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It all comes down to what is considered to be an ‘authentic’ name. If, for example, you’re a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild, you probably never use your given name – as the SAG requires names on its rolls to be unique, and never used before. Thus if you have the same name as anyone previously on its rolls, you’ve no recourse but to register with the SAG under another and use it for all related activities.

Names being what they are, virtually nobody you see in the cast, crew or credits of a film are using the names they were born with. Many people increasingly use public profiles online, never leaving online traces of or using their private identity at all.

However, using a nickname, nom de plume, stage-name, professional name, or performance name might not be good enough for Google+. Google+ really seems to want your original name. The one that maybe hardly anyone actually knows you by.

I keep my own name under my hat. Quite honestly, I don’t even really use it that often. It gets pretty dusty in the meantime. Tateru Nino is the name I’ve been known by to my clients, co-workers, and employers for some years now – and even around the house at times.

In actual fact, if I were faced with the names on the driving licenses of those co-workers, clients and employers, I probably would recognise very few of them. I didn’t know them by those names. Most people that I worked with went by some other name in the normal course of things, and some – well, I’m just not sure about…. because, you know… it doesn’t matter.

It really doesn’t, because I know everything about these people that I think is important to know.

Opensource Obscure is a familiar name to many of you. You’ve seen his comments here (or elsewhere), agreed with him, argued with him, maybe thought he was a good sort, or thought he was a bit of a dick. You might be a reader of his Italian Second Life blog. You may have done business with him. In your mind he has a reputation, for good or ill.

You likely don’t know him under any other name and you might not have any interest in any other name that he has. If he were to use it, you wouldn’t recognise it, because it has no association with the identity that you’ve come to know over the years.

In other words, if he has any other name, it has no social value to you.

Nevertheless, Google suspended Obscure’s Google+ account just a short time ago, under the Community Standards – the relevant section of which reads:

Display Name
To help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, use the name your friends, family, or co-workers usually call you. For example, if your full legal name is Charles Jones Jr. but you normally use Chuck Jones or Junior Jones, either of these would be acceptable.

(Emphasis mine)

Note that this appears to apply to Google profiles generally, and not just Google+.

This is troublesome. Of the 436 people that I currently have in my Google+ circles, fewer than ten of those use the name that they carry in their wallets. The funny thing is that that isn’t terribly new. My father, and his contemporaries rarely did either. In post-War Australia it seemed commonplace for use-names to diverge quite significantly from wallet names. I was probably fifteen before I found out that the name in my father’s wallet wasn’t the one that he used on a day-to-day basis, and then shortly after found out that very few people did.

My hair-dresser’s name wasn’t Sylvia. The notorious Granny Steele (whom some few thought to be a witch) – well, she wasn’t a Granny, and actually she wasn’t a ‘Steele’ either (I couldn’t tell you if she was a witch or not). The list goes on. Turns out that my uncle, a prominent QC, didn’t wear his wallet-name either. I used to know a guy called Toasted Cheese (after the famous poem, that even now you are struggling to identify) and another called Zaphod. Heaven knows what their wallet-names were. It didn’t matter.

As a society we acquired use-names and just used them, indifferent to getting a deed-poll done, since the government cheerfully allowed (and allows) us to use those alternates for both government and business usages. Some even simply put their wallet-names instead of their accreted ones in the “Are you known by any other names” section of the forms.

I asked my father back then, if he never used his wallet name, why not get if formally changed?

“If you never use it, why bother changing it?” he replied, and lectured me on the persistence of identity, and the application of labels and nomenclature. My dad rocked, by the way.

Officially as of 24 February, Google’s public policy position (“The freedom to be who you want to be”) was that pseudonymous use of a number of Google products was fine. Even to go so far as implicitly encouraging it.

Someone at Google clearly didn’t get that memo, or maybe it’s just that Google+ (or anything tied to a Google Profile) is exempt from that policy.

Google profiles are becoming somewhat pervasive, increasingly interconnecting the various Google products, and the pseudonymity that Google supports in some products is inherently undermined if it starts whacking connected profiles based on a suspicion that a name isn’t what people “usually call you”.

Pseudonymous usage is apparently just fine, until Google decides it wants you to pony up a photo ID. This isn’t about Opensource Obscure specifically, but his suspension devalues Google+ for me just a little bit. One down, four hundred and thirty-five to go. But as even Google will well tell you, it’s the network effects that matter. Each individual generates more value to the network than simple user numbers would suggest.

Obscure has submitted an appeal over the suspension, but since it is such a subjective matter, I find myself doubting that it will be successful.

I contacted Google for an official comment and an explanation of the seeming dichotomy, but Larry and Sergey’s corporate behemoth was slow in providing any official statement on the matter. Being Australian, I suspect my enquiry was routed to an Australian PR representative without anyone thinking for a moment, “Wait. It is after-hours on a Friday there, nobody will be there to answer for more than two days.” If I hear back from them, I’ll add in their comments.

In the absence of an official response, I suppose it comes down to whether some administrative bod – in their limited experience – thinks that the name you’re using is the name people know you by … or not.

I wonder what Mark Twain would have had to say. I’m guessing he wouldn’t have bothered to have Samuel Clemens sign up to a Google Profile to say it.

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Categories: Google, Opinion.

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