Geek Feminism Wiki
(Created new section to make it explicit that people who are comfortable using "real names" are also harmed)
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** Journalists or publicity people who may not want to be contacted by anyone and everyone
** Journalists or publicity people who may not want to be contacted by anyone and everyone
** Academics, who (in some fields and jobs) face some pressure to not speak on subjects on which they aren't published experts
** Academics, who (in some fields and jobs) face some pressure to not speak on subjects on which they aren't published experts
** People working for intelligence agencies
* Those who don't want to be seen as "speaking for their employer"
* Those who don't want to be seen as "speaking for their employer"
* Those with excessively restrictive employment contracts which forbid any publications (even, say, blogging about something completely unrelated)
* Those with excessively restrictive employment contracts which forbid any publications (even, say, blogging about something completely unrelated)

Revision as of 16:42, 20 July 2011

This page lists groups of people who are disadvantaged by any policy which bans Pseudonymity and requires so-called "Real names" (more properly, legal names).

This is an attempt to create a comprehensive list of groups of people who are affected by such policies.

The cost to these people can be vast, including:

  • harassment, both online and offline
  • discrimination in employment, provision of services, etc.
  • actual physical danger of bullying, hate crime, etc.
  • arrest, imprisonment, or execution in some jurisdictions
  • economic harm such as job loss, loss of professional reputation, etc.
  • social costs of not being able to interact with friends and colleagues
  • possible (temporary) loss of access to their data if their account is suspended or terminated

The groups of people who use pseudonyms, or want to use pseudonyms, are not a small minority (some of the classes of people who can benefit from pseudonyms constitute up to 50% of the total population, and many of the others are classes of people that almost everyone knows). However, their needs are often ignored by the relatively privileged designers and policy-makers who want people to use their real/legal names.

Marginalised and endangered groups

  • Women, who:
    • experience up to 25 times as much Online harassment as men, if they use feminine-sounding usernames[1]
    • may be taken less seriously in certain fora if their gender is known
    • may feel they have greater responsibility or have less confidence in certain fora if their gender is known ("girls suck at math")
    • if they are mothers or intending mothers, may face additional hiring, pay and promotion discrimination
    • are of a transgender history, who are forced to use male birth names
  • LGBT people, especially:
    • LGBT teens, 50% of whom experience bullying online[2][3]
    • LGBT people in regions which do not have anti-discrimination policies or where homosexuality or transgender behaviour is outlawed
      • some countries criminalise homosexuality, and a few (such as Uganda) have the death penalty
      • many regions permit businesses to discriminate (wrt hiring, providing services, etc) against LGBT people
  • Children
    • Young people are often advised to use pseudonyms online for their own safety (sometimes by the same institutions that impose "real name" policies!)
    • Children are vulnerable to abuse or harassment by their parents or carers if they are discovered to be, eg, discussing views or feelings that disagree with their carers' religion or ethical system.
    • Children of well-known figures, who may wish to preserve their privacy
  • Parents and carers at risk or caring for children at risk
    • parents and carers with non-mainstream views, especially religious, or practices, especially sexual relationships and sexuality (eg LGBT parents or polyamorous parents) who may risk removal of their children by social services, or loss of custody or visits to their children, or may not be elligible to become adoptive parents
    • parents and carers trying to protect dependent children from abusers
  • People with disabilities
    • people who may not have disclosed their disability for privacy or for fear of discrimination, such as:
      • job hunters or employees who may be discriminated against for actual or perceived need for workplace accommodations
      • people with a mental health condition who may be considered dangerous or irrational if revealed
    • people with disabilities are less likely than abled people to be financially secure and some are dependant on carers, and thus more vulnerable to abuse or harassment based on any disclosures they may make online
  • People from certain racial, national, ethnic, cultural or religious backgrounds, eg:
    • Anyone named "Mohammed", who might fear harassment/discrimination as a Muslim
    • Names which identify people as African American, Asian, Latino/a, etc., which might lead to overt or subtle racial discrimination
    • Members of any non-majority religion (or of no religion), who may experience discrimination or persecution.
  • People with names that are associated with being from a poor or lower class family or background.
  • People with names that are associated with a particular (often older) generation.
  • Victims of real-world abuse and harassment
    • Survivors of domestic abuse (most often women and children) who need to not be found by their abusers
    • People presently experiencing domestic abuse, especially but not only those actively seeking help or planning to leave
    • Survivors of harassment and stalking, and people currently experiencing harassment and stalking
    • Victims of crime or private people associated with a newsworthy event (like the unusual death of a family member), who may be harassed for information by news media or the general public
    • People accused or convicted of crime, who might be harassed by victims and friends, the news media or the general public or face opprobrium from the community they wish to join.
    • People who have had an attack on their real name where someone has mounted a smear campaign to trash their public identity

