MathOverflow encourages users to use their real names as their usernames. This is partly to encourage civility and I imagine there are a few other reasons behind this policy; in any case, I always thought it was a good idea. Does a similar policy make sense here?

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    I wonder how much of that civility can be attributed to the real name policy and how much of it is due to the nature of the community. – Larry Wang Jul 28 '10 at 4:05
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    I use a pseudonym here, and my real name on MO. I ask my silly questions here, and I can be more gung-ho with my answers. – user1729 May 2 '13 at 8:25
  • @user1729 That will become a little harder after MO migrates to SE 2.0 (which is sure to happen by the end of 2113). If you used the same OpenID or same email on both sites, the system will notice. However, it's possible to have different display names on different SE sites, even within a single network account. – 75064 May 2 '13 at 13:48
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    I used my real name as my username until I noticed that searches for me started producing a lot of se.math stuff in the top positions. I didn't want that, so I changed to the non-pseudonymous, non-anonymous username I have now. – MJD May 3 '13 at 5:25
  • @user75064 Yes, I find this slightly worrying! Not sure what I will do - I do use the same OpenID. The current plan is to ignore it until it happens. Which is sure to work! – user1729 May 3 '13 at 8:20
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    A lot of people who post on MSE are so rude that I don't want them to have any access to any of my personal information, including my real name. – Stefan Smith May 3 '13 at 23:30
  • No not really. Those who want to misbehave can always create a pseudonym. – user74232 May 5 '13 at 20:09
  • @user1729, I feel completely the same! I avoid using my real name as I am afraid of asking silly questions and my supervisor sees it. – Zuriel Nov 29 '14 at 16:30
  • @Zuriel You shouldn't be afraid of your supervisor - my supervisor knew precisely how dumb I was. How incomprehensible my mathematical writing was. How disorganized I was. They knew where the vast holes in my knowledge lay. However, if they did not know these issues then they could not have helped me (not entirely successfully!) mend them. Remember that your PhD is an educational course with an exam at the end, and the examiner is not your supervisor. – user1729 Dec 1 '14 at 9:24
  • Thanks @user1729 for the comment! In my case my supervisor would assume that I know certain things which I actually don't. The reason could be that he asked me to read certain materials but I didn't do/finish the task. Thus I ask at mathSE or mathoverflow without using my real name; sometimes I also spend extra time on reading to catch up. – Zuriel Dec 1 '14 at 12:40

I use Casebash all over the Internet. I like to stay consistent so people know who I am.

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    +1: An example of why long-term pseudonyms have as much reputational value as real names--and possibly more, since they're often more unique. – camccann Jul 29 '10 at 3:02
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    @camccann, sorry, there's no such thing as "more unique." Either something is unique, or it isn't. – Gerry Myerson May 2 '13 at 12:35
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    @GerryMyerson: Nope, wrong. That's only true for some definitions of "unique", for one thing, and is in conflict with actual use of the word. Also, it's usually obvious from context that qualifiers attached to absolute characteristics are implicitly modifiers on something else, such as the scope within which something is unique or the amount of detail needed to distinguish it from similar things. – camccann May 2 '13 at 12:46
  • I suggest resuming this debate in another three years or so, when the prevalent English usage may change. – 75064 May 3 '13 at 5:09
  • @75064: 5 years since that time, I still agree with camccann that things can be more unique (qualitatively), meaning that they are more distinctive. =) – user21820 Oct 8 at 10:45

As professional communities, MathOverflow and StackOverflow have very important reasons why users would want to use their real names.
With no such incentive here (except perhaps for educators), and no way to enforce it, I don't see the point in such a policy. Especially since anonymous users will be allowed to ask and answer questions anyways.

That said, I certainly wouldn't discourage people from using their real names. Just let people choose the names they like.

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    We should disable the ability to ask questions without registering here. – 97832123 Jul 28 '10 at 7:39
  • @9783: I actually agree with that. If someone can't even be bothered registering, then I doubt they have anything worthwhile to ask – Casebash Jul 28 '10 at 12:36
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    @Casebash: If someone wants to answer questions without registering, however, that should be fine. – 97832123 Jul 28 '10 at 12:59
  • "Worthwhile to ask" is very hard to define. Besides, considering what little is actually involved in 'registering,' I doubt that such a low barrier would have any effect on question quality. – Larry Wang Jul 29 '10 at 0:23
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    @97832123: For what it's worth, I'll note that on MathOverflow we've had some extremely valuable unregistered (cookie-based) users. I think that the possibility of participating without registering is a big strength of the SE engine. – Anton Geraschenko Jul 29 '10 at 2:52
  • @Anton: I suggest only that asking questions should be restricted to registered users. On MO, every "valuable user" who began posting while unregistered did so by answering questions, rather than by asking them. – 97832123 Jul 29 '10 at 10:34

Entering one's real name as username would be an easier decision if it was reversible. In practice, it is not. Even if a user changes the username or parts ways with the site altogether, the comments with @FirstnameLastname will show up in Google search and disclose that person's affiliation with the site.

