While many of us use an online moniker that is a version of our real name, there are plenty of sites, services, and video games that require another name: The Screen Name. We tend to use the same one across multiple platforms, and they’re uniquely us—provided you’re not 14 years old, in which case 69 or 420 will probably appear somewhere in the string of numbers and letters.

Screen names are unique identifiers that we use to protect our identities as well as represent ourselves. We indulge in CrEaTiViTy101. The screen name allows us to be both clever and anonymous when we chat with others.

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But screen names existed before the screen. In the 1960s and ‘70s, Baby Boomers and their parents used CB radios to communicate with others. It was long before the days of the internet, cell phones, and instant messaging, and the radio waves were a quiet space where you could just flip on a channel and listen in for someone to say hello. But privacy was still important, and the Federal Communications Commission warned users to create “handles” to obscure personal details—essentially a screen name.

Even though social networks like LinkedIn and Facebook emphasize the use of real names and the sharing of personal information, the tradition of and inherent creativity in anonymity lives on with websites like Reddit.

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What was your first—or, even better, most embarrassing—screen name? Drop ‘em in the comments.

Slow down to catch up with me. IG: FierceTrees

DISCUSSION

Belenos
Belenos

CB handles were hardly a revolutionary concept - throughout history there have been many earlier examples of people adopting pseudonyms as standard. If you want to look at the history of the screen name itself, a screen is surely a requirement.

I’d look back to the early days of video gaming, where high score tables generally only allowed 3-letter identification. If you got a high score in Space Invaders, you generally put in some variation of your initials or, just to prove how cool you were and how little a high score meant to you, you tapped the fire button three times to get AAA. It took a little imagination to come up with something meaningful and reasonably unique.

In the days when the three-letter high score table was still a thing, I used ZOG - a name borrowed from king Zog I of Albania, mainly because at the time I found it hysterically funny that an actual historical king would have such an absurd sounding (perhaps not to Albanian ears but at least to mine) name. Although there were a mere few tens of thousands of possible screen names that could be summoned up with three characters, I never saw a high score table with a ZOG on it that wasn’t me.

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