What’s in a name?

nameNames throughout history have a story to tell… Almost every culture has its own particular conventions and nuances, ranging from the purely descriptive, the historical, derivative, patronymic, religious, functional and even the whimsical… The names we are given, or increasingly in modern times, we are claiming for ourselves, can speak volumes about our background, our culture and influences, and how we view ourselves and our children. Even nicknames given to us by others can be pretty revealing insights into character.

Real life names are, however, limited in some respects, and whilst it is true that, for most of us, it’s a fairly simple process should we wish to be known to the world by something other than our given name, most of us stick with what we have.

When it comes to the virtual world however, the element of choice plays a much greater part in defining ourselves, through the use a pseudonym far better suited to our purpose and preferences. Here we have free reign to be as creative as we wish, often to an extent that we might consider a little too forthright in RL. Whilst there are those who still get rather grumpy about the Lindens doing away with fixed last names, it seems to me that since that fateful day, we’ve actually had far more scope to customise our virtual persona than previously.

That’s not to say that everyone takes advantage of the freedom offered to them, but I think it’s fair to say that for every ‘Smith4218’ there’s a ‘DickTater’, ‘EllieMentory’ and ‘IvorLuvvlybunchofcoconuts’! What I find fascinating however is the seemingly limitless way in which people have managed to capture the essence of self using such a brief and succinct means of expressing themselves.

Some names are blatantly in your face… ‘SuckSlut69’, for example, leaves little to the imagination; whilst others may be more subtle and esoteric… ‘JustButtons’, leaves you with more questions than answers. Then, as we also find in RL, there are the descriptive names that many choose for their avatars… ‘DragonMage’, ‘Deejay60s’ and ‘Fashion Writer’, and let’s not forget the the puns, rhymes and playful witticisms that usually give a pretty clear depiction of the story of person you’re dealing with: ‘Cinder Vella’, ‘IPFreely’, ‘Bomber Lancaster’.

oblivion5_001One thing you wouldn’t necessarily think you might see inworld is the familial type of name, but SL has its own variation on this particular theme – not necessarily names that relate one avatar to another, but more frequently, names that tie a new resident to their forebears. Whatever the reason someone might have for ditching an avatar and replacing themselves with a new model, it doesn’t necessarily follow that they also want to lose any connection with their previous incarnation, and so SL residents have come up with their own particular conventions for recording that relationship for posterity. So we see a variety of prefixes and suffixes that we’d never incorporate into a personal name in the real world, but in SL become a poignant reminder of a prior virtual existence… ‘TheNew…’, ‘…Reborn’, and of course, the simple, but eloquent addition of ‘2’ appended to the end of a familiar name.

I think it’s revealing that we are disposed to invest such care and attention to our inworld names, when in comparison we probably make less of an effort with those we employ to identify ourselves for email and other online purposes, where we might tend to use our given name, or an identifier that we generally use consistently across a variety of platforms. This is possibly a consequence of function over form – in the real world, our names are more closely linked to our person, serve to make us recognisable to others, and are less about creativity and more about utility.

Most significantly, there is, I would argue, a stronger sense of identity expressed through our inworld name in our virtual lives, than could ever be the case in the real world, partly for the reasons I’ve discussed above, but also partly because we choose who we are in the virtual world, and an important part of that choice is how we wish to be known by those who share our ‘world away from the world’, and that makes it a terribly important part of our virtual identity. And let’s not forget that it’s the one thing that even complete strangers know about us, even before any introductions… It’s right there, hanging over our heads.

I’ve often found that the stories that lie behind the names my friends have chosen can be as fascinating as the people themselves, and I always love it when someone wants to tell me their story.

And yes, there’s a story behind my name too, but that’s for another day. In the meantime, you can call me by any of the names that I seem to have accumulated over the years… Seren, Lady Haven, Dippy, Dipster, Boots… I’ll answer to anything!

s. x

I miss the catch if they throw me the ball
I’m the last chick standing up against the wall
Keep up, falling, these heels they keep me boring
Getting glammed up and sitting on the fence now
The Ting Tings – That’s Not My Name

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