December 2015


Picking A Username… or not.

Back in 1992 when I arrived at the University of Wyoming, one of the first things we had to do was register for a computer account

Sitting down at the terminal, we were to type newuser for the username and newuser for the password—we would then be instantly launched into a series of steps which would result in us, as freshmen, to be able to sit down in computer labs and access WordPerfect 5.1 or chatrooms.

One of the key moments was to pick a username – up to eight characters and anything we wanted, as long as somebody else before us hadn’t registered that username before.

I went with Stingray – at the time that was my favorite Stephen J. Cannell TV show.  Stephen J. Cannell was a man whose TV shows I was addicted to, including 21 Jump Street with that hunky hunk playing Officer Tommy Hanson, Johnny Depp. Stingray was a much more sophisticated and thoughtful show – or so I told myself.

The great thing about computer usernames in the 1990s was that they were easily memorable – everybody I worked with knew exactly how to email me. This compares to today where I don’t know anybody’s username, I have to remember how to spell their name, and at an office with a dozen people named “Alex” I also have to pick the right one. Don’t laugh: there are also a lot of people named “Chris” – and I once email something to the wrong one.

Things though, as they always do, changed – and by the time I started at my next educational facility, usernames were decided for us: first initials + last name and done. And if your last name ran too long, the end of it was cut off. This created a slight problem for Ms. Morehouse – inconveniently shortened to end MoreHo. Given that she wasn’t a ‘ho (there’s a slang term that has really vanished since then), she was the only person I ever knew who managed to convince the computer people to change her username.

Certainly I’ve not had a choice in my workplace environments since enrolling at UWyo. The only time I’ve had a choice in the intervening years was when I signed up for gmail – Google wouldn’t let me use my favorite screenname of the moment (then: elmada – which does, believe it or not, have a relevant meaning to me), so I had to improvise, ending up with elmadaeu – since I was, at that moment in time, about to embark on a short couple year trip to live in Germany, a member of the European Union.

All of this brings me to the point: at Wyoming I wrote for the Branding Iron, the student newspaper. Throughout my time at UW, I met a lot of people and every once in awhile I would meet somebody who had an awesome username – including one day when I met the professor who had procured Kowgirl. After I finished talking to her, I asked her about her username and how she had gotten it.

She revealed to me the truth: she’d picked it out more than a decade before, sometime in the 1980s, back when you had a username in order to log into the mainframe, and nothing else. At that precise moment in time, she’d chosen the username because it was silly and memorable – to her. There was a bit of regret (as I recall it) in her voice when she continued, “I had no idea that one day everybody would know my username because it would become my email address.”

Which is why while I am nostalgic for my Stingray days, I don’t mind the slightly obfuscating elmadaeu that I use for my personal email account or the bland first initials plus last name moniker that has been hung around me professionally ever since. At least there’s some dignity there.

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