Political activists and related groups

  • Political dissidents, such as those involved in the 2010 "Arab Spring" uprisings
  • Those involved in highly contentious political activity, around issues such as abortion, civil rights, etc.
  • Whistleblowers or those involved in exposing government and corporate corruption
  • Anyone with political views (however mild) that may be unpopular or discriminated against

Subject-related considerations

  • Health and disability:
    • People with physical or mental health issues seeking support, where knowledge of their health problems may lead to embarrassment, insurance difficulties, employment discrimination, etc.
    • People with, or recovering from, substance addiction
  • Sex and sexuality:
    • LGBT people, especially those who are coming out
    • People who speak frankly about sexuality
    • People who wish to find out information about marginalised sexual practices, eg
      • People who want to know more about LGBT issues to help find out if they are LGBT or to support others.
      • People involved in BDSM and sexual fetishes who choose to keep their sexual practices private but need to be able to ask for help/advice/safety information
      • Polyamorous people or those involved in other styles of non-monogamy
      • People simply seeking partners for casual sex, as even relatively "mainstream" sexual practices may lead to disapproval or shaming from some segments of society
    • People, especially children, seeking information on birth control or abortion
  • Religion:
    • People with religious views that may be unpopular
    • People who are questioning their religion
  • Abuse and harassment:
    • People who discuss personal experiences of harrassment, rape, and other sexual or physical abuse
  • Legal:
    • People who discuss current or past drug use or other illegal activities
    • People who write Fan fiction, make Fanvids or remix or mashup video or audio, which may fall into a legal grey area
  • People who wish to discuss others either without that person finding out, or without that person being searchable by their peers, eg
    • people who discuss difficulties with their relationships
    • people who discuss their children
  • People who discuss topics which are considered inappropriate for their gender or age
  • People whose hobbies or interests are commonly mocked or looked down upon, such as Furries, roleplayers, and Fan fiction authors
  • People who wish to discuss perfectly innocuous hobbies -- say, knitting or skydiving -- without their (possibly well known) real world identity impinging on the discussion. (Example: let's say Michelle Obama wanted to join a gardening forum.)
  • People who wish to discuss separate interests under separate accounts for the convenience of their friends/followers who may be uninterested, or offended, by some of their interests
  • People who wish to discuss separate interests under separate accounts because they fear anger from or harassment by some of their friends/followers in other fields


  • Those who use professional pseudonyms, including:
    • Rock stars such as Lady Gaga, Prince, etc.
    • Novelists and other writers using pen names, eg. George Eliot (historial example) or JK Rowling (contemporary example)
    • Sex workers
    • Members of religious orders (eg. Mother Teresa)
  • Those whose employment means they need to not be found online:
    • Social workers, mental health workers, etc.
    • Teachers
    • Judges and others in the legal profession
    • Serving members of the military, those currently deployed, etc
    • Journalists or publicity people who may not want to be contacted by anyone and everyone
    • Academics, who (in some fields and jobs) face some pressure to not speak on subjects on which they aren't published experts
    • People working for intelligence agencies
  • Those who don't want to be seen as "speaking for their employer"
  • Those with excessively restrictive employment contracts which forbid any publications (even, say, blogging about something completely unrelated)
  • Those whose employers have publicly searchable online directories (such as members of state or city bureacracies, or universities and public hospitals) who do not wish to be contacted at work--or have their supervisors contacted--by people who want something that is totally unrelated to their work.
  • People who wish to discuss or seek advice about or simply vent about problems they are having in their workplace
  • Whistleblowers
  • Jurors or witnesses in a high profile trial
  • Job-hunters, who do not wish employers to see their personal information and activities, or who might wish to discuss their job hunt without alerting their present employer
  • Union activists

