Usernames and the bridentity crisis

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Original photo by Kerry Vaughan, used by Creative Commons License
I've been on the interweb a LONG ass time (my first internet date was in 1992 — we went to a Pearl Jam concert), and one of the social aspects of the web that's always fascinated me is usernames and online identity. My first handle was “rosewater,” named after my favorite perfume, but over the almost 20 years since, I've got by a lot of different names online. Q. Ver and Electrolicious, were a few of the handles I used before I settled on my first and middle names as my standard username.

Running an online network, I get an interesting insight into the names that people (women, specifically) use for themselves online. Since both Offbeat Bride and Offbeat Families are essentially about women in relationships going through a transition (marriage, starting a family) I feel like I catch people in a really interesting state of identity shift. One of the many ways these shifts are expressed are through usernames and avatars.

Certainly, I'm not the first to mull over this — Katie Roiphe stirred up huge controversy in 2009 when she wrote “Get Your Kid Off Your Facebook Page,” which asked, “Why do women hide behind their children?”

I think the Offbeat Empire probably sees less users with handles like JessesGirl87 or EmmasMomNYC, but we still see a fair number of community members who identify themselves online as defined by their relationship. I mean, that IS why most of us are here, right? We're in a relationship planning a thing, and looking for inspiration and ideas. Of course these relationships affect us. Flavor our days. Shift our perceptions. Rejigger our priorities. Impact our personalities. And yes, change our identities. That's why I'm IN a relationship: I LOVE how my partner influences me. He's awesome! Of COURSE he's a huge piece of who I am.

That said, my online identity didn't feel much of a shift when we decided to get married. I got active on IndieBride, but I used my same old handle. Granted, I'd been with Andreas for six years when we decided to get married, so while I was overjoyed to be engaged to Dre, the handle DresGirlSeattle had lost its new car smell when Clinton was still in office.

…Then again, when I had a baby in 2009, my facebook user photo went from a series of glamour-shot self-portraits straight to pictures of my son. I'd worked five years to have that dang baby, and if becoming a mother is an identity shift with powerful emotions attached, it was profoundly so for me. This is all to say, I'm certainly not one to criticize anyone for making profound, and highly visible online identity shifts.

My only concern comes in when people feel criticized for NOT having a demonstrative shift. I wrote about this on Offbeat Bride four (!!!) years ago with a post called When brides don't squeal enough. I'm all for ladies being MrsHisName2011 if that feels right for them … but I'm also all for them staying firmly in their existing identity. I think the bridentity crisis moment can come when you feel like you SHOULD be SquealingBride1984 and something's wrong with you if you're still just @filthypuppeteer or [email protected] or dorkbot3k.

Your identity doesn't NEED to shift when you go through a big transition like marriage or starting a family. Your life will shift, but I believe that each of us holds true ultimately ownership of our identities — regardless of our relationships, and no matter how much they might shape us and inspire us.

This post is being cross-posted on both Offbeat Bride & Offbeat Families. If you're interested in how moms feel about this issue, head over there.

Comments on Usernames and the bridentity crisis

  1. While I am totally looking forward to dropping “Dickson” as my last name and adopting my fiance’s last name (way more exotic and with less penile imagery), there is no way in HELL that my online handles are changing.

  2. The idea of naming myself as “fiencesgirl37” or whatever makes no sense to me. My OBB screenname (redheadedgeek) is the name I used on the website were we met. It amused me to use it here. But to define myself with his name would not work for me. I am unemployed at the moment and I am having enough of a struggle just reminding myself that I am not just “a fiancee.” I am my own person, job or not. I would feel even more alienated from my normal self than I currently do if I didn’t see my name here.

  3. Very well written and insightful article! I love this website! I guess you can tell by my username I never hopped on that bandwagon.

    @Andrea- Me too! Excited to change my boring name to something way more rad.

