The Meanings of Usernames

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Note: As of the 18th December 2002, I am no longer maintaining this page. Various people have volunteered to carry on analysing names - you may meet some of them below. If you would like to take responsibility for this page, please apply at the Community Job Slot. Thank you.

Username analysis is an art populised on h2g2 by Magnolia, after it had some success at her personal website. It attempts to tease out interpretations from the names that people use on the internet, to see what sort of image is created. It's certainly an art, not a science: there are no hard laws, or even rigorous theories. In fact, even quite general suggestions, like those here, are likely to vary from virtual place to virtual place. However, the real limitation is that it is not possible to scan the user's actual vital statistics, all that can scanned is the mask that is the name. Whether the user has chosen a mask that mirrors their true face or not, all that can be done is to look at the mask and discover what it says.

Getting your usernames analysed

If you'd like to get a fellow researcher to analyse your name, or if you'd like to analyse someone elses name, you could do worse than look here. If you use more than one name on the 'net, it helps if you mention all of them in your request - more info to get hold of for the analyser...

Anyone can analyse names, so if you see a name you'd like to analyse posted to that thread, go for it! At the moment there is a drastic shortage of analysers, especially now that I am no longer analysing names myself, so please give it a shot. Look - I'm begging you! smiley - grovel If you'd like to take over management of this page, just drop me a note, and I'll be happy to help you do so in any way I can.

Other Resources

To find the etymology of first names, I recommend going to Behind The Name - this site seems to be by far the most comprehensive, and has good search facilities and suchlike. Often good for a few clues when reading names - I'm looking to buy a copy of one of its books to use as an offline reference...

Also handy is a good dictionary - as well as to find the official meanings of rather obscure English words you can find in some people's names, but also to look for sound-alikes and rhymes to the name given, which often trigger off other images. For the former I use Merriam Webster, for the latter I'm currently trying out RhymeZone.

Why Analyse Usernames?

Why indeed? Well first and foremost, namereading is fun. It's a tremendous opportunity to just let your imagination run wild, and also a real challenge to see how much information you can get from a tiny amount of information. In more conventional divinations, like palmistry, crystal ball, or tarot, there is a lot of useful information to work with: The general appearance of the person being read, their expression, and what seems to register strongly, and what just generates blank looks. From this information people can often get very accurate readings - more than enough, in many cases, to convince the client that the reader has strange psychic or supernatural abilities.

In web-based namereading, by contrast, you typically get a name, or if you're lucky a handful of names. You do get the line or two of text that is the request for the name to be read, but this rarely gives anything like as much information as the name itself. Yet from this limited information a skilled namereader can weave a picture with a surprising weath of detail in it. Of course, the analysis is only ever half-accurate, if that. For starters, it is rare that somebody's chosen mask perfectly mirrors their own opinions; Indeed, it would be scary if it did! In any case, different namereaders will often interpret the same name in very different ways - depending on their own backgrounds, and the mood they happen to be in when they first see the name.

The other side to the story is that many people find having their name read an enjoyable experience - it is interesting to watch the process take place, and fun to spot things which are totally accurate - or indeed those that are completely inaccurate. It is often especially fun if the name is one that was made up with no conscious thought - analysis can bring forward subconscious reasons for the choice, and maybe allow the bearer of the name to give a much longer and more interesting answer the next time they are asked "So, what's up with the name?"

On a more practical note, the skills that name reading develops - imagination, a willingness to take risks, attention to detail, being able to paint a picture with words - are often useful in wider life. Granted, it is a slightly unusual way to develop these skills, but if you are having fun doing it, this is a pleasant side effect. In addition, name readers tend to be skilled at picking new usernames, either for themselves, or for others - in effect it is exactly the same process, but viewed from the other direction.

Names in Games

Another use for this skill is in multi-player computer games - in such games the player often has to make decisions about another player, based on very little, if anything, except their name. If quick decision is called for, a speedy analysis of the name, and whether the player behind it is likely to be friend or foe, can make the difference between virtual life and virtual death. On the flip-side, when choosing a name for such games, a good disguise can be adopted by choosing a name which will have the right kind of resonance - on a very basic level a player-killer might choose "harmless", or a veteran player might choose "newbie". Someone who better understands the hidden resonances of names is likely to do better at both these activities.

