Of pseudonyms and intellectual honesty

Is it intellectually dishonest to use a pseudonym when posting on the internet? The owner of this forum has suggested that it is, at least in one particular instance. Is it just the use of a pen-name in an internet forum that is somehow intellectually dishonest, or are such names equally tainted when used elsewhere?

The nom de plume has a long and venerable history in writing. While the name of William Shakespeare had a real person attached to it, a number of persons have been accused – perhaps “credited” is a better term – of having written the most renowned body of theatrical work in the English language and publishing them as his creations. While the question of who other than Shakespeare might have written them may never be answered satisfactorily, does anyone question the intellectual honesty of either Shakespeare or of an author or authors unknown?

Is the credibility of American political movers and shakers challenged, or is our Constitution suspect because Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay all shared the pen-name Publius when they wrote the Federalist Papers?

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, an English mathematician and university lecture published what is perhaps the most famous of children’s stories – Alice in Wonderland – under the anagram Lewis Carroll. Has either his reputation or that of Oxford’s Christ College suffered for his choice?

William Gossett, a mathematician working for the Guinness brewery in Dublin, was forbidden from publishing under his own name lest he embarrass the company or betray trade secrets. Writing under the name Student, he published an article that is one of the seminal works on the statistics of small data-sets. Has either the quality of Guinness beers or the validity of Student’s t-distribution been impugned in any way?

English writer H. H. Munro’s polished tales are far better known as those of Saki. How are Samuel Clemens’s Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn devalued because Mark Twain is listed as the author? How does O. Henry degrade William Sidney Porter? Are Stephen King’s masterful novels of horror any less blood-chilling because he also wrote some of them under two other pen -names? How about Robert Heinlein, sometime United States Navy officer medically profiled and discharged, “the dean of American science-fiction writers”, who wrote his stories under his own and five (5) other names?

George Kennan, US ambassador to the Soviet Union and the person most singularly responsible for analyzing the vulnerabilities of militant Stalinism and outlining a method of containing it, published the substance of his famous “Long Telegram” under the name X in Foreign Affairs. Would the Cold War have fared better or worse had Kennan’s name appeared?

Pace, I’m not suggesting that what I or others write here should be considered like the authors mentioned. I wish only to point out that a pen-name does not make a person somehow intellectually dishonest ab initio.

Why then should a pseudonym be the mark of Cain on the internet? True, there are a lot of reevers on the loose in the internet world – rude, crude, obscene toilet-wall poets who slash and burn their way through forums and on their own sites, hiding their anger and their mediocrity behind posting names that are themselves marks of vulgarity. But these are easily spotted and as easily ignored or barred should they become overly predatory.

Why then even use a pseudonym? I think that most people do it for privacy, a bit of clearance in an electronic world where everything we post may be harvested by companies for commercial reasons or by unscrupulous individuals for illegal use. I do that now, but there was a time when I was a ‘net novice and naive enough to use enough of my real name in a form that allowed an unprincipled individual to gain considerable personal information.

When I came to CHB, I started to use a part of my real name; however, the registration system refused for some unknown reason to accept it. After several tries, I selected a pseudonym, a name based on a character that once appeared on a Rocky and Bullwinkle program.

I use the pseudonym T. J. Flapsaddle as a matter of privacy, not as a means of concealment. My writing is what is intellectually honest or dishonest about me, not my “handle”. I think everyone here is capable of seeing past the affectation of a name and deciding what worth I have based solely on what I write, not how I sign it.

And to “Pollchecker”, “Issodhos”, “CheckerboardStrangler”, et al., please understand that I accord you the same consideration that I would like to receive.

Most sincerely,

T. J. Flapsaddle