Google+ and my “real” name: Yes, I’m Identity Woman

When Google+ launched, I went with my handle as my last name.  This makes a ton of sense to me. If you asked most people what my last name is, they wouldn’t know. It isn’t “common” for me.  Many people don’t even seem to know my first name. I can’t tell you how many times I have found myself talking with folks at conferences this past year and seeing ZERO lighbulbs going off when I say my name “Kaliya”, but when I say I have the handle or blog “Identity Woman” they are like “Oh wow! You’re Identity Woman… cool!” with a tone of recognition – because they know my work by that name.

One theory I have about why this works is because it is not obvious how you pronounce my name when you read it.  And conversely, it isn’t obvious how you write my name when you hear it.  So the handle that is a bit longer but everyone can say spell “Identity Woman” really serves me well professionally.  It isn’t like some “easy to say and spell” google guy name like Chris Messina or Joseph Smarr or Eric Sachs or Andrew Nash. I don’t have the privilege of a name like that so I have this way around it.

So today…I get this

I have “violated” community standards when using a name I choose to express my identity – an identity that is known by almost all who meet me. I, until last October, had a business card for 5 years that just had Identity Woman across the top.

Display Name – To help fight spam and prevent fake profiles, use the name your friends, family, or co-workers usually call you. For example, if your full legal name is Charles Jones Jr. but you normally use Chuck Jones or Junior Jones, either of these would be acceptable. Learn more about your name and Google Profiles.

Along with making this choice these are the other equivalently bad community standards violations that can lead to Google+ account suspension:

  • Nudity and sexually explicit material.
  • Hate Speech
  • Impersonation
  • Private and Confidential Information (posting credit cards or SSN’s)
  • Copyright violations
  • Illegal Activities
  • Spam, Malware and Phishing
  • Profile Picture Your profile picture should not include mature or offensive content.

So here are the rules:

Google services support three different types of usenew window when it comes to your identity: unidentified, pseudonymous, identified. Google Profiles is a product that works best in the identified state. This way you can be certain you’re connecting with the right person, and others will have confidence knowing that there is someone real behind the profile they’re checking out. For this reason, Google Profiles requires you to use the name that you commonly go by in daily life.

So, I AM “identified” with this profile. Here is a photo business card. I believe all of the above identified guys who have those easy to “say/spell” names work on Google+ or on identity at Google.  They all have my business card and got it many years ago.

There are several issues that I have with this statement that go beyond the point being made in this post.  Believe it or not, not all people use the “same identified” name in all aspects of their lives.  Women professionals who are married quite often keep their maiden name in their professional work and in social situations go by their married names.  They actually manage their contexts by having different names.   Say they are the local pediatrician and they don’t wan all their patients to know about their practice of some perfectly harmless, but not locally socially acceptable, religious belief system, but they would like the privilege of expressing, sharing links and information about that religion with other members of their religious community and not having it affect their medial practice.

People with personas – particularly long standing ones, over significant portions of a life time, are someone real. They just don’t link all of their life contexts together. Whether it is participating in the Society for Creative Anachronism, being a hard core board gamer, playing WOW or other video games, being in a sexual minority community,  the list can go on and on……see the Geek Feminism list of who is harmed by real names for a relatively complete list. These real people should have the freedom to express themselves online in services like Google+. Yes, impersonators (someone pretending to be Lady Gaga or whatever) and trollers, (people just being nasty mean) shouldn’t be tolerated – that comes from social moderation. Vesting of identities (in wikipedia it takes TOR originated accounts 10X as long to get full editing privileges) and reputation for persistant identities (are they good actors in the system should be the question not “is this their legal name?”).

I believe that a persona should be accountable for their behavior. We need new legal innovations that support a Limited Liability Persona – if the persona defrauds someone or is cultivating hate speech or some other egregious law breaking activity then it can be “unmasked”. But it doesn’t mean we create an internet where the only people who are free to talk are those who use their “real names”.

I wrote this post on the need for Accountability Frameworks for the web. The current trajectory from industry, encouraged by government (via NSTIC), is that only “identities that are verified to be linked to real legal names” should be trusted. They are not currently including marginalized groups and those who suffer from hardline real-names-only policies (real people from these groups, transgendered people, black people, old people, women in technology etc) in any of the development of the legal/technical/policy framework development around NSTIC.

But back to my point for now. I am being my professional self to which this name and handle are linked. That is me being me.

