Friday, January 25, 2008

A Question for a Whimsical Friday

What's in a name?

More precisely, what's in a screen-name?

This is, of course, a question of identity. We don't choose the names that we go by in the real world, even if we're known by a name other than our given one offline, it's most often a nickname given to you. For example, my name is John Alan Jack. My first name is from my great-grandfather on my dad's side. He was a company man, a Hudson's Bay Company man. My middle name is from my mother's younger brother, my Uncle Al. And my family name is Jack, named after the patriarch of the family when the Indian Agents were handing out anglicized names: Old Man Jack.

I didn't choose these names, but they're who I am.

I have two other names. Reprisal and Garacaius.

The first one is my oldest handle. It was originally lengthened to "Nuclear Reprisal." A term taken from a song by the Matthew Good Band called The Future is X-Rated. This was my name for online games like Unreal Tournament, Quake 3, Total Annihilation, Counter-Strike, and Day of Defeat. I shortened it to Reprisal not long after I started becoming more involved in the gaming community and after people online started calling me "Rep" for short on Voice-Chat.

Reprisal is not a term you see every day, unless you live in Gaza or the West Bank. I chose it as a good representation of the image I wanted the name to have in the lobbies and scoreboards of the games I played. A reprisal is a measured and "proportional" response to a violent or illegal act. That was the persona I took on whenever I logged in to play a game. I was a straight talking and cooperative player with an eye for teamwork and little patience for grand-standers. What little voice-chatting I did in a game had to do with position, strategy and congratulating other players on a well-timed grenade or an amazing shot.

I've lived with with name Reprisal for around ten years now. It's a part of who I am. I'm not particularly well-known in any long-term sense of the word, but when I visit the same game server or post on the same message board for a while, people tend to find familiarity in my name.

My name is my label, it's my brand.

I've recently decided to take on a new name: Garacaius. It's no less esoteric, but it's also more inocuous -- a handle I can use that's more widely accepted. Though it might be weird, people won't react as negatively to Garacaius nearly as much as they will a name like Reprisal.

I took the name from a background character I created for an RPG I was running for friends about a year and a half ago. His name was Garacaius Mendalus. He was a young-but-retired artificer who owned a merchant company with his fellow retired adventurers. Smart, good-natured, and way too cautious.

I figured it fit all too well.

I often wonder what others' stories are when it comes to their handles. Are they chosen fairly casually? Fairly naturally? Do they matter at all to you, especially now that websites like Facebook cncourage the use of your real name?

Real name.

What's in a name?