Where there is a little more time to make a considered response, an understanding of the unconscious effects that names have can help to avoid costly mistakes. As an example, skilled con-artists have discovered that male players are subconsciously much more likely to trust someone with a female sounding name. Someone with experience in name-reading is in a better position to appreciate those hidden impulses, and can be more careful not to drop their guard based on what is, in all probability, a lie.

The Basics

When starting off reading names, the first thing to do when reading a name is to look for basic identifiers, and swirl them around your mind until an overall picture starts to develop. Sometimes this will become quickly clear, but other names may require a little more effort to make sense of. Often a period of offline reflection helps the creative process along - if in doubt, sleep on it. The hardest part is often deciding which indicators to trust, where they conflict, and which to emphasise in the reading - only experience and intuition can help you in this delicate judgement of emphasis: like many things, practice makes perfect. The types of indicators, and their most usual meanings, are expanded on in the next few sub-headings.

Capitals and Forms

Lowercase names with no initial capitals immediately suggest web-adepts -- or at the very least, people who wish to appear to be web-adepts. Advanced web-adepts, for instance, may have gone beyond the no-capitals phase and reverted to cautious cap-use, though not in all cases: have a look at this section of analysis for androyd:

A web-adept, of course, but one who is willing to
continue to appear that way -- I take it that users who come to h2g2, by the time they're here,
are not new to this world. So the choice of names is one made after some skill in choosing
names has built up, in which case, to continue to employ the lower-case approach, suggests a
person who is confident and secure about appearing to be a web-crawler.

Names with the first letter of each word capitalised may also suggest that a person is conservative, because she/he is using the typical off-line form. This would be reinforced if the form of the name is two roughly equal-sized words, like "Ford Prefect". Such names are conservative because they are similar to a real world first name and surname. In such names, the surname can sometimes be interpreted as a group, type, or clan name - and the first name as a personal detail. In this case, Ford Prefect might suggest the type of the user is a prefect, and a personal detail is that he drives a ford. The name "Prefect Ford" would suggest that the user is a Ford, and a detail is that it's currently carrying a prefect - or it would if automobiles were regular internet users...

Capitals in the middle of a word can suggest that a person is unconventional or trying to be. Alternatively, it could belong to one who cannot use spaces in their log-in name (perhaps because of some more restrictive rules for names than those found on h2g2), but wants to use two or more recognizable words. Usernames of the specific form 'Conan the Barbarian' - where the first word is a (capitalised) name, the second word is 'the' and the third word is a capitalised adjective - often imply a user who enjoys RPG style games. Alternatively, it might be a fan of those Fantasy style books which often name their characters similarly. A similar picture holds for names which might have come from a comic book, as in this analysis of Penguin Girl:

There's hints at superhero status here, to go alongside Bat Man, or Wonder
Woman. "X-Girl" on a superhero implies youth, probably 10-20, and the comic book imagery
backs that up. However, it being a superhero ironically based on penguins, rather than more
conventional animals, makes me think that the owner is at the more grown-up end of that age
range, or at least feels she is. "Penguin"
sounds comical, as well as being a funny animal in itself, so Kudos for the (unconscious?)
I think the animal chosen being a Penguin is telling, in a way. Here is a girl/woman who reckons
she has superpowers, but has a face that could only launch perhaps a few dozen ships, maybe
more. Not ugly, I don't think, but happy to fight crime and rescue hostages in a different way, and
doesn't care who knows.

Letters and numbers and caps together -- a name like 3DZone for instance -- suggest an adventurous spirit, but if the particular choice is common for that sector of the internet, then it is only a badge of belonging. A wide variety of styles of capitalisation amonst a number of names can also be informative, as in this analysis of 'GargleBlaster', 'imdumru', 'BluminIdyut' and 'Colonel Sellers':

A user who has a good memory and quick reflexes -- I can bet the
passwords are pretty interesting too! -- the quick reflexes comes from being willing to type in capital
letters in the middles of words, keeping track of which names do and don't have capitals.

