What’s in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other pseudonym would smell as sweet;
Names, quite simply, are the labels by which we refer to objects. Though these objects might be inanimate, or non-sentient life such as a flower, they are mostly associated with people. These names can be arbitrary, or descriptive. The latter obvious in English surnames; inspired by the bearer’s profession or personal characteristics, alternatively patronymic or matronymic, or even an indication of one’s estate. As such, a surname will hold as much importance as the family and individual that bears it.
Then what of pseudonyms? Noms de plume are often created to be worn as masks for the internet. They act as a defence, or as a shield, but also impart presence, and perhaps existence itself, online. Yet, can they be said to hold as much weight, bestow as much meaning, or bear as much importance as those we use, shuffling along this mortal coil?
Today’s internet might be broken into three strata. The first and oldest is where one finds the anonyms, and where the amorphous assemblage of anonymity still reigns. The second, an extension of the first, allows individuals to become known, albeit via sobriquet or similar. The third, an effective extension of one’s offline personae; the blue behemoth that is Facebook being the most prominent example here.
Whilst the names of the third stratum are mostly granted, those of the middling layer are often created in the minds of those whom they are destined to grace. Of course, this was not born of the internet. Authors are one group who have used pseudonyms for centuries, and, as they are defined by their work, so too do their names gain a certain prominence and meaning. Eric Arthur Blair is one such example.
Authors are published however; the average pseudonymous individual is not. Yet for a work—be it book, article, or photograph—to be published under that name might be said to legitimise it offline. With that lent credibility, said work’s author no longer falls within the second stratum, now belonging under the third, and so implying this a requirement for assumed names to hold meaning and importance.
Yet is this a valid assumption?
The internet is a platform mostly unlike any that came before it. An amphitheatre, Speakers’ Corner, café, library; all of these and more, and all on a global scale. With the services and industries that have been built atop it, catering to a hundred thousand needs and wants and giving it a memory perhaps more persistent than granite, its public nature might, therefore, be considered a loose form of publication.
Yet akin to the falling tree, and with alias in tow, if no one is around to read such digital annotations, is it no better than an utterance by any other anonym? It is not simply enough to create a name and speak; reputation, prominence, and prolificacy of the speaker must be taken into account.
Again, this is reflected in the real world. Names are more notable when the family or individual that bears them holds more than an average degree of notability themselves. Nobility, talent, and work all contribute to this. The names of authors, be they real or noms de guerre, have only as much meaning as their works afford.
This is the same online, and indeed, within the anisphere.
To focus on the anisphere, persons of prominence are often known by their reputation and work. The latter taking the form of their contribution to the anisphere itself; this might include an individual’s blog posts, translation efforts, or the founding and growth of a successful group. The former is formed through his interactions, and views expressed therein, by way of the myriad social platforms used across the anisphere.
The names of these influencers, although mostly false in the traditional sense, become a representation for the person behind the mask, and indeed the mask itself. The names Omni and Divine conjure memories of old, screenshot littered blog posts. More recently, one will likely associate the name Scamp with his blog, his views, and the tone he adopts; and in fansubbing circles, Koda for her group and the idiosyncrasies for which they are infamous.
From the occasional commenter, through translator or blogger, to twitter personality extraordinaire and jack of all trades, the names they each bear act as a shorthand for understanding that person’s persona, work, and legacy in the anisphere. Certainly, their names are oft constructed and self-bestowed, but they serve the same purpose as any real name used today. Furthermore, and akin to their offline counterparts, noms de plume do indeed hold meaning and import.