After our Otakon panel, John asked me if he should change his online identity.
On most social networks, John goes by @GundamGuy, a name he’s been using since before I met him eight years ago. As basic as it is, he laid claim to it early enough that he has it nearly everywhere. Well, except Blogspot. A few years ago, we found out about another Gundam Guy, an up-and-coming blogger and go-to source for news about the Gundam anime franchise.
The Gundam Guy blog is increasingly popular, so this Otakon, John started introducing himself with a caveat: “not that Gundam Guy.” Since John is one half of our own blog on a Gundam-related topic, there were a few times he’d mention our blog and run into an awkward moment when people assumed it was the Gundam Guy blog.
John knew there would be other Gundam Guys, but none that would become this well-known. Now he thinks it would be less confusing—for both of them—for him to change his name.
Still, I can’t imagine following that advice myself when it comes to laureninspace.
My whole life, my screen names have ever been very inspired. Age 11: Magusina, my feminization of the Chrono Trigger character Magus. Age 13: Renchan, a cringeworthy infantile nickname that I thought made me sound Japanese. Age 16: Decembering, a pretentious take on my birth month and… possibly nostalgia?
These were all pretty dumb, but laureninspace takes the cake. I picked it while I was hanging out with friends at my 21st birthday party, watching Flight of the Conchords. A friend told me about this thing he’d just discovered, Twitter, that we could use to group chat with each other instead of texting. Since it was just some dumb thing to do with friends, I put hardly any thought into it at all. As Bret and Jemaine warbled out “Bowie’s In Space” on screen, I had my handle.
I never expected that laureninspace (or sometimes, Otaku Journalist) would be the name by which clients and bosses alike first meet me. I didn’t foresee the Daily Dot, Forbes, and anybody else I’ve written for tweeting or retweeting it.
Post-Livejournal, I can’t partition my identity with pseudonyms. Thanks to the walled gardens of Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr, which encourage users to share personal information that they can sell to advertisers, you can follow me from place to place. Wherever I go online, my identity is visible to anyone who cares to look. I don’t think it’s really possible to split your identity any more. If you have a nickname in one place, it’s likely tied to your real name somewhere else. That’s why I think it would be a Big Deal if John dropped GundamGuy, at least at first.
I’ve had a lot of time to cultivate this opinion because this question of online identity is something readers ask me about regularly. Here are the three most common:
Q. In order to be taken seriously, should I keep my fandom work under a pseudonym and my professional work under my real name?
A. Nah. I got my current non-fandom-related job through anime fandom. Likewise, John got his position after noting he was president of the college anime club on his resume. I think my fandom writing at Anime News Network and Forbes is professional and reflects well on me. It’s only in rare cases, like with my romantic fanfiction, that I use a pseudonym and intentionally try to separate it from my real name—though I’m sure you can find it if you try. Most of the time, I want people to find the work I write under my handle!
Q. I am interested in X topic and Y topic. Should I combine them into one project, or go the opposite way and write about them under two different names?
A. As we say in Super Robot anime, combine! The title of this blog combines two of my interests—anime fandom and journalistic writing—because I believe that blending two interests into a more specific niche helps you stand out. Once again, there are some outliers. For example, my candle blog is an odd vestigial limb in my portfolio of work—it isn’t even close to my other interests, and because of that, a lot of people don’t even realize I run it. But that’s fine. Being online encourages you to be a caricature of yourself, something tweetable and shorthand. If you’re the only person interested in both X and Y and discussing them together in interesting ways, congrats, you’ve just become the go-to person for that combo.
Q. I publish my geek articles/blog posts/etc. under an obscure nickname. Now that I want to find paying jobs in fandom, should I change it to my real name?
A. Actually, I think having an unusual handle can help you stand out. If you have a name (like say, Otaku Journalist) that explains what you are about, it might be more descriptive than your real name, especially if your real name isn’t totally unique. Or if you have an odd Twitter name, but your account has thousands of followers, you want people to know about your ability to build an audience. The most important thing is that you make it easy for your potential editors to find your previous work quickly, and usually that is best accomplished by applying under the same name you writer under.
Creation is really tied to identity. Your identity feeds into your expertise and what you are capable of creating, and in turn your body of work supports and strengthens that identity. As you continue to produce new work, people will associate your handle with a certain kind of product. Even if you think the name is a little silly or overly niche, it’s your brand.
There will be times that your online identity no longer serves you, and John might be getting to that point. But in a world where our identities have fewer and fewer partitions, I say keep the goofy, expressive screen name as long as you can.
See also: Does “Geek Stuff” Belong On Your Resume?
Photo by Thom