In general, I think Facebook is a good thing. It provides a way for people to stay in touch at all distances, it allows people to share cool and important things, and it provides a snapshot of what your peers value and desire. It does not, however, guarantee any kind of parity to reality. People assume that Facebook is showing real people and real lives because it’s real names that are popping up on their screen. What they forget is that Facebook is one giant filter of intention.
What shows up on Facebook is what people want to show up. Go look through your friend’s albums: how many weddings do you see? How many vacations? Babies? Trips abroad? Graduations? Visits with family? Parties with friends? There’s something missing from this picture. Like, say, people getting fired. Funerals. Arrests. Divorces. Suffice to say that we aren’t rushing to Facebook to tell everyone about our imperfections and admit that we’re not as happy as our pictures would have others believe. For the experienced netizen, this is business as usual. It’s a different story for the average Facebook user, however, and I’ve long pondered over how to challenge the way people perceive Facebook. Recently, I found a way.
As a kid, the game of the internet was always to appear older so as to enhance credibility, and the best way to do that was not to give anyone an excuse to look down on me. The first line of attack is always the display name, and by the time I was 13 I’d mostly standardized my name across the various mediums of the internet: salandarin. It was unique, didn’t have numbers (super important!), was easy enough to type, hard to say wrong, and carried a flavor of fantasy without sounding elven or magical. It’s austere and inert.
The preteen me wanted that because it provided a shield against scrutiny. Passivity is a great strategy for avoiding criticism, but it also leaves any hope of quality interaction in the hands my neighbors. Salandarin provided no material for conversation. However, as I became more engaged in online communities at the end of high school, I had earned a few nicknames. I started adopting them because they were flavorful and personal. Since 2008, my display name evolved thusly:
I jumped between all of these sprodically for the next few years, using them for alts or special accounts, picking whichever seemed more thematically appropriate for the given environment. I could only have so many, however, as I still needed to log in to the accounts without going through the “Forgot your username?” prompts every time. But then sites started separating account name and display name. In particular, Steam eliminated all restrictions on what display name you could use. Duplicates were fine. Special characters were fine. Really long, or really short. It was all good. So, when I switched from HoN to DotA 2 and found myself using Steam a whole lot more, I realized I had a golden opportunity.
For the unfamiliar – Steam is a platform for playing video games. Your display name dictates what identifies you in the game. So, if my display name is SALMONATOR, it’ll tell everyone in the game “SALMONATOR just got a double kill!“, and it’s the name that appears in front of all chat messages. With that explained, here are just some of the names I’ve come up with over the last year. Yes, all of them were in caps, and I’m proud to say they’re all original.
- HEROIC SALMON
- CHIROPRACTIC MANSLAUGHTER
- PREMIUM FOOD STAMPS
- GONNA POOP ON YA
- IMPROMPTU BRODOWN
- BUTT ALCHEMIST
- PREHISTORIC MOP
- JANITORIAL MASQUERADE
- INTERSTELLAR VISIGOTH
- SERF DUNKING
- QUESTIONABLE OSMOSIS
- LOBSTER CANNON
- CAPTAIN THUNDERFUNK
Some of them are silly and lame. Some of them are alright. A few are hilarious. In general, though, a quirky and unique name goes a long way to breaking the ice in the garden of social butterflies that video gamers are known to be. I can hear people trying not to laugh when they say “dumpturkey” or “butt alchemist” over voice chat, and it’s absolutely great. Seeing “GONNA POOP ON YA is GODLIKE!” appear on the screen is just a delight. Anything that gets people to chill out and remember that it’s just a video game is a huge winner, and it makes the overall experience better for me (and hopefully others too).
But one of them took my heart above all others. For a game like DotA, CAPTAIN THUNDERFUNK was the greatest name I could ask for. It was loud and colorful without being pretentious. It matched my hyper-aggressive playstyle. It was easy to reference – “CAPTAIN STOP FEED” – and it allowed my occasional forays into energetic eccentricities to seem completely in-character (which, in real life, they are). People just seemed to like it.
There was a component of personal identity, as well. When I was in Berlin, I had the phenomenal experience of everyone assuming I was German. With my thick blond hair, fair skin, and fantastically German last name, I had to explain to a number of miffed train attendents and cashiers that I didn’t really speak much German. I really cherished those interactions because that’s just not something that happens in America. My German heritage is meaningless here. There is very little in the way of genetic or ethnic community for the progeny of suburban WASPs, and this lack of individuality has vexed me for years. Captain Thunderfunk was exactly what I’d been looking for.
After a month or two, however, I started to feel the itch to move on. I loved the name, but I didn’t want to wear it out just playing DotA. As I perused Facebook one evening, I realized that there was no reason I couldn’t use Facebook the same way I was using Steam. It would just be a bigger challenge to find something that 300 people won’t roll their eyes at. The narcissism of the CAPTAIN was too overt; I needed something more approachable. It took me over three weeks of serious thinking to find the combination I was looking for – strange, as almost all of the above names were split-second creations.
- CRANBERRY THUNDERFUNK
In my mind, it’s perfect. It’s the most vivid nonsense phrase I’ve ever created. It can be anything: a fruity medly of electricity and groove, a futuristic dance move, a cyborg fungus from another dimension, or a weapon of mass flavoration. With minimal effort from the reader, a wide range of unique and badass imagery can be evoked from just two words. Next to my technicolor avatar, it generates an identity that is different from that of my name, yet is truer to my actual personality.
The response has been fabulous. I’ve gotten back in touch with a number of people who simply popped me a note to ask what the hell was up with the name. It’s a great starting topic of conversation for people I haven’t seen in a long time (they always ask!). It leaves me feeling more comfortable sharing more serious content on Facebook, as I know it’s counterbalanced by the absurdity of the name. Just as with video games, it seems to succeed at getting people to stop, even for just a split second, and ask themselves “What the fuck?”. I say that’s a beautiful thing.
The funny thing is that I actually felt a fair degree of anxiety prior to changing it. I was genuinely worried what everyone would think. I haven’t the faintest notion why.