What’s in a name?

Years ago, before the evolution of social media, people changed their names to fit in or to avoid drawing attention to themselves because it was unusual. There are endless stories of how some Jews changed their names to escape persecution during the holocaust and how Italian, Sicilian, Indian, Chinese and families from other nations tweaked theirs when they moved away from their countries of origin. There are many others of children who were mercilessly taunted or excluded because they had a name their peers found strange or could not pronounce.

Years ago, writers, particularly women authors, often found that they could not get their work published if they submitted it under their real names. Quite a few chose men’s names or just used their initials to make their names gender neutral.

Actors seeking to make it in film or on stage and singers or entertainers in general wanting to rise to the top were, in times gone by, persuaded, usually by managers or agents, to change their names to something catchier that audiences might like or could identify with. For instance, it is now fairly common knowledge that the iconic Marilyn Monroe was born Norma-Jean Baker, but it was felt that the name could prevent her advancing in her chosen career. There are others: Vin Diesel was born Mark Sinclair, Caryn Elaine Johnson became Whoopi Goldberg, Michael Caine was born Maurice Joseph Micklewhite and Marion Robert Morrison became John Wayne; those are just a few examples.

Of course, there are cases where name changes are deliberate and self-determined or a matter of life and death. Women escaping domestic violence situations and persons who have to enter a witness protection programme are among the latter. In the case of the former, gifted English musician Reginald Kenneth Dwight changed his name to Elton John in honour of blues saxophonist Elton Dean and singer Long John Baldry. American singer/songwriter Prince Rogers Nelson chose to be called Prince, then the artist formerly known as Prince and then Prince again. American rapper Sean Combs has also been known at various times as Puff Daddy, Puffy, P Diddy, Diddy and lately, Love, and Brother Love. This is frequently the case today. The world is changing and entertainers do not have to change their names—either permanently or by adopting an alias—unless they choose to do so. That said, years ago no one named Lupita Amondi Nyong’o or Aziz Ansari would have attained any success in Tinsel Town. It is to the credit of these famous people that they have chosen to keep the names they were given at birth and to let their talent be the reason they receive plaudits.

But we should not assume that everything is that simple because it’s not. People still change their names because of fear of racism or bias. There are still way too many people who are denied jobs or simple rejected because of their names. Too many ordinary people still feel forced to anglicise their names to be accepted. Those who refuse to do so are making an important stand that it is hoped will eventually redound to the benefit of all and this is to be supported and applauded.

It is for this reason that persons who pick monikers to open email, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other social media accounts, which they then use to bully others or spew hate must be abhorred. There is nothing wrong really with using an alternate name on social media. Anyone can use an alias and the reasons for doing so are as varied as the choices of names are.

There are instances where persons cannot have an open social media presence because it is written into their job contracts, but they can still participate with the use of pseudonyms. In other cases, persons fearing persecution or ostracism choose a made-up name. That is all understandable.

“What’s in a name?” Shakespeare’s Juliet asks when confronted by the fact that Romeo with whom she is smitten is a Montague, sworn enemy of her family. “That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…,” she reasons. But that is only if the user is being true to the name, otherwise it stinks.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of that going around. There are too many people who seem to have not much else to do but to get online and under the cover of not one but several false names, deliberately make mischief and cause confusion. They are usually easy to spot as they are not using made-up handles like John Doe, but names that can and do belong to real people, along with fake photos; the kind of behaviour typically used in a scam. They then post hate speech, false stories and the like or engage in bullying by way of verbal abuse aimed at a particular person or group of people. It is hateful and cowardly and should not be condoned. If the allegations are true that persons are actually paying others to do this they should be named and shamed and if possible banned from social media. The world has enough problems as it is. There is no need to add to them with this kind of reprehensible behaviour.

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