I consciously made the choice not  to list either of my last names in my profile headline (they are both listed in my list of “other names” so people who search by them can find me).  Neither particularly feels like me and I am thinking about changing my last name officially some time in the next few years and doing away with both.  I am not keen on having everyone get used to one (because it is on Google+) and then changing it on them shortly.  I know I am not changing my handle any time soon. I might retire it if I choose to leave working in this sector but that isn’t likely for another 5-10 years.  This is what google says I must do:

Use your full first and last name in a single language.
If you use your full name, you’ll help people find you online and connect with the right person. Note that professional titles such as “Dr.” or “Prof.” aren’t allowed in the first or last name fields. If you’re referred to by more than one name, just choose one, and place the others in the “Other names” section of your profile.

I am going to stick with my identity as I choose to express it.

This issue of names and being able to choose how and where you express them is about privilege and power and who is free to speak on the internet. What the terms and conditions are of speech on the internet.  Who gets to decide you are “real” or not?  Is it going to be the state who issued you a piece of paper when you were born? (2/3+ of the world doesn’t have one of those). Is it the internet service you use to get your e-mail? Is it the DMV? Or is it the people you know and know you by a name depending on the real context you are in?  If the data base society we are living in means all uses of one’s “real name” can be linked together, and if all the systems and services we use decide they can only “trust” us if we tell them our “real name” then we will live in a very repressive society.

Our logo at the Internet Identity Workshop is this the “identity dog” – He is an allusion to the New Yorker Cartoon – “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog”

It symbolizes three human rights:

  1. The Freedom to be who you want to be online, i.e., the right to anonymity and pseudonymity.
  2. The Right to curate the information about yourself that can be found online.
  3. The ability to express verified claims about yourself and share detailed information when you want with people and organizations.

There are many authors who have also commented on what the cartoon’s deeper meaning.  I picked up Cybertypes: race, ethnicity, and identity on the Internet a few years ago. It has this to say about what it means:

On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a Dog; it is possible to “computer cross-dress” and represent yourself as a different gender, age, or race. In millennium America, this supposedly radically democratic aspect of the Net is celebrated and frequently and unconditionally. The cartoon celebrates access to the Internet as a social leveler that permits even dogs to freely express themselves in discourse to their masters, who are deceived into thinking that dogs are their peers rather then their property. The element of difference, in this cartoon the difference between species, is comically subverted in this image; in the medium of cyberspace, distinctions and imbalances in power between beings who perform themselves solely through writing seem to have been deferred, if not effaced.

This utopian vision of cyberspace as a promoter of a radically democratic form of discourse should not be underestimated. Yet the image can be read on several levels. The freedom of which the dog chooses to avail itself is the freedom to “pass” as part of a privileged group – human computer users who can access the Internet. This is possible because of the discursive dynamic of the Internet, particularly in chat spaces like LamdabaMOO, where users are known to others by self-authored names they give their “characters” rather than more revealing e-mail addresses that include domain names.

What is privilege you ask?

Privilege is a set of perceived advantages enjoyed by a majority group, who are usually unaware of the privilege they possess.  A privileged person is not necessarily prejudiced (sexist, racist, etc) as an individual, but may be part of a broader pattern of *-ism even though unaware of it.

I believe this is true of the mostly young men making and enforcing this policy at Google. (I am consciously saying this because Google is 80% men and they are mostly young and mostly living in, what one could easily argue, is the most liberal metropolitan region of the world).  They are completely oblivious to the the privilege they have to use their real name in all aspects of their lives and not suffer at all for it.

Geek Feminism goes on to share this:

Many people, when asked to check their privilege, respond with “So? Am I meant to feel guilty? I didn’t choose to be white/male/whatever.” A good article addressing this is “Check my what?” On privilege and what we can do about it.”

I am sticking by my name.  It’s Kaliya – Identity Woman.


Update: After finishing this post it seems that just petitioning google either via their appeals process OR via sites like this might not work.

The image that came to mind to augment the online agitation around this issue is – nyms dancing on their lawns in a “march of persona’s” – I articulated it in more detail here a few days later. Nymwars: IRL on Google’s Lawns I created an (organizing list here), (get updates here) – we shall see what happens.

