What’s in a name?

It’s a matter of identity, isn’t it? My name links people to my digital and real identity. It’s how people can find me. When they call, it’s why I answer. They are using my name!

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 4.21.25 PMSo what’s in a name? This became part of a discussion last week when Marci Duncan explored digital identity in my media and digital literacy class. The challenge was to google ourselves and see what came up. In order to have a strong digital identity, your name has to have a strong digital voice! It has to shout out to those who are looking. Your name connects others to you. Consistently creating under the same name helps others find what you are saying.Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 4.21.43 PM

But what if your name connects to people that aren’t you …. and those identities are NOT ones you want others who are searching for you to find?

The challenge is connecting who you are to your name. Sometimes your first venture into the digital world is one where you use a pseudonym or catchy moniker. In my network I’ve wondered how @cogdog or @nomadwarmachine became the digital persona of the real people these names represent. Once the connection is made, it’s not hard to keep them straight. Until you know how the name connects to the individual, it’s harder to keep them straight. At the starting point of building a digital presence, as many of my students are doing, their names are a choice of how they wish to be recognized. Creating a digital identity with a new name is not easy. This is especially true in a digital world that doesn’t forget (Couros & Hildebrandt, 2015).

So what name do you use? How do you establish your name in digital spaces.

Hello. My name is …. HJ.DeWaard.

With this simple statement my digital presence can take on new potentials. It makes a difference when we begin to establish our digital identity. After doing a search for your name, you may decide to establish a variation of your name. You may stick to the name you were given. Even if your given name is unique, it may not be an easy choice. The HJ stands for Helen Jacqueline by the way. This came about because there was already another Helen DeWaard active in social media spaces.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 4.22.05 PMCulture and context will determine how you begin. Our ‘real’ names evolve from our backgrounds (family, geography, nationality). Our persona and presence in digital spaces emerges from our name. When developing an identity, our name is one way of being recognized. It is partnered and supported by our digital image. Despite the fact that the digital world may not forget, our digital names and images can be renovated and changed to suit our potential. Our names should not limit our existence in digital space or put up barriers for others to find us. In digital spaces, we can even teach others how to say our name (as Maha Bali did) so others can get to know us better.

This reminds me of a post by Sue Dunlop (@Dunlop_Sue) who shared the importance of accuracy in using a person’s name and honouring the names we are given. She was reflecting on Rusul Alrubail’s blog post Growing up with my name. Getting a name right is important, not just in the real world where we use our voices to connect and build relationships. Calling me by name and knowing that @hj_dewaard refers to me are ways to ensure that we can connect and build a relationship.

Screen Shot 2016-02-10 at 11.34.13 AMWhy is it so challenging to publicly declare our names in digital spaces? What are decisional factors when selecting or creating accounts in digital spaces? Do you keep it REAL or do you use an interesting moniker?

What is your public name? How did you decide how to name yourself for the digital world? How has your persona and presence changed as your name became known?


Couros, A. & Hildebrandt, K. (2015, October 15). (Digital) Identity in a world that no longer forgets. [blog post]. Retrieved from http://katiahildebrandt.ca/digital-identity-in-a-world-that-no-longer-forgets/

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9 Responses to What’s in a name?

  1. Pingback: The True You: Iterations of a ‘bio’ | Five Flames 4 Learning

  2. Marissa Pinto says:

    Hello Professor DeWard:

    I have always thought about what others think of me. Lots of my friends and family say, “why do you care what others think of you?”….well my answer is simple – I am my own business. The way I project myself is extremely important in my relationships with my professors, friends, co-workers, FUTURE co-workers and significant others. I think of myself as branding my image in a healthy way and ensuring that I am coming across in a positive manner.

    I always pictured myself applying for a job and a potential employer looking my name up in Google. I decided to look myself up and see what others could see. Luckily, very minimal images and information about myself come up, and the information available is positive and professional. Other images and information that include the same name as me, includes a famous singer located in Spain. So I am in the clear either way. In this instance of employer searching, I don’t want to link myself on the internet. I prefer for future employers to not even have a clue I exist in the digital world, but in our day and age, you ca find anyone! (or can you really – how do you know you are looking at the RIGHT Marissa Pinto?). In a positive light, I want my friend to be able to look my up and see pictures of me enjoying things that are special to me. This is more of a personable approach because my friends of family members searching me can relate to what they see about me on the internet to my personality. For example, I post a lot of pictures and video advocating animal rescue and to fight against animal cruelty – my friends know I am an animal lover and can appreciate the posts I create based on their personal knowledge of me.

    I liked the connections you made about our digital self in relation to our real self. I never use my last name on social media or apps because I don’t want to be easily accessible to the public. I want my real identity to remain in person, although I do feel I portray myself in the digital world as my real self as well. You just never know who is looking you up and what assumptions they make of you, so I think it is really important to always ensure you are professional and positive while expressing your digital self.

    Marissa Pinto

  3. Hello Helen,

    I really enjoyed reading through your blog post— I specially enjoyed what you said about our names being such a huge part of our identity! As you said, our names most definitely contribute to our identity both digitally (and not). I think it is very important to establish a connection to your identity in both cases.

