Hello HASTAC! An unremarkable thing happened as I was registring on your remarkable website, but it's something that gets me every time. The double name-form that comes with registering at every website. Name and then desired screen name. (Some websites have three such entry slots -- one for a stable ID, one for a displayed ID and one for your "real name"). I did consider choosing some kind of display name like "Types like the wind" or "Neo" (always an auspicious handle on the net). But after some consideration I went with first initial period last name. Why? Well, hopefully it will both make my username less "oh gosh that person on the internet!" and also give me the ability to slink off somewhere if I publically humiliate myself with a post.
The topic of this post though is exactly this phenomenon. The screenname. Most of us get to choose our e-mails, the exceptions being assigned work e-mails and assigned school e-mails. When my friend got to choose her e-mail address at her college the rest of us were so jealous. Earlham used to do it first five letters of your last name plus the first two letters of your first name. I was woefully disappointed when my e-mail ended up simply being my last name. (H-o-f-f-m + A-n). Many of my peers have two e-mail accounts -- one that is "for work" and one that is "for play." The work e-mail is invariably something that looks like your school would assign it to you, or perhaps even the default suggested name (Michael is taken, would you like to use Michael9869?). A lot of us probably don't think about this too much. If our primary internet interaction with others is via e-mail most clients allow you to have display names or just defaulty use your name as the display name. Outlook's handy feature where you can just type in a name and it provides the e-mail address -- and every e-mail you receive from this person displays as their name. On Gmail you can reassign the name of your various contacts, but it also defaultly displays whatever they've filled into the name blank.
Other websites, however, is where it begins to get interesting. On tumblr.com you can swap your tumblr name out whenever you wish. You can do so and break every link that ever went back to your tumblr. There's a certain kind of freedom in being able to make this swap -- but also a certain kind of uneasiness as a tumblr follower when your favorite blog suddenly disappears off your dash. Plurk.com and Pixiv.net are both websites that utilize having a stable ID and a display name. Pixiv's stable ID is a number and plurk's is whatever you choose it to be. (As a sidenote, plurk.com also combines the microblogging features of twitter along with a competitive 'karma' gaining experience where you can 'unlock' different achievements depending on how effective your microblogging is, essentially. Every day of use yields you x number of karma points and each level of karma comes with emoticons. There are also badge achievments and then to promote its social networking side plurk.com also rewards you for filling out information like education and work contacts as well as what dating scene you are into). Plurk recently allowed their users to change the color of their display names. I believe this is the first platform that I've been on that has let me choose what color my name displays to others -- even if the choice is extremely limited.
Livejournal.com operated on a similar idea - there was your username and then there was the name you entered in the profile field. The name you entered in the profile field would show up when a user hovered over your icon or profile header as well as preface e-mails addressed to your journal and so forth. Username "yellowbrickroad" could enter "follow the" into their profile blank and have their full profile read something like "follow the yellowbrickroad." This was also useful for users who created journals with the name "Alexander" and then could fill in their profile blank as "Alex." Now, I bring up livejournal.com mostly to discuss Dreamwidth.org - a livejournal spin-off made for a variety of reasons. Dreamwidth has much of the same set up, however when it comes to displaying names dreamwidth pretty much only displays the username. No matter what you have in the profile slot dreamwidth defaults to displaying the username (in hoverovers, in e-mails and so forth). This has been a point of contention for many users! One commenter has posted that she feels as if the username is more like her body and the display name is how she wears her clothes or her hair -- it's an integral part of her self-expression on the blogging site.
As the world continues to move forward with all this crazy digital and internetting stuff screennames are becoming increasingly more prevelant. At school people recognized me by my face or my style of dress. On facebook they may recognize me by my name (recall my face, or style of dress) though my profile picture is of the ocean. On plurk my username is black and I often have it display in ᴛɪɴʏ ᴄᴀᴘɪᴛᴀʟ ʟᴇᴛᴛᴇʀs. I've been to several conventions where people have listed their usernames on their nametags -- since the people they will be interacting with are people they know best by their usernames.
So work, so school. Does being given the username User972 matter? Does being able to choose my school ID tag matter? In work, when I ask for someone's e-mail and I receive one that is ManLand4Evah do I judge a little? These are all new ways of identifying ourselves and our habits to others -- or being identified and categorized by the site or institution that gave us these screennames.
I just figure it's a little food for thought.
(And as a post-script to this whole thing - one of the reasons Dreamwidth lists for not having the double display of the username + hoverover of profile name is for screenreaders and how a screenreader processes a page and such. I am not well-versed with screenreaders, I only had brief tech training in the Library for the Blind when I was working at the AADL, but it's worth mentioning.)