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).