Saturday, October 04, 2014

Facebook Considering Changes to "No Nicknames" Policy

Today's October Online inspiration: Facebook announces  changes to its "real names only" rule. 

Facebook, everyone's favorite vice, recently enacted a rule presumably meant to decrease online harassment by bullies and trolls, in addition to fraud and other unfortunate side-effects of being able to hide behind one's keyboard. They announced a new policy: "Real Names Only." 

Then was released the Wrath of the Drag Queens.

Female impersonators, many of whom use Facebook to network and market themselves, were outraged. It's a very specific art form that leans heavily on suspension of disbelief: you never refer to a queen in drag by their given name, nor do you use masculine pronouns and descriptors. They aren't acting, they're transforming. 

An important part of that transformation is the use of a good drag name: a comedic name, a name inspired by a particular cultural icon, or a name that is as Hollywood Golden Age level glamorous as the person using it. Regardless of approach, a good name is absolutely essential. It's all about the transformation: a vital party of their job when turning from Andy Johanssen into Czarina Marigold Noir.**

Your name is your brand. And using your given name on your Facebook page is to invite confusion at best, obscurity at worst.

As Emma Llanso points out in her fantastic article on the subject*: for many people, their legal name has no bearing on how a person identifies themselves or how a person is identified by others. And how is the name by which everyone recognizes you, how you are seen in the world, less of a "real name" than the one on your birth certificate?"

It was a bad policy, and adding their voices to the dissent were performers and artists of all stripes: actors, musicians, visual artists, writers known only by their nom de plume. All were upset at the prospect. 

This policy also made waves in the Native American online community. We often have two names: our legal name and our traditional name (I am one of those who have both.) Between friends, your "legal name" is rarely what you are known as. And even among those who don't have the two names approach, nicknames are extremely common in our culture. I think I was in my early teens before I realized that my grandfather's legal name wasn't Briar.

To make my situation even imore confusing, l have a legal name, a Native name AND a nickname. I am not at all alone on that score. I am known as Angel for the most part, but it's a nickname my grandmother gave me as a young child, and not my legal name...even though it might as well be! I haven't been anyone other than Angel since 1990. 

Which begs the an Angel an Angel by any name? 

Let's start at the obvious question: why am I primarily known as Angel when it's not my"given name" nor is it my "Native name"? How did I end up with this moniker, anyway?

Well, Angel is a relatively common nickname for 

Angela (and far more to my liking than Angie, which is so 70's it's likely to have been cooked in a space-age kitchen via the goldenrod fridge and avacado green oven). But more importantly, it honors my late grandmother and reflects an important aspect of my birth and even my existence in general. 

Prior to my arrival forty years ago, my mother suffered several miscarriages and then the tragic stillborn death of my older sister, Felicia. This was an event that my parents never truly ever got over (if indeed such a thing is even possible.) 

Despite how acrimonious their divorce and post-divorce relationship generally was, the routine that my parents established after the death of their firstborn remained exactly the same, year after year. On the day in question, my parents would take the day off work, wake up in their separate homes, dress in appropriately somber clothing, and meet at the cemetery to place flowers on the grave. They then had a late breakfast together at a local doughnut shop they both enjoyed. On the rare occasions they'd have to meet up later in the day for whatever reason, they'd go to the pizza place they loved most (Marion's, in Dayton.) They would then return to their separate homes, and spend the rest of the day in seclusion in their rooms. I learned at a very young age to simply leave them alone, let them grieve, and respect their need for privacy.

So when I was born two years after their first daughter's death, my grandmother dubbed me Angel. The child who survived. It's like a 70's Irish immigrant version of Harry Potter. 

Granny gave all five of her grandkids special nicknames, but only mine stuck. I made the choice to adopt it as my permanent moniker at her funeral in 1990. I was 15 and had spent most of the previous four years living with and caring for my ailing grandmother. I remember feeling very sad at her funeral; I was struck by the thought that no one would use my Granny's special nickname for me ever again. I then decided that in her honor, I would now be Angel to everyone. 

As it turned out, I was Angel to everyone except my parents. My father truly despised the name and went to great lengths in his attempts to dissuade me from using it. He would tell callers looking for me that "no one named Angel lives here," to the confusion of friends who only knew me by that name. My dad even refused  to utter the name, preferring to call me Ang (rhymes with flange.) My mother also disliked the name; she preferred Angie, in part due to a Rolling Stones song she enjoyed (which is weird, as it doesn't have very kid-friendly lyrics.) 

I didn't change my name when Facebook enacted its short-lived ban on nicknames, and I was never contacted by Facebook concerning my missing last letter. My daughter, who is known to everyone as Wren, had to change her account to reflect the name her father and I bestowed upon her at birth or leave Facebook. Like most teens, this was unthinkable. So her account now proclaims her to the online world as Serenity. 

There's a story behind her name, as well. I had a very difficult pregnancy with Wren. I suffered from regular kidney stones throughout the pregnancy, and in the third trimester I developed a bad case of round ligament syndrome. To matters worse, I had begun to struggle with a series of strange and frightening symptoms that I was convinced would exit stage right when my second child exited my body. I was not correct in my assumption, as history and the Medic Alert necklace I wear bares out.

found myself saying the Serenity Prayer often as a means of spiritual comfort. After awhile, the Male Unit and I just began to associate our child-to-be with the prayer itself. It was soon impossible to think of her as anything but Serenity.

That didn't last, as neither our firstborn nor my nieces could pronounce the word. She began to be called "Ren." The name stuck. When she was a toddler and undergoing physical therapy, the mother of another patient made an observation: "Phoenix and Wren! Two little birds. That's adorable!"

And thus, she gained a letter via a nickname, just as I had lost one years before. 

I'm glad Facebook is changing its policy. I would be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't know me as Angel. In addition, I would not like being required to add that -a at the end to transform it from the nickname of affection from my grandmother into the legal name my parents chose as a compromise (can you imagine me as a Virginia or a Cassandra?!? )

Thanks, Facebook, for allowing me to continue to self-identify as the name I prefer to use. Allow your users to identify themselves the way they choose to do, not what would be easiest for you (barring any legitimate TOS issues.) And please don't make any bonehead rules like this again in the near future. At the very least, try not to enact a policy without first running it by the people it would affect. 


**I made this one up. Any resemblance to a person, whether real or fictional, is purely coincidental. If you wish to use the name, have at it. Just send me a signed photo and, in my best Carl Hungus voice, "ve vill calls it even." 

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