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« LOAF: Social email filtering | Main | ICQ Universe »

March 20, 2004

How the Web changed my name

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Posted by David Weinberger

All my life, I've been "David," except to my older sister who calls me "Dave" or even "Davey."

If you call me "Dave," I won't correct you, although if you ask me my preference, I'll say "David" without hesitation. If you ask me why, I won't be able to give you a meaningful answer other than that my family called me "David."

Now, at age 53, I find I'm becoming a Dave. About half the time.

The explanation is, I think, simple. These days, most of the people I meet aren't introduced to me by someone who — one or two or six degrees ago — I introduced myself to as "David." Because we meet via the Net, these new friends and acquaintances have to take a guess, and "Dave" sounds less formal than "David." So, "Dave" it is. And since I don't correct them (see paragraph 2), "Dave" has begun reinforcing itself.

I'm guessing that this doesn't happen as much in the world of print publication. If I were to write to John Updike, I wouldn't start the message off, "Hey, Johnny!," even if I were sending email. Likewise, I doubt readers wrote to Ernie Hemmingway, Jackie Steinbeck, or Aggie Christie.

But, much Web writing feels so immediate, so personal, that even though the architecture of the relationship is one-to-many, and thus is formally like the broadcast architecture, it's more like the one-to-many at a party where a group of us are telling stories, giving each other the floor.

Furthermore, for much of Web writing, especially blogs, the distance between the author and the work is erased. We are who we write. In responding to my Web writing, you're responding not to the work but to me. I suspect that some people call me "Dave" precisely to announce that they're talking to me, not to an author of something. "Dave" drives a wedge between the by-line and the person.

(By the way, I still prefer "David.")

Comments (9) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software


1. JayT on March 20, 2004 11:32 PM writes...

Hey, Dave!! (snort) We meet yet again you ole scoundrel!

"But, much Web writing feels so immediate, so personal, that even though the architecture of the relationship is one-to-many, and thus is formally like the broadcast architecture, it’s more like the one-to-many at a party where a group of us are telling stories, giving each other the floor."

I've likened it to a 17th or 18th century masquerade ball. Because a whole lot of folks build a brand image that doesn't Even include a name. Besides a lot of anonymity, even the personal one's focus on but a few brief moments in a day, generally. How well you encapsulate your whole day, let alone life, in a few brief stories... ?

'At's a tough one, David...

"Furthermore, for much of Web writing, especially blogs, the distance between the author and the work is erased."

Interesting, as I would say this distance between creator and work is thinned a whole lot easier face-to-face in person, or over phone. With writing, that's different. But I also think most would find the daily-contact-like nature of any kind of diary/logging, especially of semi-personal kind, to allow the distance to be more variable and easier to control. A person can put on a veil so much easier in writing, than in person, just as easily as they can try to be, and then be more "transparent", if you will.

I, personally, often find it easier to (over-)spill my guts out in writing. Different style, is all.

"We are who we write."

Ah, several many's of people have claimed so, but you are still so much more than you write, afaik.

Besides above, also goes back to that private side that's hidden, and if found only changes on ya... Daggone Heisenberg "screwed the pooch". And then to capture it long enough to put it in writing and/or any art..

I dunno... ?

I think this writer calls folks a lotta stuff, depending on setting. Probably too much...;-D Was gonna call Danah Boyd a "young wench...;-)" at one point, but thought better of it. Btw, never cared for "Jim" for same reason, and one reason I prefer my middle-name "Jay".


Permalink to Comment

2. andy on March 21, 2004 4:12 AM writes...

I thought you were going to tell us how you came to be called Joho.

Permalink to Comment

3. zephoria on March 21, 2004 5:27 AM writes...

And danah boyd prefers to have her name properly lowercased, regardless of whether or not she's seen as a young wench.

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4. Michael O'Connor Clarke on March 21, 2004 9:01 AM writes...

Shared experience here, David.

More often than not, email will arrive from FOAF connections with "Hi Mike" or some other variant in the opening line.

Not one of my offine friends calls me anything other than Michael. I don't think this is because I've declared a preference to each of these friends (although, if asked, I'll confess to favouring the long form). No - I think it's more the case that anyone who knows me, intuits that I'm much more Michael than Mike.

Perhaps the worst example I've encountered of late was the grating cheekiness of one recent correspondent who opened his message with a chipper "Hey Mick!" -- leaving me to wonder what kind of an asshat would first approach an Irishman he doesn't know by immediately insulting him in the first line?

The effect is roughly equivalent to someone opening a message to you with "Oy Hebe!" -- except that in my case the writer presumably felt he was being friendly and simply using a common contraction of my full name.

And this from a stranger who then proceeded to ask a favour of me...

Perhaps I'm growing curmudgeonly and over-sensitive, but a person's name is a thing of considerable power. The casual, winking use of one's first name assumes a depth of relationship where often none exists.

At the same time, the clipping of one's first name very often acts as an inadvertent filter - address me with a cheery "Mike" or (heaven forbid) "Mick" and I'll know immediately that you don't know me - for all your "friendsterliness".

Following the trend in email, can such "friendly" saluations in snail mail be far behind? As recently as five years ago, I would never have dreamed of opening an unsolicited email or a letter to a stranger with their first name. Now, I do so routinely, with barely a second thought.

How long before the credit card and life insurance sales letters start arriving with a nudging "Hey Mick!" in the opening line?

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5. JayT on March 21, 2004 9:21 AM writes...


Just curious as to why, danah? I did that for a long while, to keep m'self in perspective, but was criticized. Then quit using caps altogether but was criticized because some "found it hard ta-read". (And is danah your LEGAL name?...;-)

No matter, as just givin ya a hard way ta-go...;-D Glad the part about "young wench" was less controversial than the caps, as ya never know 'bout these things... Depends.

But sorry I went and named you according to my convenience, as opposed to how you want to be named... (I did say "it's 'funny'"...) Went and semi-unintentionally did what "Dave" here (sorry, David.. snort...;-) was complaining about. Dunno why I did that.

But, as I implied over at JOHO or Ben Hammersley's or some place, naming an "object" (and/or person) properly still isn't close to understanding "it" (and/or the person) completely, right?

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6. Sammi Tolonen on March 21, 2004 10:33 AM writes...

"Properly lower cased": get over yourself.

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7. Mike O'Dell on March 22, 2004 7:40 AM writes...

Yo, David!

And then there is the problem of names whose orthography produces execution errors in many, many web sites. in fact,
my last name, complete with the apostrophe, is a divining rod for MS web server software. So on many sites, i'm stuck
with being Mike ODell, without the apostrophe. it happens
frequently enough that i'm wondering whether i should just
nuke it and save my son a lot of trouble. of course if i did
that, it would be Odell since the capital D is hard enough WITH the apostrophe and otherwise random capitalization (or not) just breeds further problems.

then there's the amusement over people who try to pronounce
my login name as a word instead of two letters. and when others hear them do that, the unknowning start trying to
send mail to MOE. Now I'm a huge Three Stooges fan, but
Moe Howard was an original.

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8. Zack Lynch on March 23, 2004 2:04 PM writes...

Very classic post David. Very Classic.

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9. Katerina on May 4, 2004 7:34 AM writes...

l wanna change my name in my e-mail as Tina Baby.. Not ..Katerina...l dont know how to do it.

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