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June 20, 2008

Fake Names

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Hibernia Girl offers some welcome perspective on the use of pseudonyms, and its connections with free speech. Fun fact: In the course of his career Voltaire used 178 different pseudonyms.

Hey world, there's a lot of worth that simply wouldn't get said if people weren't able to hide behind fake names.



posted by Michael at June 20, 2008


I often hear it said that it is cowardly to speak from behind a pseudonym. I have never understood that sentiment. If what matters is the truth or falsity of an idea, the identity of the speaker should really be of no concern.

Posted by: James on June 20, 2008 2:05 AM

Addressing your remark "hey world" puts it well. Seems like such a fun medium to be played around with if we readers could be a little less finicky about reading from an anonymous or semi-anonymous author.

Another thought: your comment seems oddly impersonal for someone using a pseudonym. Curious to hear what your thoughts were in starting this blog.

Posted by: FreeMealsInThePryanteum on June 20, 2008 4:32 AM

Writing under my real name, I do have to write cautiously at times, keeping in mind journalistic rules about avoiding libel trouble. But if I did use a pixel-name, I'd still be pretty cautious. For one thing, that's my nature. For another, pen-names have a way of eventually becoming unmasked.

I never asked Michael why he doesn't use his real name, and that's because the most likely reason is quite obvious, once you know his identity.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on June 20, 2008 10:03 AM

Jaroslav Hasek ("The Good Soldier Schweik") used several pseudonyms on the same day. He'd write a piece in one newspaper and denounce it in a second newspaper. His complete works will never be collected for that reason, though people are trying.

Posted by: John Emerson on June 20, 2008 1:00 PM

I never asked Michael why he doesn't use his real name, and that's because the most likely reason is quite obvious, once you know his identity.

I know you can't be specific ... but does that mean he's a celebrity?

Posted by: Peter on June 20, 2008 1:42 PM

Anything but a celeb! A flunky in fact, but in a visible field.

FWIW, and not that anyone should be interested, but three main reasons why I've used the fake name:

* Didn't want to get fired.
* If colleagues and acquaintances had been aware of many of my views, life would have become very awkward. Friends know and tolerate me well enough already. But many people I know and needed to interact with professionally would have been horrified. Who needs the additional pain-in-the-neck?
* I like pseudonyms, and the tradition of creating under fake names. It's fun, it's liberating, it's playful, and it has a great (and enjoyably muddled and sullied) pedigree. For me it's like acting is for actors -- actors often speak of being released into full self-expression once they take on the persona of a made-up character. In my own zany way that works for me too.

A great user of pseudonyms has been Donald Westlake, a personal hero. He wrote so many books and used so many pseudonyms that he needed to avoid flooding the market with his own creations. Also he's just a mischievous guy. At one point he was so prolific that he was giving his own books (under one name) blurbs (under another one). My favorite: "I wish I'd written that!"

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 20, 2008 2:19 PM

I know MvB's true identity, but if I revealed it, he would have to kill-------

Posted by: PatrickH on June 20, 2008 2:22 PM

I've used quite a few names since writing on the Web starting in 2000. I agree, it's much like an actor inhabiting a character. Beyond the obvious cloaking of one's true identity for whatever reasons, for me, using a fake name gets me into a different mindset. I wrote a fairly popular blog a few years back (popular in NYC at least) and when I actually met the people who read it, they were amazed at how different I was in person, because basically I was writing as a character.

Anyway, I never begrudge those who use nom de plumes. We all have our reasons, and it's the quality of the thinking and writing that matters.

Posted by: JV on June 20, 2008 4:44 PM

'Will S.' is an abbreviation of my own name, so it's not a pseudonym, per se, but it certainly hides my full, complete identity. The State, and Various Interests, I have potential fear of, but more often, my day to day colleagues and my co-religionists, esp. those who attend the same house of worship as me, particularly those in authority. :) I care not to elaborate at present, so don't ask; I've mentioned before my affiliations (to a degree), and may again, in future. Suffice to say, in traditionalist circles, one can't be too careful, esp. if you have somewhat an authoritarian or even totalitarian structure in place. (Then, one might ask, why do I belong? Simple; because I believe in spite of such, even though I'm not altogether convinced it must needs be as stringent as it is.)

