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Every so often I'll notice that a user with an unfamiliar name begins posting good answers and insightful comments about topics that interest me. Most of the time they are new users, but sometimes they show up with reputations in the high 4 digits (or more), and I then wonder why I haven't noticed their rise to prominence.

It then almost always turns out, on further investigation, that it is a known existing user who has simply changed their display name. But the "further investigation" is tedious and time-consuming; it basically involves trawling through old comment threads the mystery user has posted to, hoping to find one where they have been @addressed by their old name.

For example (to pick one example where there seems to be no privacy concerns), Jennifer Dylan had earned quite a bit of respect from me under the name J.D., which it took some effort to transfer to her new display name.

Would it be possible to have people's profile pages list the display names the user has used in (say) the previous 6 months?

There are some imaginable privacy concerns -- particularly when changing from a real name to a pseudonym -- with I think could be addressed in one of two ways:

  • Allow moderators to remove earlier names from the list when given good cause. The bar for "good cause" doesn't need to be set much higher than "cares enough about it to flag for moderator action", except perhaps (hypothetically) for consistently obnoxious users who keep changing their names to stay ahead of the ill repute they generate.

  • Implement the "list of previous names" as a feature that automatically adds "Formerly known as _____." to the user's "about me" text when they change their display name. Then users who actively want to make a clean break from their old name could immediately edit that line away afterwards.

In the first case, it might be a good idea not to list name changes by very new users (say, with less than 10 questions and answers).

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  • $\begingroup$ One user changes his handle so frequently that I can only recognize him by the annoying editing habits. I wouldn't object to something like the first privacy option, where users can request that names resembling legal/full names be removed from the history. $\endgroup$ – The Chaz 2.0 Aug 25 '12 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ FYI, moderators can see the last names a user had (I think only up to 90 days). But that is a moderator-only option and time-limited, so SE seems to take a pretty strong stance on the privacy argument. $\endgroup$ – Mad Scientist Aug 25 '12 at 17:14
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    $\begingroup$ Some related meta.SO posts: Keep short history of user display names, Make the “past names” list public info for 30 days after changing your name, Who can see the “past names” field in user profiles?. The first one confused me a little, since it is a feature request similar to yours and it is tagged (status-completed). $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Aug 26 '12 at 4:19
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak: I've gone through and upvoted those. This one is particularly interesting because it comes from one of the SE overlords themselves. $\endgroup$ – Henning Makholm Aug 26 '12 at 9:15
  • $\begingroup$ While we don't have this feature, some possible workarounds I am able to come up with: 1) Ask Google whether it remembers some of older names, e.g. you could search for something like "users/2468/" site:math.stackexchange.com. 2) Get username from ID at the time of the last dump at data.SE - I've made this query. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Aug 26 '12 at 9:43
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps this query Search Username Alias is relatively close to finding previous display names used by some user. But I did not succeed, when I trying to modify the query to check one single user identified by userID. (And, of course, there is the obvious advantage that the data in dataexplorer are always a few months old.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Aug 26 '12 at 10:05

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