I think people showing up on Google’s doorsteps around the world and being open to dialogue might be something more tangible then just written word. Real people with real persona’s (along with allies who use their “real names” everywhere) sharing real stories about how they use their persona’s and why. Looking Googlers in they eye who are mostly young and male and privileged and share their stories of age discrimination, gender discrimination, sexuality choices, weird hobbies they have etc. and why they need these freedoms. Hopefully getting some more understanding of how forcing “real names” doesn’t make the interewebs safer but more repressive, less interesting, and less good for their business model – because people choose to share less.

The first version of this without the visuals was “Million” Persona March on Google.


  1. Richard Sims says

    I used to do sales and went by a completely different name with customers just so I knew immediately whether it was a business call or personal. People have been using “Handles” since dear abbey letters, how about Mark Twain?.

    I am seriously disgusted by google who is scaring away customers before they even launch. They are too big and just don’t care.

    Love your post, and I agree with you completely.

  2. says

    “Identity Woman” I recognise immediately, “Kaliya” I’d recognise if the context was right. But your surname…I’m sure it must have been visible in Berlin, though I couldn’t remember until I saw your card here.

  3. says

    You’ve got my support, Kaliya.

    I’m actually glad that Google+ is bringing these issues into the light; a person’s use of his or her name does not equal trust. Trust is a more nuanced concept with flavors of context and reputation. Since trust is inherently a human emotion, all successful models designed to measure trust (of which I am aware) are juried by members of the community whose trust you are trying to gain. That’s why Wikipedia works, and Google’s approach won’t work.

    When I participate in Wikipedia, I am trying to gain the trust of the Wikipedia community, not the Wikipedia corporate entity. Likewise, when I participate in a social network my goal is to gain the trust of others who happen to be using the same platform to interact. I care very little whether the corporate entities Facebook or Google trust me, except to the extent that they let me use their services.

    Google must understand that its users don’t value Google Inc.’s trust; users value the trust of the communities with which they interacting using Google’s platform. To use a crude economic analogy, if trust were currency then Google is trying to issue trust from a central bank. In reality, trust “currency” is much closer to a barter system among community members. Google’s centralized trust currency has little value in the barter system of community reputation and trust.

    Until Google+ can develop an algorithm that accurately predicts how complex communities develop and measure trust, Google Inc. is just going to have to learn to let go and let the communities develop and measure trust on their own terms. Trust currency cannot be issued to decentralized communities from a centralized bank; I don’t care whether Google Inc. trusts me. I care whether you trust me.

    Moving on to the Limited Liability Persona: A core tenant of old English Common Law is that free people (in contrast to slaves) have the right to name or rename themselves, provided that the the naming or renaming is not done for fraudulent or unlawful purposes.

    The idea of a Limited Liability Persona is interesting, but even that idea seems to reject true anonymity in favor of ‘unwindable’ pseudonymity. That is, you would have the right to be pseudonymous as long as you behaved nicely, but your pseudonym could not shield you from liability arising from your actions or words. If you said or did something bad, you would be able to “unwind” the pseudonym to discover the person’s legal identity (notice I didn’t use the term “real name”). I find the idea interesting, and worth exploring a little deeper.

    …thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  4. says

    I’ve used CASUDI as my name for 30+ years. When I joined Quroa they out and out rejected it. Most people on twitter make a point of using (not my usual name of Caroline… which is the CA in CASUDI) ~ Since my original Google profile had CASUDI in parenthesis after my legal name, I was happy to see it was imported into G+.

    I agree with you, that long time used names, especially those used in biz as yours is, should be permitted. I find it frustrating when I know I know the person but dont recognise the name on G+, and have to revert back to twitter :-) or elsewhere.

  5. Dale says

    Personally Im happy that google has decided to make everyone use “real” name. But to be honest they cant really stop you from using Jane Johnstone if you want. So I’d actually be happier if they required a real ratified ID (for anti spam and anti abuse issues) and then allowed your public name to be whatever you want.

  6. Matera the Mad says

    My surname is a relic of my mother’s poor decisions. My handle is who I am on the Internet. Which one best represents the real me? No-brainer.

  7. Olalaaa says

    Why don’t Google just use “verified accounts” as Twitter does ? Are they so stupid ?

  8. Chris says

    If Facebook’s weakness is that it doesn’t understand that we have different kinds of friends with which we share different information — something Google claims to be getting right with circles — then Google should learn that we also have different names for different friends.

    If Google doesn’t get this, the people for whom this matters will not buy into Google — it’s far too new for us to have any investment in it — and they will wonder why yet another project of theirs (Buzz, Wave) didn’t really take off.

