The Nymwars and what they mean: summary of my posts to date.

Update: Google relented a bit, however I am still waiting to see if my name of choice was approved. You can read about the process I had to go through here. The New Google Names Process


For those of you coming from the Mercury News story on the NymWars exploding

I STILL have my Google+ profile suspended for using a  [  .  ] as my last name.  Prior to that I had “Identity Woman” as my last name and prior to that… before I ever got a G+ profile and since I started using Gmail and Google Profiles I had a   [  *   ]as my last name. [see the complete list of posts about this whole saga below]

It is my right to choose my own name online and how I express it.  Names and identities are socially constructed AND contextual… and without the freedom to choose our own names, and the freedom to have different names (and identifiers) across different contexts we will end up with a social reality that I don’t want to live in: Participatory Totalitarianism.

The last names that I have had during my life are Young, and currently Hamlin (my soon-to-be ex-husband’s last name). I plan to have a last name of my own, different from either of those, within the next few years.  I do not choose to “promote” this last name as the HEADLINE of my profile in Google – that is a representation of my professional self online.  Yes, people walk up to me IRL (In Real Life) and say “Yeah! You’re Identity Woman, aren’t you” – yep :).  It is, believe it or not, a “common” name for me as the G+ “requirements” call for. Just like it is common for BotGirl Questi to be called that when she is in that persona online. Botgirl has the best collection of articles on the web about #nymwars  and amazing art protesting what happened to her and all of us who have been suspended – comic book covers, songs re-written with new lyrics, impassioned monologs.

In the digital world “identifiers” are totally linkable across contexts – that is, different communities and contexts that would never meet In Real Life cross online with common identifiers. So if you don’t have the freedom to choose which identifiers (name, e-mail address, phone number, physical address,) you don’t have the freedom to keep identifiers in different contexts separate, and if you can’t keep them separate, that means they are linkable.  Without that freedom, you can’t explore or be a part of niche communities of interest that are not mainstream or not appropriate for some other context you also belong to. Here are some examples:

  • the gambler at church,
  • the “crazy” ferret lady at work
  • the gardening gun lover
  • being part of a minority sexual community
  • proactive environmental activist working at a logging company
  • being a Buddhist in a part of the country where everyone goes to church on Sunday and doesn’t talk about religion because they would be ostracized  OR the other way around being a very devout christian in a part of the country where when they do inter-religious services they include everyone except christianity…and you just would rather your faith not be “public”
  • going out in the woods every few weekends dressed up like knights and ladies, while being in the Army Reserve on other ones.

This freedom to have multiple personas for multiple contexts, just like the right to vote for our government in a secret ballot box, is essential for a free society. If we do not fight for and maintain these rights, we will end up with Participatory Totalitarianism.

Google+ and my “real” name: Yes, I’m Identity Woman  My first post on Google+ surprise to find my profile suspended…. I think this will all be over very soon.

Nymwars: IRL on Google Lawns. My idea to “occupy” the lawn of Google with a colourful range of folks who want the right to choose their names.  I wrote this after I figured out a week into this that it wasn’t going to end, and they hadn’t just made a mistake.

danah boyd writes a very good post on How to design for social norms (and avoid angry mobs) all about the nymwars and what is/was going on. 

August 8th Google Suspension Update – they now think I should wait for business accounts.

August 27th Let’s try going with the Mononym for Google+

August 28th  Google+ says your name is “Toby” NOT “Kunta Kinte”

This post was written after watching Tim O’Reilly talk to Bradley Horowitz the manager for social at Google. In it, Tim calls users asking for the right to choose their own name self-righteous and strident.  I make a link to a classic American story, Roots, where Kunta Kinte, a man stolen from his village in Africa, taken to the United States, and sold into slavery refuses to take the name his slaveowner gives him, Toby – he is whipped until he accepts this name.
I asked Tim and Brad if Kunta Kinte was self righteous for standing up for his own name… Tim said no, but that is a self-righteous question to ask…. well, that was on Twitter and a very interesting conversation followed with several tweeters, that resulted in Tim framing what was happening as a lynch mob against Google…. you can see that in this post.

August 29th –  Is Google+ is being lynched by out-spoken users upset by real names policy?

Please also check out this post about “Tone and Silencing” to understand what the underlying dynamics are in this conversation and speaking up to the powers that be.

“Bonus suppression” Google runs YouTube and they took the clip of the movie scene down for “inappropriate nudity or sexual” – it has neither, it just made a dramatic point and made them look bad. In the clip Kunta Kinte is facing the camera with part of his chest showing being whipped from behind by a white man who is working for the slaveowner until he breaks. After repeating his name is Kunta Kinte when asked what his name is, he finally says… it is Toby. 

August 30sh – One Month of the Gag by Google.

September 5th – Mononym officially not accepted. I am Kaliya – Google, Get a clue.

Posted Sept 9th.

Potential Future: Google-Zon

With the nymwars unfolding (Nym = Pseudonym , Anonymous and other varities on this theme) this video of the Google-Zon story in the year 2014 seems more prescient then ever.EPIC in this video stands for the Electronic Personalized Information ConstructPlease watch the video on the original site; the way it was done is amazing. The computer writes a new story for every user (sound like the Filter Bubble?) everyone contributes and in exchange gets a cut of the revenue…

Relevant background

Who is Harmed by Real Names Policies developed by the Geek Feminism Community… prophetically I included in the response I gave to the Notice of Inquiry about governance of the Identity Ecosystem as outlined in the National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace that I wrote, before I myself was affected.


  1. says

    yay, very well said and i stand with you (or as an example) of being a pseudonym and being able to create a valid identity around it (valid as in value to the community, not as a data point for credit card companies or male enhancement offers!)

    the body of work i have online as Ener Hax far eclipses what i have as my “real” name

  2. says

    Kaliya, you raise some important issues.

    In general, I think the solution lies in unbundling users’ public facing information and their acceptance of the terms of use of the site. In that way, a site can decide whether or not public facing “real identities” are are a requirement.

    There are varying degrees of trust required to make different sites and social networks successful. I don’t think it’s fair to say that Google has done something wrong by wanting to create a social network where the use of real names is a requirement just like I don’t think it is fair to say that Twitter has done something wrong by NOT requiring real names. I see it as a feature that differentiates the two.

    The common problem that they both have is the agreement between themselves and their users. If a user does harm to the site owner or other users through the site, how do we (as a caring society) deal with that situation if the person or corporation who agreed to the terms of use is anonymous?

    In the examples you gave of people who are risk of persecution if they have to share their real identities should have the option of participating in social networks where the users are free to use pseudonyms in their interactions with each other while still having the trust that the site owner can identify each of the users. In that scenario, bullies, stalkers, serial killers, and would-be persecutors can be made accountable.

    Full disclosure, I am a majority owner of, a start-up that is working to provide tools for sharing and signing of contracts (including things like Terms of Use for web sites). Identity is threaded through everything we do.


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