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I have in the past, and continue currently, used the handle "thanatos" on a lot of Internet sites, and if that isn't available (which happens ~50% of the time), "deathanatos".

"Thanatos" is the name of the Greek god or personification of death (not to be confused with Hades, the Greek god of the underworld). "Dea" is a natural play-on-words to make the handle work in situations where the preferred handle has already been taken, without having to resort to numbers and remaining pronounceable. I adopted the handle many years ago — at the time, I was reading Edith Hamilton's Mythology, and Piers Anthony's On a Pale Horse, both still favorites of mine, and the name was born out of that.

When I created the handle, I was fairly young, and valued privacy while online, not giving out my name. As I've become a more competent programmer, I'm starting to want to release some of my private works under FOSS licenses and such, and sometimes under my own name. This has started to tie this handle with my real name. I've become increasingly aware of my "web image" in the last few years, as I've been job hunting. As a programmer, I have a larger-than-average web presence, and I've started to wonder: Is this handle name professional? Does a handle name matter in a professional sense? Should I "rebrand"? (While one obviously wants to avoid hateful or otherwise distasteful names, is a topic such as "death" (to which my name is tied) proper? What could be frowned upon?)


To try to make this a bit more programmer specific: Programmers are online — a lot — and some of us (and some who are not us) tend to put emphasis on a "web presence". I would argue that a prudent programmer (or anyone in an occupation that interacts online a lot) would be aware of their web presence. While not strictly limited to just programmers, for better or worse, it is a part of our world.

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I sure know that when hiring staff a web check is done... links get followed, and its used to build an impression of a programmer. Whether or not thats "allowed" or ethical is not the point - it happens. –  quickly_now Jan 19 '11 at 4:16
    
@Thanatos: I think this applies more to programmers than anybody else, enough so I won't vote to close. It is rather borderline, though. –  David Thornley Jan 19 '11 at 14:44
    
+1 While the question may not be specific to programming, the answer is. The appropriateness of a username/brand is very culture specific and programming definitely has a culture distinct from marketing and other professions. –  Thomas Langston Feb 16 '11 at 21:53
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One small nitpick: your use of the term 'professional' is almost the exact opposite of its proper meaning. What distinguished traditional professions from other jobs was that their practitioners' primary loyalty was to the standards and practices of their profession itself; the employer was secondary (doctors should do the best for their patients' health, lawyers represent their clients, etc). I think you mean something more like 'businesslike' -- adherence to an employer's expectations. A lesser (albeit necessary) virtue, but in any case nothing to do with professionalism. –  Cris Oct 26 '11 at 0:17
    
Well, I spotted your username when you got your yearling badge, checked your profile, and it's quite funny I found this question. Seeing how I'm the first Greek commenting on it, +1 for extra creepy... And for reminding me of all my juvenile handles... –  Yannis Rizos Jan 7 '12 at 13:47
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6 Answers 6

There are two main concerns with an online presence:

  1. Personal branding/image (positioning)
  2. Search-engine optimization (getting found)

If you want your online personas to merge, track down the old accounts and change the name

If you don't want your online personas to merge, track down the old accounts and remove the information that is linking them together

Over time, the search engines will do their jobs, and the personas will merge or diverge as you have designed them to.

I post as nov8r when writing in regards to my business; I post as stevenalowe the rest of the time. I have another pseudonym or two that i use on certain sites (politics, y'all; some people have no sense of humor about it) because these opinions are not relevant to my business or personal 'brands'1, and have made sure that there are no search-engine visible links to my 'true identity'


1: Yes, I said "brand". A brand stands for quality and consistency. You have an online brand whether you like it or not. Google yourself and look at the results, that's your online brand. Then ask "Does this present an accurate picture of me?" and "Does this present the picture of me that I want other people to see?" If not, take steps to fix it. Your future employer, client, or spouse may make decisions based on this information.