    I noticed you used the abbreviation “HJ” for Helen Jacqueline in your online name— this is because there was another active “Helen DeWaard”. I can absolutely relate to this as there are many “Olivia Hall’s” on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even email. Because of this, I use my middle name (Katalin) a lot for my usernames. My middle name may seem a little odd and uncommon as it is Hungarian. Interestingly, “Katalin” relates to “Kathy” which is my mothers name in Hungarian. I believe this is important to explain to people because they are able to make a personal connection to me both in the real and digital world.

    How do you think people choose their names/usernames in the online world? Do you feel as if a lot of individuals use their middle name? Nicknames? Do you think we all try to be unique in this sense? I look forward to hearing from you!


    Olivia H.

  4. Jocelyn French says:

    Hello Helen,

    This is an interesting topic and a very real in today’s society. It is something that everyone should be thinking about.
    When I first got social media, every site I was on was my first and last name because I could not think of something creative. Then a few years later I changed all my social media to not be my first and last name, so that it was creative and fun, something that was relating to me in a way and so it was harder for people I met randomly to find my social media.
    As an inspiring teacher, a big topic in teaching is your digital footprint. There are a lot of stories about teachers posting something to their personal page and then being fired because of it. It is scary to think that something I post could be the cause of me losing a job. Since my digital name and real name are different I want it to be harder for people to look up my social media, so I can make my social media as private as possible to not cause anyone to be discouraged of my ability as a teacher.
    When I look up my name, nothing about me comes up. Everything is about many different people with the same name. My Facebook page is even at the bottom of the list. This makes me wonder if I should leave it the way things are when someone looks up my name so that no one can find my social media when I become a teacher, or should I make it so when people look my name up they can find my digital footprint?

    Jocelyn French

    • HJ.DeWaard says:

      Hi Jocelyn. I went through similar concerns when first dipping into social media and digital spaces. I used a pseudonym and an avatar so I was hidden from clear view. At one point I made the decision to come out from behind those ‘masks’ and be visible in all spaces. I had to think and reflect on the name and persona I wanted to present to those in digital spaces so I could be found easily and I could be recognized for what I was passionate about. I wrote a bit about it in Awaken the Dragon (https://fiveflames4learning.com/2015/01/16/awaken-the-dragon/).

      You’ll need to make a critical decision for yourself but the benefit in having one persona in all your digital tools, apps and spaces is that you will then flood the search engines so when people look for you, they find LOTS of stuff you are doing, saying, reading and writing. It’s a daunting process, but consistency, professionalism and passion will come through. People will see the ‘true you’. Good luck with crafting you digital identity. Look forward to ‘seeing you’ for real.

  5. As an aspiring teacher, I have spent some time trying to ensure my digital persona is professional and the question of what name I go by is one that I have spent some time trying to answer. I grew up assuming that teachers should always be called by their last name, that using first names was unprofessional. Since being at university, I have now been able to see the benefit of going by your first name with your students. However, I still believe that age plays a huge part in the ability to do this.
    I worked in an elementary school as a tutor for EQAO and had one of the teachers refer to me by my first name around her students, which resulted in them having very little respect for me when I was trying to teach them math lessons. They were grade three students, and to them, they assumed that since they knew my first name, I was more their friend than any sort of authority figure in the school.
    In this instance, I saw the problems of using my first name around younger students, but I also feel as though first names can make students connect to a teacher more and feel more comfortable and trusting around them. So should I use my first name in digital spaces, or strictly go by my “teacher name”? Also, is there a benefit in using titles, such as Mrs., in digital spaces? I’m curious to see what advice you have regarding this issue?

    – Megan Koetzle

    • HJ.DeWaard says:

      I know that many folks use variations on their given names in different combinations but don’t usually use Mrs, Ms or Miss since this can be transitory these days. Some don’t even use their given names, but become well known and recognized by their pseudonym. I have many digital connections I know by their Twitter handles before recognizing their given names. I think it’s really a personal and/or professional choice. Helen

  6. K. Manson says:

    Hello Helen,

    When reading this post, some of my thoughts were very similar to Jocelyn French who commented above. Growing up, I was always taught not to use my real name on social media in order to protect my identity. However, it seems that in recent years, there has been a real push to be found online. For example, after I got my first job at age 17, I was told by numerous people including a customer that I needed to start a LinkdIn account as soon as possible in order to establish connections and begin networking online. The ability to be found online with merely a name is something that can be used both positively and negatively. An experience I’ve had of people finding me on the internet is when my boyfriend’s new landlord admitted to looking at my Facebook profile. Seeing as I hadn’t met her yet and she only had my name, it made me slightly uncomfortable to know that she could see so much about me. I would probably say that from this experience I have realized the importance of privacy settings on social media, as some of them are associated with my full name. I continue to strive to keep my online presence professional and not too personal so I can benefit from my name being associated with my online identity while still maintaining my own security. As a future educator, I am very aware of the fact that students could look up my name online and I will be sure that my identity is one that I am comfortable with them seeing.

    K. Manson

    • HJ.DeWaard says:

      Thanks for this response. I too am very aware of what I post online and tend to err on the side of caution. You have certainly identified several concerns as students make the transition to a professional persona. Hope this post helped shape some of the decisions you’ll make in the coming years. Helen

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