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Of pseudonyms and intellectual honesty

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September 3, 2008

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

14 Responses to Of pseudonyms and intellectual honesty

  1. christinel69

    September 3, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    Flappy,
    You forgot to add George Sands to your list. Either way- Doug seems to have a temperment that rivals McCains- however,this does not undermine his intelligence or experience.
    Being a blogger is simply that, blogging off the cuff. This is not journalism at its finest, the sources are mainly unchecked or the stories are based in political inuendo or nuance and not much else.
    I happen to use my first name, last initial and year of my birth because I am just not that creative.
    So hats off to you Flappsadle, Pollchecker and everyone else with a pseudonym and the creatvity to make it memorable. Please keep blogging here, this helps make Dougs site interesting and open to all ideas.
    But lets not denigrate our fearless leader, Doug. He had the wherewithal to create this site long before the rest of the world caught on and he has the preserverance to keep it running. Thank you Doug!

  2. Flapsaddle

    September 3, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    I could have added Sand and a number of others; however, I didn’t want it to turn into Gone with the Wind or War and Peace.

    I guess its the physical scientist in me, the anally-retentive streak that looks for documentation – especially for some of the more lavish claims. I trust that most posters are doing their best and will either correct or accept criticism on FUBARs.

    I’m not denigrating our host in any way – I simply disagree with his characterization of people using pseudonyms. Actually, I consider his comment a catalyst for this blog, something that I’d been thinking about for months.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  3. pollchecker

    September 3, 2008 at 2:20 pm

    Flapsaddle, I’ve never had a problem with ANYONE using pen names as I do so myself, so I’m not certain what you are referring to.

    If I have been inconsiderate of you, well I apologize, no problem (however, i don’t recall doing so, but it’s possible, I believe)

    In the future iff you feel I have been unfair to you, you can always email me at the address at the bottom of the website for the Iraq Memorial Quilt and I would be happy to review it with you. I have no beef with you just because we occasionally(grin) disagree.

    In fact, I believe disagreeing is the original American Way. I just have no tolerance these days for those who continually divert the subject (whatever it may be) with hatefilled rhetoric. Don’t we have enough of that with this election? Haven’t we had enough of that in past elections?

  4. Flapsaddle

    September 3, 2008 at 2:47 pm

    By no means have you been inconsiderate, Pollchecker. All I meant was that I extend to each and every other poster – whether pseudonymous or not – the courtesy of evaluating them on the basis of the content of their postings and not on their “handle”, just as I would expect to be judged.

    As to the endless deluge of hateful rhetoric, I wish we had someone in charge of the campaigns with the authority that the judge (I cannot remember the French name for it) of a formal duel between aggrieved gentlemen. He had the authority to enforce the terms of the code duello by summarily killing a violator.

    Such a person with that authority would probably produce a more civil discourse – and a much smaller field of participants.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  5. pollchecker

    September 3, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    Such a person with that authority would probably produce a more civil discourse – and a much smaller field of participants.

    Yeah, but it wouldn’t make for good TV and that’s what it’s all about isn’t it? TV? Isn’t that where all the “money in politics” goes? For TV ads?

    Anyways, you have a way to email for future reference if there is ever a need.

  6. Flapsaddle

    September 3, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    Thanks for the e-addy.

    Actually, having an armed duel judge might liven up the viewing. Just as people like to watch auto racing for the secret thrill of possibly seeing a really bloody pile up, they’d tune in just to see if Senator Dribblebutt would get capped for lying about the deficit, or if Congressman Phogbound would take one right between the horns over his crap about Social Security. Better yet, let the national audience vote for the most miserable pile of political excresence appearing that day, and then see the “winner” blown away at the end of the program.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  7. pollchecker

    September 3, 2008 at 5:22 pm

    That’s sounds like a reality show too me. I thought it was suppose to be politics not entertainment. Oh, that’s right, we are talking about TV, aren’t we? (wink).

  8. sherry

    September 4, 2008 at 11:38 am

    T J Flapsaddle, I adore your handle. I use Sherry, but I don’t publish my name and address. Pollchecker may hunt me down and force me to drink koolaid!

  9. griff

    September 4, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    But it’s so refreshing, and goes down smoothly!

    Big fan of your comments, Flapsaddle.

  10. Flapsaddle

    September 4, 2008 at 4:06 pm

    Sherry and Griff, thank you for your kind words.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  11. old_curmudgeon

    September 4, 2008 at 3:31 pm

    I, too, prefer the anonymity (privacy) provided by a pseudonym. I used to use my real name in other sites, years ago until someone with an attitude and way too much time on their hands located my phone number and proceded to abuse it – to the point where I finally filed charges of harassment – and changed my phone number. All over a difference of opinion.

    I also believe that one should judge only by the content of one’s voice. I could use a name such as Bill Larkin, or Sally Crasner – either could be my real name, or not. Does it sound more “real” than Old_Curmudgeon? Sure. If that’s what is going to tip the scale in favor of a reader judging what I put forth contentwise, then good for you…

    Whether I use my real name or a pen name, what I have to say remains the same. It shouldn’t effect the message. It just protects me from wackos.

    But, FWIW, that’s just this old curmudgeon’s opinion.

  12. Sylvester

    September 5, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    I see nothing wrong in using a pseudonym. As for honesty, the work determines that. The work is more important ‘cos’ that what matters. I envy anybody who can afford a pseudonym. They are just hiding what I am trying to show.

  13. ekaton

    September 7, 2008 at 8:51 am

    “ekaton” means “100” in Greek. I don’t even know how to pronounce it, I just like the way it looks. Plus, on IRC where I seldom go these days I’m know as “ekat” (long boring story there). When I was trying to get registered on CHB the system for whatever reason wouldn’t accept “Kent Shaw” but would accept “ekaton”. Kent is my middle name. First name is Doug so I use Kent as a means to avoid confusion when people write, “Doug said … “.

    Really, I don’t even know why I bother to post here. Almost everyone else’s comments are far more eloquent and intelligent than mine.

    — Kent Shaw

  14. almandine

    September 9, 2008 at 10:40 pm

    What’s in a name?