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+1 excellent answer. I was about to write much the same in response - no point now. –  quickly_now Jan 19 '11 at 4:18
    
Personal brand management is important. –  Paul Nathan Jan 19 '11 at 4:29
    
Whoa, did the markup get an upgrade, or is that clever HTML-ing that only few knew of? Update: Clever HTML-ing it is (or ghetto). Spoiler: <sup> </sup> –  Mark C Jan 19 '11 at 5:38
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@Mark: Yep, <sup></sup> tags. –  Josh K Jan 19 '11 at 11:40
    
I rebranded 7 years ago, now I'm this alias everywhere. Looking back at my old aliases, there's not a lot left. Good old bit-rot :) –  glasnt Feb 17 '11 at 4:51
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Very interesting topic. :)

Anybody who knows Croatian (and some other Slavic languages) will know that my username is actually quite immature.

Obviously, I started using it when I was younger, and then the habit stuck. I figured that in English it just seems like some random made-up name, the real meaning is pretty obscure to most of the world, and since I'm anonymous anyway, it's really not that bad - most people will never know, or bother to find out. Still, lately I have been thinking how it wouldn't be all that great if someone made the connection (say, a recruiter or hiring manager, when looking up my web presence). Or if I suddenly decided that I wanted to take credit for a body of work under this name (again, encouraging the real meaning to come out).

In hindsight, I probably shouldn't have used it on here. But then, I ended up on here via a throwaway signup to Stack Overflow (to ask a question for my work at the time - before I realized what a good community it is), so I wasn't even really thinking.

Lesson learned: When picking a username for anything at all professionally-related, think about how it would sound to a conservative hiring manager. If it seems at all immature or controversial, go with something else. It's not an issue to have a silly username on Fark, or in an online game. But anything that has even the remotest change of being connected to your professional life is risky (or you'll be kicking yourself when you want to expose that body of writing/work, and it's under that username).

EDIT: Name changed. :)

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Spoiler Alert - Guzica translated is "Ass". So, you're quite fond of Donkeys are you? ;) –  Kyle Rozendo Jan 19 '11 at 5:11
    
somewhat off topic, but being of Croatian descent, knowing the word, but not knowing how to spell it... I've learnt something today! –  sevenseacat Jan 19 '11 at 5:26
    
A donkey is very stubborn - a good property for those who need perseverance to track down the nasty heisenbugs. –  user1249 Jan 19 '11 at 13:55
    
love the new name. –  NickC Jan 21 '11 at 18:41
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As long as the name isn't offensive or puerile, you should be fine. I would not bother with any sort of a reboot/rebrand.

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I went through this a year or so back. I had been using a variety of "handle" names on forums, mailing lists, other misc. websites. The issue that arose for me was less of a "is it professional" and more of a "give me credit for that."

I ended up using my real name or a shortened version for everything, and it has turned out well. I keep in mind the context in which I am presenting myself, both personally and professionally.

Does a handle name matter in a professional sense? Should I "rebrand"?

In my opinion not really, unless you want to strongly link your physical self with whomever you are online. This is the "credit" side of things. While it still may be easy to find you, it's not as strongly identifiable as using your real name.

Privacy is only an issue if you make it one. Keep in mind the distinction between a professional online presence and a public personality. I value my privacy, and as such try to keep my online presence professional at all times. Reason #1 why I don't use Twitter.

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It's not always the name that matters, it's the content posted by the name. If there are people who find the content posted by a person to be offensive (I've seen a few of these over the years), racist, etc etc then that counts a lot more against your brand than the name. ie - its the whole package that matters. –  quickly_now Jan 19 '11 at 4:19
    
@quickly: Correct, hence "try to keep my online presence professional at all times." –  Josh K Jan 19 '11 at 4:28
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I keep my professional brand tied to my real name. I don't use my real name for any other discussion (games, politics, pop culture). Besides a small circle of friends no one should know who my private online persona connects to.

I don't believe your online persona is inappropriate, but a public online persona at times will not be well received if it doesn't directly correspond to your real name. At other times, it can be the reverse. Consider the market you wish to participate in and the customs of those in that market. Consider "E. W. Dijkstra" vs. "Zero Cool".

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It’s an interesting one. I thought a bit about this when I was starting to use the internet, and pretty much stuck on using my real name for everything.

This does mean that my snarkiest comments are easily Googlable for anyone who’s thinking about hiring me as a freelancer, which is sort of a shame from a business point of view. But I think it’s valuable to remember that the internet is public and permanent, and thus to try to hold myself to higher standards online.

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