Conversation overheard at a charity shop yesterday, between a lady working there and some guy who had bought some furniture and was asking to have it delivered. She had taken his address and then asked his name. Shane, he replied. Ah, Sean, she said, writing it down. No, it’s Shane actually, he said. Oh, can’t you be a Sean? she said.
Amazingly, he didn’t hit her.
Names are a serious issue, people have a strong emotional attachment to their names. One of the most annoying things is having people get your name wrong, especially when they do it repeatedly, even when you know they just can’t help it as your name is from a very different culture to theirs and difficult for them to pronounce – which is the way it’s been for me, living amongst the Brits, who are generally not very good at getting their tongues round foreign names. (But from American friends I hear that it isn’t just a British trait…) I try to be patient and understanding about it, I’ve got totally used to mispronunciations (I’ve yet to meet anyone English who is capable of pronouncing my name the Israeli way, but considering the way many Israelis pronounce English, that seems a fair exchange…) but what really annoys me is the attempts to Anglicise foreign names – like when people meet me and hear my name is Meirav and ask, their voice filled with hope, if it’s a version of Mary. grrrrrrrrrr… no, it’s not. Mary is the Anglicised version of the Hebrew name Miriam. Meirav is a different name, also from the Bible, but, guess what, in the English translation she’s spelled “Merab”… Don’t get me started on what happened to a whole load of Hebrew names in the English translation of the Bible…
And then there was that guy I knew when I lived in a small Welsh town and some Turks had opened a kebab shop there. What’s your name? Jim, he said. Yeah, right. A very authentic Turkish name, Jim. My bet is on something like Jamal, and my guess is that his choice to use the name Jim was the result of the draining experience of, again and again, being asked what his name was and finding that people were making a total hash of it. If you can’t beat them, join them, a lot of immigrants end up deciding.
I actually tried it for a while – using an English-sounding name, as a way of blending in. It certainly made life easier. I never got asked how to spell it, how to pronounce it, or what it means. But it was a kind of pretence, that name wasn’t really me, it was hiding my national identity. Going around as Meirav means I get asked where I’m from, which can result in interesting conversations in all sorts of ways, and sometimes I feel I could do without that – going to the hairdresser’s and having to talk politics instead of the usual “where did you go on holiday” is a bit tiring – but it feels more right to carry a name which says who I am and where I’m from.
Why am I thinking about all this stuff? Because one of the outrageous things that have been going on lately on Google Plus – where I’ve been spending a lot of my time – is the attempt by Google to police the names people use. And, quite naturally, people have strong reactions when they’re told they can’t use the name they wish to be known by.
It’s all been very weird and very confusing – with Google claiming that they want people to use the name they are commonly known by (not necessarily their legal name) but then suspending people’s profiles for all sorts of infringements of the Google “community standards” which demand that you use a name that is made up of one first name and one last name, ignoring people who use more than that, and at the same time ignoring people from mononymic cultures, who simply do not have a second name; and also ignoring the convention in English usage of adding a nickname in the middle, either in quotation marks or in parentheses. So the policy requires you to use the name you are commonly known by, but in some cases does not allow you to use the name you are, indeed, commonly known by.
Oh, and there are all sorts of other things you’re not allowed to do, like adding Dr. in front of your name, or using a series of initials in the first name field – even if that is, in fact, what people normally call you!
This whole thing is supposed to be a way of helping people who know you to recognise you when they see you there, but if everyone knows you as, say, Fred “Bonzo” Jones, how will they recognise you without the “Bonzo” in the middle? If people know you as JR Ewing, how will they know it’s you if you are forced to use your full first name instead of these initials? It’s crazy.
And then, on the other hand, there are those who simply can’t afford to post publicly online under the name they are commonly known by – the concept of making it easy for people who know you to find you is not one that appeals to everyone, it doesn’t appeal to victims of stalking, it doesn’t appeal to those who have suffered domestic abuse and fled from their abusers and absolutely do not want to be found by them, it doesn’t appeal to people whose political views/religious beliefs/sexual lifestyle are things they need to keep quiet about in their culture, it doesn’t appeal to, oh, so many people!
So Google is, at the same time, upsetting people who would like to use the names they are commonly known by but are not allowed to because their real names don’t fit the Google name pattern; and also upsetting people who need to use pseudonyms for their own protection, and are forced to either (1) give up on using G+ (2) use a pseudonym and risk being found out and turfed out (3) take the risk of using their real names anyway, and be very very careful about what they say on any public posts.
Of course when you mention the need for pseudonyms, you immediately get told that all you have to do is use an inconspicuous fake name, something that wouldn’t alert the names police. Which means having to be less honest than you’d like to (if pseudonyms were allowed, you could admit openly that you are using a pseudonym) and it also means that you will be forever looking over your shoulder and waiting for the day that someone will get annoyed with something you said and will report you. (They don’t need any grounds for reporting someone’s profile, it’s just a matter of quietly clicking a button. Some people thrive on the sense of power that gives them.)
Of course on Multiply we have the luxury of being able to choose who can see our last name, so using a real name here is not such a big deal. And though they do ask that people use their real names here, it has never been enforced. There’s a big difference between making a polite request, as is done here and on Facebook, and getting all bossy and controlling and suspending people for infringement when they’ve dared to put their nickname in parentheses in the middle between their first name and last name.
Oh, and when your G+ profile gets suspended, you also lose a whole load of other Google services, like Google Reader and Buzz and Picasa. Not to mention what happens to people who have an Android phone. And there isn’t a warning when you sign up – at least there wasn’t last time I looked.
This is why I’m not inviting people to Google Plus. Not until they change this draconian policy.