Personally, I would not encourage anyone (and least of all, early-career mathematicians) to irrevocably attach one's real name to a quickly evolving (or devolving, as the case may be) website with high Google rank.

[Edit: Arggg. Now I see that this topic is years old. It is probably best to disregard this whole post]

I think it is fine if people are gently encouraged to use their real names when they sign up. But if such an encouragement is given, then I would also suggest that the Stackexchange's private policy is made very clear. Some might ask: how does SE deal with my private information? If SE knows my real name and my email address, will they sell this information to a third party? But if there is a clear policy on this, then I think it would be fine with a gentle encouragement.

I understand the desire to implement policies that could increase civility. That said, I don't think the encouragement should be strong (and I for sure don't think that it should be a requirement) for, among others, the following reasons.

  1. Some people simply don't want any private information on the internet and that should be respected. We might drive people away if there is a name requirement. There should be room for everyone who is willing to "be nice".
  2. Some might be afraid that SE is turning into a social media like Facebook.
  3. Recently there was a discussion on why women don't participate more on math.SE. From what I understood some women don't want to use their names out of fear of being harassed. This should be respected.
  4. If someone does misbehave I think that it is better to just deal with it when it arises. I would prefer hitting incivility harder.
  5. While a name-policy might prevent an occasional troll, I am not convinced that it actually will do much for the overall tone.
  6. I am guessing that several people would just make up a name anyway.
  • There is a privacy policy link in the footer. I think the SE policy is clearer than most such policies. Anyway, I don't see why your thoughts should be disregarded just because the question was posed three years ago. Users join the site and choose their display names today, as they did three years ago. They may still be interested to know about existing attitudes toward real names vs anonymous usernames. – 75064 May 2 '13 at 3:36

I've used this name on my blog and multiple web sites for nearly a decade. I think that civility is maintained by peer pressure and the nature of a board. That said, Can an individual board of SE have difference criteria than the parent system? I never signed up here separately, my profile copied from the first site money.SE to any other SE site I go to.

I posted as 'Rudy Toody' until one of my posts was cited in an entry on OEIS. They prefer that the citations point to a real name, so I became real.

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    Yeah, in my thesis I thanked the user "PseudoNeo" (and another user which revealed his real name in a private email). It felt strange. – Asaf Karagila May 2 '13 at 17:44
  • @user622 (I wonder if the ping will work?), at least it wasn't "PseudoNeo in soaked pajamas". I'd probably go with the userNNNNN format for referencing anonymous contributions. It's more stable and not subject to personal quirks. – 75064 May 2 '13 at 19:26
  • @75064 that ping most certainly does not work (though I'd appreciate having an "expand" feature à la meta.stackexchange.com/q/53419/146482). Anyway I agree that unless the person's real name was used their userid is the only long-time stable thing – Tobias Kienzler Aug 12 '13 at 7:59

I for one have no problem in showing my real name (I just added it in my bio), but I really prefer to use a nickname. I don't see a lot of difference for reader to refer to me as "mau" or "Maurizio Codogno"...

One good argument for using a real name, to quote Jon Skeet's answer:

One way of thinking about it is that if you're not comfortable enough with a post (question or answer) to want your name next to it, are you really sure you want to post it in the first place?

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    It is really one way of thinking about it. But it is not a good argument for a real names policy. Also you might consider the context in which it was said (and also the things I told you on another site when you mentioned the same thing). – quid Aug 16 '13 at 13:48
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    @quid About your parenthesis: if you allude to things nobody except you, the OP and a few others can understand, the value of the remark you make drops to zero for everybody else. – Did Aug 16 '13 at 14:57
  • @Did yes this is somehow true. But then, checking recent activity or searching would lead to the information. But here is a link meta.mathoverflow.net/a/635/9072 it is certainly more convenient this way. – quid Aug 16 '13 at 15:02
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    A user's level of comfort is not a reliable gauge for the value the user adds. Somewhat tangentially, I recall that MathOverflow user 9062 wrote "I enjoy questions that seem honest, even when they admit or reveal confusion, in preference to questions that appear designed to project sophistication." Real-name policy appears to incentiveze the latter kind over the former, if my observation of MO is correct. – user Aug 16 '13 at 15:33
  • @quid Thanks for the link. – Did Aug 16 '13 at 17:27
  • @user89499 It's a good quote, and by no means do I intend to state a real name policy should be enforced. Heck, if I notice someone attempts projecting sophistication, I'll downvote them - SE is not about self-promotion: Have a look at how self-declared experts trying to promote their philosophy on physics.stackexchange.com are downvoted. Maybe I'm part of a minority with this, but I for one do prefer an honest admission of ignorance (anonymous or by an "authority") to a claim of knowledge that effectively wastes my time - and a real name does encourage not posting such crap. – Tobias Kienzler Aug 16 '13 at 18:12

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