In Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare wrote a "rose by any other name would smell as sweet," suggesting the meaning of something is more important than what it is called. By extension, the content of a blog post or comment is more significant than the signature of the poster (or postee), which provides something of a rationale for the surfeit of pseudonymous and anonymous postings on most blogs. Alas, my dear Montague, I beg to differ.
A rose is a rose, and a real name at the end of a blog post is an indication that the person who authored the statement is taking responsibility, indeed ownership of the words it is a simple act of honesty. For too long bloggers have been given license that is not tolerated in letters-to-the-editor columns of newspapers and magazines (except in extraordinary circumstances). If one is willing to expound, exclaim, or critique it should be done under a real name and with links to a valid email or website address. If transparency on the web is the new black, then there should be no secrets.
Pseudonyms like "miss representation" or "Xman" or "Pesky Illustrator" or "Inaudible Nonsense," or even the passionate, erudite "DesignMaven," are not cute, they are cowardly. This indictment holds true for those who only use their first names as well (the many known only as Nancy or Chris, Dan or Steve). If a blogger or responder does not have the courage to own up to his or her ideas then why should readers accept or respond to them? Having a pseudonym is not about, as some argue, building a brand story or mystique; it is about masking identity, which is inherently deceitful. Unless one has a good reason like being on a black list or having a life in peril by a repressive government the practice of anonymity should be considered unacceptable.
Sure there is a long history of pseudonymous authors in literature, as well as commanders in the resistance, actors in theater, painters in art, and even rockers in rock n' roll. Noms de plume, noms de crayon, noms de guerre, and noms de what-have-you have long been accepted, and for good reason. Would Cary Grant have been as sexy with the name Archibald Leech? Would Woody Allen be taken seriously as a comic with the name Stuart Konigsberg? Could Sting, Bono, Ice Cube, or Vanilla Ice survive in the pop music world without the mystique of an alter ego? (Full-partial disclosure: I use my middle name not my first, which I will not disclose here.) But stage names are quite different from blog names, particularly at this advanced stage in the evolution of blogging. While it was necessary in the early AOL and CompuServ days to have multi-letter or semi-numbered screen names (mine was Stefano234), those days are long over.
Still, today, many people prefer to evoke a sexy screen persona to mask their drab, real world identity or conversely, adopt a bland handle to hide a well-known public reputation. Sometimes screen names are not about hiding behind a digital front, but rather a way of intentionally building mysterious (and possibly profitable) personas. Whatever their rationale, the time has come for the bloggerati and blog-respondents to drop the façade of inscrutability and to be accountable for their words. If the ideas in a posted comment are valuable, why not own up to them as an author? Doesn't a real name next to a comment somehow increase its credibility? Further, signing with real names and addresses will also force more circumspection by lessening the more reckless and harsh posts.
Legitimate comments and criticism, even when shrill or strident in tone, should not be squelched. Yet, it is only fair that those who respond to posts reveal themselves to further the debate (and let the debaters know the history of the writer). More and more sites are encouraging commenters to use their real names: The New York Times, for example, includes this question in their Comments FAQ: "Should I use my real name when making a comment? Yes, definitely. Please fill in the name field with your real name or initials. We have found that people who use their names carry on more engaging, respectful conversations..." Many websites (AIGA Voice is one of them) require that anyone making a comment provide their real email address before their words are posted. This safeguard is necessary and provides a modicum of editorial oversight and moderation.
A great benefit of the blog explosion are off-line correspondences with readers who choose to communicate with authors privately. I actually savor these emails. Recently, I received one from James Puckett, who frequently comments on Design Observer, admonishing me for using one of his quotes in an article I wrote in Eye magazine without attribution. He was correct too. He noted that he does use his real name, and if someone is forthright enough to do so, then the quotation should be attributed. In fact, as a rule I try not to quote anything from an anonymous or pseudonymous source.
In only a few short years, blogs have significantly evolved. And if blogs, and the people who engage with them, are to be respected, then we should all know who everyone is, and everyone whoever and whatever they have to say should not hide behind the digital veil. It is time.