Patterns and Wordplay

There are many patterns that are worth looking for in names. Rhymes, symmetry, rhythm, reversal, alliteration, onomatopeia are all standard examples of this. Rhythmic names often accompany musical talent, or someone who likes music. Alliteration suggests a quirky sense of fun and good humour, while symmetry, especially in the form of strict palindromes, suggest a rather more conventional sense of humour - or that the user is a little backwards. Onamatopeic words imply a user who emphasises the audio over the visual - not a typical web user in that respect - they may be more at home with a telephone. Such names are almost exclusively used by those who were taught to read phonetically.

One of the more unsual patterns is Scrabble values. Scrabble players can sometimes be spotted by their use of high-value letters in their names. Using high-scoring letters might suggest either that the person DOES have a high value for her/himself or would LIKE to have a high value. In certain contexts, they can also imply eccentricity, as in this part of a reading of JJJHowqua:

The most obvious feature of your username is the triple J. A double letter could be considered a
litte unusual, but a triple is starting to get downright weird... Lena would no doubt have her own
theory, but I reckon this indicates someone who is very much unconventional - happy to flaunt
tradition, though I guess all traditions are easier to flaunt on the web... note that 'J' is a high
scrabble value - again implying some eccentricity - note the presence of a 'Q', 'U', and 'W' too -
also high scoring. To steal a phrase I've seen here on h2g2 - a member of the Otherwise - or one
who wants to be.

Frantic Semantics

People who like wordplay are more likely than others to use collections of letters which sound like other words or have double meanings. Names which are made up of words which have standard meanings are most likely to be back-references to features of a person's life, but not always - often, though, looking at the name in other ways can help to decide if such a reference is genuine. Generally, though, whether the references are genuine or not simply isn't the point - even when the name is superficially as obvious as Bald Bloke - it's what the name implies that's important:

Do you reckon Bald Bloke actually means you're a bald bloke?? That's not the point.
Regardless of what you really are (whether bald or a
bloke) the use of such a name suggests a person who is direct, four-square, open
and unafraid. You see the point? When one offers information which doesn't have to
be offered then it suggests that you are willing to make revelations beyond the call of
obligation. Since, in this era it is still considered (I think! Forgive me if I'm wrong!)
mildly unfortunate to be bald, then a person who offers this information unasked is
saying, "I don't mind being thought to be bald -- " and maybe also "-- in fact I think it's
rather COOL!".

Some names have the interesting property that they refer to the process of choosing or using names themselves, such as 'some bloke who tried to think of a short, catchy, pithy name and spent five sleepless nights trying but couldn't think of one'. Generally, such names are used by those who are amused by the whole nickname thing - which implies a certain slightly quirky sense of humour.

Size Matters

A short name may suggest that the user is smaller than average (at least in her/his opinion) the opposite being true of long names. Conversely, a short name may be used by a tall person wishing to reduce her/his physical height and a long name by one who wishes to appear tall. Alternatively, a short name is often there for convenience, and a certain abruptness, while a long descriptive name like Saint Lisa the (co-founding) Freak † (Patron Saint of Unrequited Love) Psychosomatic Pseudo`Nymph', got this response:

Phew! A lotta name in there! It seems to me that a long descriptive name suggests a person who doesn't agonize for years working out The Perfect Moniker -- in fact, a person who doesn't agonize much at all. Maybe there was some unrequited love back there, but I'd like to think that it was just a phase, it passed quickly, and now ... ANOTHER phase has taken over!

A name made up of letters which do not have ascenders1 suggests a user who would like to be discrete and inconspicuous -- this may indicate either that they are shy or that they are a well-known person wishing to maintain a low profile. The opposite often leads to a reading similar to this part of one for Fragilis the Melodical:

Only a single descender2, and lots of
ascenders. That suggests a fairly up-in-the-air personality, prone to flights of fantasy - that fits in
with the RPG thing, again. Lot's of l's and i's -> short letters. I don't know what that implies, but it
certainly implies something! We've got the standard capitalisation, which suggests a degree of
intelligence, and an understanding of the rules - though the lack of descenders implies a
willingness to break them where appropriate. All those ascenders shows a willingness to stand
up and be counted, though this person would be sure not to stand on anyone's toes as they did

Many descenders in a name suggest someone who is perhaps well-rooted in reality - it gives a sense of permanence and stability. Names wholly in "x" height letters suggest a smooth operator, and a person who likes straight lines and practicality -- similar to the impression given by very short names.

