
edited by Greg Slade
I don't have a problem with people choosing Anonymous for privacy reasons if it's an issue for them.  My concern is that WikiTree unreflectively shift to a culture of cute fake names.  I think it could be addressed in the initial acceptance of members process where there could be a statement, "We prefer real names on WikiTree.  This is not a site where we pick "handles" or other play names just to be cute.  Please use your real name if you are at all comfortable with it.  If there are reasons you aren't comfortable using your real name, we understand, and you may select "Anonymous."  

That would reduce any frivilous fake names and led new people know what our culture is.

Jack, there is a Greeters message to address this. For example, we regularly get folks join up as guest members with only a first and last initial. We send them the message. What usually happens is that they change it, or delete their account on their own. 

Usually, if the name is really out there, we can tell these people are not really here for genealogy, and there are other things we check for, like the tags and comments for those folks. We have messages to cover most of these. I don’t ever remember any cutie pie nicknames getting through, but I can’t speak for the other Greeters.

Hi Pipster, you have posted the answer I was going to post smiley, I don't recall any cutie pie names getting through either xxx

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