  4. Slightly tangentially on names:
    After always saying I wouldn’t change my name on marriage (my relationship’s part of me, it doesn’t make me a different person etc) – I did. I have two identities Ms MyLast – painter, friend etc, and Mrs HisLast – professional person doing a job where I don’t want my clients to be able to find naked paintings of me if they google me. 15 months in and it’s not nearly as clear cut as I thought.
    Neither name really feels mine. I use HisLast multiple times a day when I’m at work, so that kind of feels more like my ‘real’ name now.
    You can’t have bank accounts in two names (oh how they laughed – darn money laundering rules!) so when I sell paintings my invoices have a big ‘account in the name of Rebecca HISNAME’ note on them.
    I find myself wanting to justify myself (and I know it’s nobody’s business but mine and his) why I’ve done it – which undermines the separation.
    I was planning that if the painting takes off and I drop the sensible job I would disappear the other name, but I now realise just how many people are invested in that name, or would just assume we’d split up.
    So, yeah – it kind of worked, but had more costs than I thought (and I have to think twice every time I say my name/log in to an account).

    • You can have a ‘business name’ that forwards to a bank account, my brother has his photography jobs as Sander-Martijn, which is not his full name..

  5. I have made a bunch of identity shifts over the years. My current incarnation actually came from my dude when we had been dating only a very short time. I recognized it was time, we were starting a new creative project together. It is a mix of the two of us, of how I came to see myself through his eyes, and my own. Little Red Riding Hood marries the Wolf. Our invitations are based on it.

    • Off-topic, but you should read the short story “The Red Girl” from “The Bread We Eat in Dreams” by Catherynne M. Valente. I just had to say it. Sorry to interrupt! 🙂

  6. There was a time when being anonymous on the web mattered to me, and there are probably still places where that would be true. When I joined Live Journal I asked a friend what user name she thought I should use and she pointed out that using my own name was an option since it is unusual enough to usually be available so why not use that one? Good question. There really was no good reason for me to remain anonymous, so I didn’t.

    I feel like I have expended enough energy online and in person explaining my name that to use a pseudonym seems disingenuous and counter to who I am. However, if I had a name like Jennifer, I might be inclined to not have the handle Jennifer9345 and would want something that expressed my individuality.

    To the question of bridentity, I did not even take my husband’s last name (for a bunch of reasons) so making my handle relationship-centric did not fit me at all. When it comes to my child, I am delighted to be a mom, but I want people to be able to find me so changing my photo to just my child could make that difficult. If I get any photos of us together that I like and still show me clearly I might be tempted to use that, but never just my baby (or pet). I have plenty of friends who do use a photo of their child (or pet) instead of themselves, or use a handle like [kid’sname]’smom though.

    I guess I am just too self-centered to want to change my online handles to reflect someone other than me. And I am OK with that.

  7. Interesting article! Being relatively contradictory as a fiercely independent woman while still a moderate traditionalist, I did change my last name but still held my own handle names and identity. After all, I’ll always be me. Having him is an added bonus that I appreciate everyday.

  8. Ha! This came at the perfect time! I just got engaged on Christmas, and I’ve been trying to come up with different usernames

    In real life, I’m actually excited to change my last name to his to have a more boring name!

    The worst so far has been trying to come up with an address for our wedsite. They all just sound dumb to me. I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but that’s something that I’m going to be telling a lot of people, and I want it to reflect more of our style than just our names and that we love each other, if that makes sense.

  9. I love this post. I didn’t change my real name or my online handles as a result of my marriage. Now that I think about it though, I think the last identity shift (before our engagement) was probably due to Husband’s influence. No, he isn’t the Star Wars fanatic, but I think he’s a part of my shift towards adult-hood, responsibility and online anonymity. Kind of.

    I’m in the place now where I have the self-respect to want to be identifyable online, but not so open that strangers could google my home address. I think my relationship with my husband helped me grow into this person. Pun-loving sci-fi geek that she may be.

    • Well of COURSE you wouldn’t change your online handle… abby_wan_kenobi’s some cool ass sh*t!!! 🙂

  10. This is interesting to me b/c I’m always teased for being so quiet about my relationship. I’m not one to “squee” or draw my fiance’s name in hearts. Inside I miss my man every minute he isn’t around, and I’m amazed by him every day. Outside – well I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve. but when it came to picking my OBT username I jumped at “MsFarmerBrown”. I guess I’m going through a shift… subconsciously. hmmm…. =0)

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