The Name Game

Google+, a new social networking site that’s in theory still in beta, is having a serious issues amongst its users.

You see, Google+ wants to insist that people use their legal names on their social networking site. If you’re using a name that appears “fake” by various criteria, you stand to have the account axed.

Okay, does this affect me? Personally, not so much. I use my “real” name online and have for creeping up on two decades.

Oh, wait… No, I didn’t for a long time. For the first decade and a bit, I used my maiden name – not my legal name. When I got married, I actually took my husband’s last name. I used it to apply for jobs and sign checks. Socially? I tended to introduce myself with my maiden name. When I went online, I used my NoelFigart as my handle, typically. It wasn’t particularly a conscious decision. It’s my name. It’s unique, and I like my name a lot, so hey…

Notice how I phrased that “it’s my name”. It most certainly was not my legal name. It was the name I most identified with. It was my mental default that I used. I had to think about it a little when I was signing checks or in formal situations where I was addressed as Mrs. <HusbandName>. Oh sure like many a traditionally-reared girl who is engaged, I did practice the “Married name signature” and played with it. I’m just saying that in my case, it didn’t stick much.

I changed it back to my maiden name about six years ago. There were a lot of driving reasons, but the most serious one for me was that my son, if asked what his mother’s name was, would say Noël Figart. The last time I heard him do it when before I changed my name back to my maiden name, this scene from the Bring on the Night movie floated through my mind:

Reporter: Well, Gordon…

Sting: My children call me Sting, my mother calls me Sting. Who is this Gordon1 character?

I figured that when even my son used Figart instead of my married name, it was time to embrace it and have my legal name be the name I actually use.

If I had not changed my name, would Google+ have decided to kick me out if they’d discovered I wasn’t using my legal name? Or is a maiden name “legitimate” because there’s social precedent for a woman using her maiden name either professionally or socially.

However, what about pen names? I have one. One of my blogs is written under a sobriquet. I would (and do) answer to it as readily as Noël. I consider it one of my names. When we’re talking marketing and brand, it’s most certainly identified with me, even if many people who know it know my “real” name as well. In my case, it’s no big secret. It’s also a name that is so obviously “fake” that it would get me kicked off Google+ pretty quickly – never mind that it’s a legitimate identity that I am really, no kidding, known by. And in fact, my Google+ circles are more likely to contain people who know me in that context than as Noël.

I consider myself probably one of the simpler examples of the fluidity of name. So, I think that Google needs to think more carefully about the whole legal, Western-based “Firstname” “Lastname” requirement for its social circles. I get that it is trying to create a culture of transparency in the hopes that it will promote a friendlier environment and better behavior amongst its denizen.

I just think that they’re using a ball-peen hammer for a situation that might call for a scapel. Just sayin’.


1 Sting was born Gordon Matthew Sumner.

One Reply to “The Name Game”

  1. It’s a fallacy that they want you to use your legal name. You must use a common name. One that people know you by. Unless you’ve got some document that says otherwise? The only place I’ve seen the “legal name” requirement is in people’s complaints…

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