Some people online use small letters in their names for a reason not mentioned here yet. In chat
rooms and message boards for people into dominant/submissive role-playing, submissive
personalities are expected to use small letters only to denote their status. Their names are often
very ordinary (like jane), indicate vulnerability (like tinywaist), or are a bit insulting (like pantyboy).
Dominant personalities use capital letters at the start of their name, and may also use British-style
titles to denote a certain royal status (Lady Marveaux, Xavier, Count Metrix, and so on).(Courtesy of Fragilis)

Another subgroup of the population are programmers, who also may have their own rules. Some programmers use a type of notation known as 'Hungarian', where 'pThing' stands for 'pointer to Thing', and 'qThing' stands for 'query about Thing', amongst other. So this might be the reason for someone who calls themselves 'qLife' or 'pYourFingerYouFool'3. Meanwhile, java programmers are perhaps likely to use no caps for the first word, and capitalise the rest, as in 'javaCoderHere' - as this is a common convention when programming that language.

Shapes and Sounds

The shape of the letters can also make a difference - spiky letters, like 'k', often imply a spiky, aggressive, personality, whereas more rounded letters are calmer, and more measured. Letters with arrows in them, like 'M', 'V', and 'W', can occasionally imply a definate sense of direction and drive - though it's a fairly weak indicator and is generally only worthwhile when combined with other similar pointers. On a more base note, 'db', 'oo', and so forth, look like, well... have a listen to part of this analysis of Maedb, KeltGrrl, LittleZen:

Maedb sounds sweet and pretty
alongside these two other names -- I can't see "Mae" without thinking of Mae West and that
name, coupled with the twin orbs of "db", well ... a very feminine silhouette, is what comes to

Special Cases

Even people who simply use their own name for online use reveal a little about themselves: Using their own name might suggest that they have nothing to hide; have an unusual name; are a veteran web user; are comfortable with their own identity; are unafraid, generous and trusting; are exceptionally crafty; or are unimaginative4.

This section of an analysis of the name Lena should you a good idea of the wealth of detail which can be grasped from an apparently real name - even a short one. (In this case, it subsequently turned out that the name was part of the first name of the user.)

A short name which also sounds like a real name offers few surfaces to grip.
On the one hand, there are the usual surfaces that names offer: Lena is a woman's name, it
suggests a generally Western origin, but it isn't a classical or old-fashioned or typical name. If I
followed trends in Western names closely I might be able to date it, but I don't have that kind of
data-base so I can only go by my overall sense that it is a younger rather than an older name.
It feels as if it may be a shortened form of "Helena" and has the same pleasingly Mediterranean

A person who uses a real name -- well of course, it doesn't HAVE to be the user's OWN name
-- and who can say? -- is most probably a person who is very comfortable with her/his own
identity. Probably doesn't want to or need to adopt elaborate masques and screens. Perhaps is
really attractive and -- in the happy way of those of us who are naturally gifted -- is glad to
share that ability to attract? I would like to think so: "Lena" feels as if it belongs to a young,
attractive woman. I think that impression is reinforced by the fact that I can see that the name
has been offered with a capital initial letter, as well as in lowercase (in the title of the
message). Lowercase names sometimes suggest (to me) a person who is keen to follow the
conventions of the web -- before growing out of the lowercase usage and using a capital initial

Multiple Names

Some people on the web use many different names - either different names for different circumstances, or multiple names in all circumstances. Superficially this can be hard to read - the trick is to remember that each name is a facet of the User's personality, even the most childish and seemingly senseless name is a choice of some sort. Using many different names can suggest that the User is adventurous; insecure; multi-personalitied; recovering from divorce or a change of jobs or partner; uses a number of different web-sites and needs to shed identities in order to avoid being followed (suggesting that she/he may be popular?) or a combination of these effects.