    I’ve always daydreamed that Facebook had a new model with ‘personalities’. Let’s say you had to register with your legal name, but this was only available to Facebook. You would then create personalities off of that account. Each one would have its own name, birthdate, freinds, etc., and own privacy settings. You would then assume a personality to interact with that group of friends. For example, you might be John Smith to your boss and professional links, Jonny to your family, DJ Smash to your club friends, and Earthspirit to your Pagan friends.

    Maybe someone will create such a social network site at some point, and maybe it will take off because it actually mirrors how we live rather than how a few, lucky people are able to live.

    This song came out in 1978 and I still find it relevant today.

    X-Ray Specs, “Identity”

    Is the crisis
    Can’t you see
    Identity identity

    When you look in the mirror
    Do you see yourself
    Do you see yourself
    On the t.v. screen
    Do you see yourself
    In the magazine
    When you see yourself
    Does it make you scream

    When you look in the mirror
    Do you smash it quick
    Do you take the glass
    And slash your wrists
    Did you do it for fame
    Did you do it in a fit
    Did you do it before
    You read about it

  9. Cryo says

    I am with you 100%. My account was suspended because I am using a handle -the handle all my friends call me by in real life. My “real name” is verifiably unique, and I don’t want casual acquaintances to know it either. I don’t come from a part of the world where it’s always safe to identify as a gay woman…

  10. Tracey P says

    I didn’t get suspended; I quit (last week of Aug). It bothered me when others who were using their real (if not white enough) names got suspended while porn kings and trolls with bland made-up names circled me and creeped me out. (Blocking on G+ is a joke, btw.)

    And it bothered me that friends I’d made on G+ were nervous of losing services and android functionality quit.

    But what made me really smh was how all suspended/deleted accounts completely lost all content. Anything you publish there is potential *vapor*, unlike most other services. (Hell, I can still find ancient posts from Usenet, troll or not!)

    Well, I always knew G+ was like FB [but worse] re: users being a product; but their fascist (and I don’t use that word lightly) handling of “violators” of a poorly-worded TOS, and their strong stance against pseudonymity, makes the whole of Google something I don’t want to be affiliated with.

    Until someone steps in and breaks the monopoly down, I’m going to avoid everything Google (blocking G+ links, adsense, anything google) except the most necessary apps I’ve freakin paid for (and then, only until I can find an alternative). It’s probably a lost cause (as with most monopolies), but I’d rather give up the internet than take part in Google’s worldview.

  11. Miriam says

    If Kaliya Identity Woman is your real name, why isn’t it the name you’re using on your site and business cards? Your bio, copyright, and cards are using Kaliya Hamlin as your actual name… Identity Woman is presented as a business name. And do you really think Vivek Gundotra has no experience with difficult-to-pronounce names?

    I think Google should allow pseudonyms because I think people should have a right to control how they present themselves. But this whole focus on how Google is so ignorant of privilege is disingenuous and sloppy. All of you tech bloggers writing about the Nymwars must be aware that the overwhelmingly young and male demographic you’re criticizing as ignorant of privilege includes many non-white people–among them immigrants and first-generation Americans. Moreover, Google’s a multinational company.

    These critiques are performing a form of erasure in themselves by asserting that Google employees can’t possibly understand the problems inherent in difficult to pronounce names or minority issues or political dissidence (have you all forgotten about Wael Ghonim already?). I agree that Google came to the wrong conclusion on this issue, but let’s recognize that this isn’t because they all have easy-to-pronounce names and are part of the ethnic majority.

  12. says

    Interesting article – I think it’s an important right of users of the internet to use their own “identity”. I dont think your name necessarily represents that identity. I agree with the points that you are different to different people..for instance…your identity for online gaming is different than the identity you use for your professional online profiles. Is it up to Google to decide how we use the internet?.

  13. says

    Virtually no Hands SEO includes a large variety of Whois web sites to generate one way links from for the website to be found within a matter of time. No extended waiting for Google to notice your own personal brand new web pages.

  14. John says

    I am male and I also dislike this google+ initiative. I understand its purpose but my reason for wanting to protect my identity is I hold views and aspects of my life that I prefer to keep private from employers and people with different religious or political view points from my own who have power over me. This sort of privacy protects me from discrimination from people who are intent on exerting control over those who disagree with them. On the flip side, a member of the Jewish congress told me he prefers people to use their real names because it makes them accountable to their opinion.


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