I was at a training event recently and had to give a brief talk on the subject of identity. Sounds easy enough until you realise that so much of our understanding of identity is tied to context. At work I might be known by my formal name and job title whilst to my daughters I am mostly known as a taxi. In other areas I am known for my hobbies and passions (for the record: guitars, dobros and football) whilst my wife knows me as her eye candy. Even names are to be seen in a context; most people know me as 'Al' even though my mother will only call me 'Alan' or 'Alan John' if I she wants to get my attention.
Perhaps one of the best ways of understanding how people see themselves is to look at the names they give themselves on the internet.
My daughters have had a variety of associations including loopy, salad, fathead and Mexico - non of them having any bearing on who I know them to be.
Internet names give you the chance, without challenge, to make up any identity no matter how bizarre. I was in a meeting recently when one of those present actually called himself the 'zenmaster' and went on to show that this was his email address name too. The fact that he spoke about himself in the third person added extra weight to my concern.
Not to be outdone I decided that I needed something a little more universally important as my cyber name. I asked my wife what I should be called and she just muttered something about immature.com as she walked off. Not sure I liked the tone. My youngest daughter thought I should be called St Paul. Flushed with pride that she should see me in such a positive light I foolishly pushed further for explanation as to her meaning. 'When you lie on the settee your stomach looks like St Paul’s Cathedral' she offered.
'What about Stringmaster' I declared to my wife and our two youngest girls, trying to express my conviction that I am a guitar plucking, dobro playing legend (in my own mind at least). 'It makes you sound like someone who collects twine' my wife replied. 'You could be the stringvest master, that would be about right' interrupted daughter number three. In then end they all agreed that my name should include the phrase 'too much time to think'. The whole conversation took a downward turn after that so I decided not to include them in my quest for a suitable cyber name.
It is probably quite good therapy to have a cyber name that has a certain amount of fantasy in it. It is probably more of a problem when this spills over in to real life. Having Zenmaster as an email address is fine but calling yourself by it in the third person, at work, crosses a certain line.
If you did want to go further with this fantasy you can actually change your official name on the net for just thirty four pounds. I only know this because, following an evening of consumption, my nephew changed his name to 'Daniel Bombastic Fantastic'. This all seemed a good idea until he sobered up and found it to be an official change. Needless to say his parents failed to see the amusing side of it and his Dad, who has the dry, sardonic sense of humour of a suffering Manchester City fan, said he was going to change his name to 'Barry I Have No Son'.
So my advice, for what it is worth, is to enjoy a fantasy moment with your Cyber name but keep hold of your Sunday name just in case your mother wants to contact you. Still not to be deterred by my family’s lack of enthusiasm, I have registered an email address as firstname.lastname@example.org. It has a certain ring to it and I await your emails about collections of twine and stories of other unusual cyber names. If the zenmaster is reading the world wide web is big enough for the both of us. Kind regards the stringmaster.