However, all rules can have exceptions, as in this analysis of ZenMondo, Tadhg Christopher Bird Cain' (current nom de plume), 'Johnny Fusion =11811=' , and 'KeltBoi'.

This user prefers the unusual to the usual. Is maybe a bit of a performer, likes to explore different
identities, different lifestyles, but is still definitely looking (not settled on any particular one). The
current ZenMondo in use here suggests that there is, after an era of searching, perhaps an effort to
look for spiritual peace. So despite the many names, this user is not really an extrovert with many
handles for the world to pick up on, but a person who values the Inner Self, who must be protected
behind shields and heraldic devices, even though the ones on display here sound creative and
make-believe rather than traditional.

Let's talk about sex, baby

Username analysis is unique, compared to palmistry and other superficially similar arts, in that the reader gets no clue as to even the gender of the user. Even a superficially female name could be a disguise, though in certain cases that possibility can be safely ruled out, as in this analysis of Princess Bride:

Well, can anyone resist believing that this user is a sweet-natured, hopeful, sincere person
whose belief in romance is undiminished despite being -- I would guess, based on the time-line
for the book and film called The Princess Bride -- at least in her (yes -- I would guess this is a
lady) thirties if not early forties? Certainly I can't. I mean, even if we allow the possibility that a
seven-foot-tall male user of the kind who wears leather boots to bed and has steel rivets welded
to his forehead, might use dainty names just for the fun of it, EVEN SO ... I think "Princess
Bride" would be an unlikely choice. It's just the quaint, sweet, fairytale nature of that name, the
connotations, the sense of old-world values and wholesomeness which go alongside those two
words, "Princess" and "Bride" ... frankly I would guess that the average leather-and-studs wearer
would simply not be well-enough acquainted with those concepts to use 'em! Show me I'm
wrong, someone ...

But, in case you thought it was easy, consider (again) the name Fragilis...

The ending: -ilis, is a little more revealing: It sounds a Latin type of ending, suggesting that the
user is well-read, or at least wishes to appear to be well-read. I can't recall myself the gender and
plurality of the ending: I think it's masculine, singular, but my Latin is a little rusty, sadly. Let's
work with masc/sing for the moment, anyway, eh?

And an alternative viewpoint:

I get the impression of a young female person, delicate of frame, perhaps a little
crystalline, rather like those wine glasses that can be made to "sing". So if this user is actually a
7-foot tall stevedore well ... he has succeeded in fooling me!

Can you work out which is correct? Well, to take it from the user's mouth, so to speak:

I am a 26-year-old female, of the short red-headed variety. The long name is ironic and satiric, since
I'm usually self-effacing and shy in person. I am bisexual, and enjoy a certain gender neutral view of
the world. I have lived with my male soulmate for over 5 years (met him on the internet), but I refuse
to get married until there is at least one more consenting adult in the house. :-)

Foreign Languages

Coping with names in foreign languages is generally held to be difficult, if not impossible. Some attempt can be made from the shape and approximate sound of the word - but rarely enough for a really good reading. In fact, one of the most useful attributes to have as a namereader is an experience with a number of languages - what appears a perfectly benign name in one language may be packed with hidden meaning in another, as in this short reading of Wakan:

Wakan remains me of the Lakota word for medicineman
"wishasha wakan" (don't know if that's the right spelling) - wakan may stand for man?

That's the sort of detail that a namereader who wasn't fluent in Lakotan would miss.

As a final thought to go away with, consider this - if everyone chose their own real life name, as they do their usernames, would the world be a better place? Or would the beauracrats have such problems with this that civilisation would perish in a worldwide paper shortage? Until that happens, have fun finding the hidden meanings in names!

If you can think of something to add, just mention it on the forums below, and I'll try and incorporate your wisdom, and give you appropriate credit :)

1The lines rising up above the typical "x" height of a particular font-face2Descenders are also called 'anchors'3Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett references, respectively4Many people jump to this last conclusion, but generally it's an unfair jump.

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