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Roger Clarke's 'Roger Clarke's Famous Nyms'

Famous Nyms

Roger Clarke **

Version of 29 Nov 2000, with mods on 21 Oct and 17 Dec 2001, 11 Jul and 31 Aug 2004, 20 Nov 2006, 9 Jan 2007

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The purpose of this document is to provide lists of commonly-used nyms, particularly common names.

A nym is an identifier, which may be 1-to-1 with a particular human being, or 1-to-n (i.e. many people may use it), or n-to-1 (a person might use many nyms). Related words and concepts include 'alias' and 'aka' (also known as).

(As far as I know, it has nothing to do with the Nym or Nim that I understand may appear in Shakespeare's Henry V; but is a recent coinage, from the stem of 'anonymity' and 'pseudonymity', which originates in Ancient Greek).

Nyms are used by criminals; and by many other, much more interesting people. They're an important part of the rich fabric of human culture, which unfortunately a lot of simplistic thinkers in law enforcement and social control occupations have difficulty grasping.

How mainstream the concept is is evidenced by the wide range of terms that are available to choose from. They include aka (short for 'also-known-as'), alias, avatar, handle, nickname, nick, nom de guerre, nom de plume, moniker, persona, personality, profile, pseudonym, pseudo-identifier, sobriquet, and stage-name. I coined the term 'digital persona' in 1994 to refer to "a model of an individual's public personality, based on data, maintained by transactions, and intended for use as a proxy for the individual". At about the same time, the term 'e-pers' (an abbreviation of electronic persona) was suggested. These terms almost all have particular usages and connotations, and they evidence somewhat different meanings. The term 'nym' appears to be gaining currency, and has the advantage of carrying no semantic baggage with it.

Background information on nyms is available from Declan McCullagh's site. I've written a few papers on identification, anonymity and pseudonymity, including some that directly address the question of nyms, including 1999. and 2001.

I've wondered for some time if there's a register of common nyms, particularly common names. Presumably the Fraud Control offices of agencies like tax offices and welfare offices use anecdotes like these in their training courses, and maybe even run new applications against a bank of likely attempts at leg-pulling or fraud.

I haven't found such a register yet, and, after tripping over a couple recently that I'd never heard of, I thought I should start one, nomatter how partial it might be.

Note that many of these are in current usages in some contexts, and may therefore be of little use as a formal pseudonym, because they would be recognised as such immediately. But of course they come to mind when people need a pseudonym quickly; and when used in cultures where they're not so familiar, people might, and do, get away with it.

I'd be delighted to hear of more references, please!


Possibly specific to New York and/or to Jewish communities (thanks to Charles Raab for these):




Nyms in the Arts

Artistic names are only of interest where they hide something, such as the real originator's gender, or age, or ethnic background, and hence invite misinterpretations. (So Kennedy / Nigel Kennedy, and Pele / Edson Arantes do Nascimento aren't what I'm addressing here).

Ulf Möller offers an excerpt from an email from John Young to cypherpunks from 1998:

It's worth keeping in mind that multiple users of pseudonyms is not unusual, at least among artists long before the Internet, and not only performance group e-mailers like the Totos, CJ Parkers, XxxMongers, Gus-Peters and endless Anonymees jostling for unrecognition. Two venerable and heavily-used nyms in Europe are Luther Bissett and Monty Cantsin. A dazzling Monty Cantsin posted here for a while. A Luther Bissett message ridiculing the recent kiddie porn sweep was posted to Cyberia a few days ago. But these pseudonyms and others are frequently used to taunt uptight authoritarians by substantial numbers of people, sometimes acting in concert but most often acting alone.

Nyms and Political Correctness

A further category of nyms could be useful in avoiding the use of gender-specific language. In most cultures, the family-name is not gender-specific, although exceptions include the suffix -ova in some slavic cultures. The primary focus is therefore on given-names. Examples that can be useful include Jo (Joe or Joanne), Kit, Pat (Patrick or Patricia) and Robin. (In Australia 'Robyn' is usually female but 'Robin' is ambiguous, but in the U.K., both spellings appear to be used for both genders; so 'Robin' works across several cultures). Another alternative is to use an initial only, instead of a first-name; but that lacks the naturalness that the writer is usually seeking.

Intentional ambiguity in relation to lingual, cultural and ethnic origin is more difficult. An example is the use of the surname 'Lee', which is common both as an english-derived name, and as a transliteration of a name common in at least some Chinese cultures, which is alternatively transliterated as 'Li'. There may be some surnames that are common to english and spanish cultures, which would be useful in places like California.

Lingually-neutral names are complicated by the existence of different sequences, such as surname-first, surname-last, and the interpolation of a religious name.

Nyms for Artefacts Rather Than People

There might be some value in clay pots having multiple identifiers; but I haven't discovered what it is it yet. The artefacts I'm concerned with here are computing devices and software. Not only are these are of interest in their own right, but they can also be relevant as nyms for people.

Examples include:


There have been too many to detail them, particularly in the nym list/community. But thanks to them all!!

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Created: 1 June 2000 - Last Amended: 29 November 2000, 21 October 2001, 17 December 2001, 11 July and 31 August 2004, 20 November 2006, 9 January 2007, 9 March 2009 by Roger Clarke - Site Last Verified: 15 February 2009
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