People whose "real names" are more complicated than you think

  • People who legally have only one name
    • This is common in certain cultures/countries such as Indonesia and Afghanistan
    • see Mononymous persons on Wikipedia for more information
  • People who usually go by three or more names.
  • People whose names are written in a character set other than the Latin alphabet
  • People whose names are longer than your system permits (eg. people with suffixes, patronymic, matronymic, or honorific names)
  • People whose names are shorter than your system permits
  • People whose names contain characters or sequences that your system has been programmed to reject, eg "porn" (a common sequence in Latin character transliteration of Thai names).
  • People who habitually use one or more of their initials. (in the Western world, none of the following forms of best known name is terribly rare, especially in written address: "John Q. Smith", "JQ Smith", "J. Quincey Smith")
  • People whose legal given names do not look like "real names" to people not familiar with them
  • People who have legally changed their name to something unusual, which might not look like a "real name" to you, but legally is. (Eg. names containing numbers, like 3ric Johanson, or names without capitalised letters)
  • People who live under a certain name, but have not changed their ID to match it. This is accepted under common law in many countries, as long as not done for fraudulent purposes. For example:
    • Transgender people in the process of transition
    • People who have moved countries/cultures and adapted their name to their new culture (eg. Piotr to Peter, Ivanova to Ivanov)
    • Anyone preparing to change their ID in a common law country, because often they must provide evidence of being known under their new name before name change decrees are issued.
    • People from places where people have multiple names depending on context
    • People who do not like their given name, or do not feel it represents them as accurately as their chosen name
    • People who have different names in different legal systems, including people whose marriage and related name change is not recognised in all jurisdictions and people whose name is in different character sets or is spelled differently in different jurisdictions.
  • People who chose not to, or could not, change their name when they married, but may do certain things under their partner's surname or a combined surname
  • People who legally changed their name when they married, but continue to do certain things under their birth name (eg. use it professionally, due to accrued reputation)
  • People who go by an alias (sometimes registered, sometimes not) and have ID in more than one name
  • People whose name is regularly mistranscribed or misspelled even by officials, and who thus has different spellings on their IDs.

People with long-standing online pseudonyms

  • Open source software developers, who often use persistent, long-term nicknames in their development work
  • Bloggers
  • Gamers such as those who play World of Warcraft or other MMORPGs
  • users of Second Life and other online environments
  • in some countries, such as Japan, online pseudonyms are the norm in all circumstances
  • Authors writing under pseudonyms offline as well as online

People who are comfortable using their uncomplicated "real names"

  • People who use their "real names" most of the time, but who also wish to use less-traceable identities to discuss particular subjects, as outlined above.
  • People who cannot recognise their friends by their "real name", but can recognise them by nickname or pseudonym
  • People who are comfortable using their "real names", but who wish to communicate with family or friends who are not.
  • People who are comfortable using their "real names", but wish to be exposed to diverse, "taboo", or marginalised ideas, which may not be as available in a community with a "real names" requirement.
  • People who are comfortable using their "real names" and perhaps would prefer that others generally use their "real names", but believe others should have the choice to use their preferred names.
  • People who feel pressured to police their friends' name usage.


  • People with common names (eg. "John Smith"), who might want to use a more distinctive nickname or pseudonym so people can find them more easily.
  • People with rare names, who don't want their every little online activity to be blindingly obvious and connected to their legal identity.
  • People who share the name of someone very famous or renowned, who at best may face silly jokes ("Bill Clinton huh?") and at worst may be repeatedly confused with the famous namesake (including facing hostility for their actions) or banned for impersonation
  • People who have used a name for so long that members of their social circle think the name when they think/speak of/meet/discuss the person
  • People who simply do not see their offline identity as relevant to their online identity, or who are looking for a safe space to experiment with their identity, either because they are uncomfortable with it, or because they are interested in observing how they will be treated if they present as a different gender, race, etc.
  • People who worry that their account may be suspended or terminated because they do not know if their name will pass policy tests.


See also