Posted by: Will S. on June 20, 2008 6:17 PM

I blogged under a 'nom do blog' to keep my real self separate from the blog personality - and also I wanted to keep my family apart from what I was writing. (and still do!) And I started writing books under the name that I developed for my blog-stuff, because it turned out that someone was already using my real name, and had considerable of a reputation with it, to judge by the hits on 'google' and other search engines.

I understand that the writer Elizabeth Taylor had somewhat of the same problem...

Posted by: Sgt. Mom on June 20, 2008 7:45 PM

I could post under all sorts of different names, but as soon as I mentioned my, er, fetish everyone would know it was me.

Posted by: Peter on June 20, 2008 10:16 PM

And then there are those of us who post not merely under a pseudonym, but anonymously. I'm one of those who occasionally posts anonymously here; I also post, er, 'not-anonymously', too, but for those opinions I have, and wish to express, that are beyond the pale, of what is considered acceptable public discourse, I prefer to keep my identity between myself and the Blowhards (who know my IP, obviously). Better safe than sorry, I say. Anyway, the ideas are what matter, anyway, not so much the identity of those who hold them.

Posted by: anon on June 20, 2008 11:21 PM

While I post under the name I'm sorta known under, I love playing with psuedonyms. My love for playing with them in the past has gotten me in trouble. I've got a big project in the works using pseudonyms as needed.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on June 20, 2008 11:49 PM

Pseudonyms can also be useful in winning arguments. Sign your comment or post with a well-designed nick and you can clean your opponent's clock just with that. I post irritating grammar-correcting comments under a pseudonym that preempts anyone from commenting on what kind of person I must be to correct someone's grammar in the first place.

Most enjoyable.

Posted by: PatrickH on June 21, 2008 2:13 PM

I started using a pseudonym to protect my privacy and for professional reasons. The Canadian civil service doesn't really want its employees or contractors to blog, while academia (if I ever seek employment there again) expects its professors to write only high-toned and serious work. But at the same time, I knew that anyone who truly wanted to discover my real name could do so fairly easily, so I've made certain that I write nothing I'd be ashamed to claim in public. (Also, several members of my family read my blog, so that keeps me discrete too.) At worst, I might be mildly embarrassed by some of my blog ramblings - no more.

Posted by: alias clio on June 21, 2008 3:37 PM

"Diversity" as it is practiced requires us to be liars, or at least to bite out tongues until they bleed. In the court of diversity, truth is not a defense, so many are to some degree forced to hide behind our pseudonymns.

Posted by: sN on June 21, 2008 4:08 PM

What? You mean "Michael Blowhard" isn't your real name??

Posted by: Sister Wolf on June 21, 2008 4:55 PM

His last name is indeed Blowhard, Sister. He has, however, chosen to conceal his FIRST name in order to protect himself from prying eyes. I will tell you his first name, if for no other reason than I like you. Wait. He's looking at me. I think he's getting suspicious. Oh God! He's coming closer!

Pray for mexxxxxjljklkjlkjlkjlkjlkjlkj

Posted by: PatrickH on June 21, 2008 6:13 PM

The funny thing about my pseudonym -- coupled with the fact that I write mostly about immigration issues and, therefore, often use words like 'Polish', 'Russian', 'Latvian' and so forth in my posts -- is that I get quite a few fellows arriving on the aul' blog after searching for "Polish call girl" or something of the sort. ;-)

Posted by: Hibernia Girl on June 21, 2008 7:25 PM

I post under this name for some of the same reasons others have mentioned already. And of course anyone competent on the Interwebs could find out who I am in moments, so it's not a matter of deception . . .

The fact that my netnom has a particular meaning in German is just an happy accident.


Posted by: Narr on June 23, 2008 11:12 AM

Oh, I blog under a pseudonym for very practical reasons. People google your name if you are a physician, these days, to make sure you are legit and all that. I prefer that papers I've written or other stuff comes up first, instead of a silly blog comment.

As it is, when you google my name, silly comments I've sent to Instapundit come up :( I've learned my lesson. It won't change things for me at work, but, it's not very dignified, is it?

Posted by: onparkstreet (MD) on June 24, 2008 7:16 PM

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