What is in a name?

February 15, 2010 § 11 Comments

I’ve decided to change my online handle. The handle “Zippy”[*] was chosen on a lark one day many years ago in the comboxes of Mark Shea’s blog, with the intention of using it and throwing it away; but I became kind of stuck with it. It was possibly a vague reference to the Bill Griffith clown or the British sock puppet of the same name, but really to pretend even that much implies more thought than actually went into selecting the name. People started interacting with me as “Zippy” in longer ongoing conversations than I had originally intended, so the name stuck.

Zippy has a number of virtues as a name. Upon encountering a commenter named “Zippy”, one is not immediately struck “here is an authority I must follow”, so it encourages people to do their own thinking. This extends to citation: there is an understandable reluctance to cite a clown named “Zippy” in any serious publication, even on the occasion that I manage to say something smart, which again keeps perspective on the extent to which I am not an authority. I’m just some guy. Really.

Another great thing about “Zippy” is that in a long comment thread, it is really simple to spot my own comments and where others are responding to me by name. “Zippy” is a great visual cue for a skimmer like me. Underneath many of my decisions lies the vice of sloth, and Zippy fits right into that mold.

On the other hand, there are some ways in which the handle Zippy is unfair to people who encounter me for the first time on the Internet. They don’t realize that I’ve been around the Internet since the 1980’s, any number of things about my personal background and history, things which, if they knew them, might alter how – might alter the care with which – they approach interaction with me. Sometimes I inform people of these facts about my background and personal history in the midst of a discussion. It is hard to say what motivates me to do this — there is little doubt that my conscupiscient tendency to show a little mane to a dialectical adversary sometimes plays a role. But also part of it is that I see people stepping into a situation they do not fully understand, and that seems unfair. So the nom-de-plume has its disadvantages too.

But I’m just kidding. About the name change, that is.

[*] (I am not “Zippy Catholic”, by the way. “Zippy Catholic” is the blog, a blog by Zippy who happens to be a Catholic).

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§ 11 Responses to What is in a name?

  • brandon field says:

    But I'm just kidding. About the name change, that is.

    Whew! I was a little worried. After all, I only know you as “Zippy”, and I hate it when friends change names on me. (I think a while back, someone on WWwtW pointed to a comment thread that supposedly had your real name, but that seemed less appropriate than the Zippy handle).

  • brandon field says:

    Oh, and operating under an online handle, and then calling it a “handle” is proof that you were on the Internet since the 80's, because I think they're called “screen names” now. The word “handle” comes back from when screens were a monochrome green. (Well, really it came first from the ham radio folks; were you ever one of those?)

  • zippy says:

    I was never a ham operator. The first thing I ever programmed was probably an HP calculator back in the 70's. I remember desperately wanting a PET computer that I couldn't afford, though we later got a TRS-80. The first time I encountered the Internet was probably (though the details in my memory are fuzzy) using an ADM3A terminal over a 300 baud modem to access a DEC Vax or PDP11 on campus to read Usenet News, when I wasn't using the setup productively to write code or whatever.

    Good times.

  • brandon field says:

    Well, I'm a bit younger than you, but I remember connecting to BBS's on a 300 baud modem in the late 80's/early 90's on my dad's HP 110. Once I left for school, I found the internet using NCSA Mosaic (which was written at my then-college, now alma mater x3).

    And I still use a programmable HP calculator. The new four-line stack is a big improvement on the 41C that I started high school with.

  • zippy says:

    Ah, see, now, when I happened upon Andreesen's little toy I was already a TCP/IP veteran of sorts, and had already been involved in discussions online for some years. And that period itself was my “second Internet incarnation”, which started some time in the early nineties when I went to work for a company that actually had Internet access; I had been several years “off the grid” since college by then.

  • William Luse says:

    – a TRS-80, a PET computer, an ADM3A terminal over a 300 baud modem to access a DEC Vax or PDP11, TCP/IP veteran, NCSA Mosaic –

    This is fun.

  • Robert says:

    And all this time I thought your name was “Catholic” and you just happened to be zippy!

  • Anonymous says:

    When did you make your “comeback”?

    Nice to “see” you again.

    Karl

  • JohnMcG says:

    He lives next door to the Christs.

  • My first modem, or rather the first modem of my parents' computer, was 2400 bps.

    Good to see you return, Zippy.

  • Step2 says:

    I like your online name. It encourages alliterative tributes like this one-

    Zounds! Zippy in a zoot suit is zooming zanily around the zeitgeist zapping a zillion zombie Zen zealots at their zenith.

    šŸ™‚

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