Social media has completely changed the way we interact. Every day, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and a host of other social networking sites allow millions of people across the globe to freely advertise themselves and their personalities to millions of other users. Call it mass interpersonal persuasion.
These platforms have one thing in common; they’ve allowed people to choose what they want to be called, and by extension, how they want to be perceived online.
Remember the time when you’d be angry and curse your parents for giving you an ‘unpretty’ name?
Most people choose to change their names simply because they are not comfortable with their given name. Usually, these people prefer something more catchy and unique than the bland John, Peter or Simon. Similarly, there are those people with names that are potentially embarrassing or that are laden with some kind of innuendo.
There is a hint of possession in creating a new name for oneself; it’s an opportunity to have control in an area where it lacks, since one’s birth name is decided by somebody else.
Similarly, a great many have been inspired by celebrities or their sporting heroes, who usually opt for monikers that are more appealing than their birth names. For instance, local RnB singer Tom Close’s real name is Tom Muyombo. And did you know that British singer and songwriter Elton John was born Reginald Kenneth Dwight?
Then there are those that simply ‘cut and paste’ names of their favourite celebrities in a blatant act of hero worship. In the US and UK, for instance, there are many people that have changed their names to Wayne Rooney, Amy Winehouse, Micheal Jackson and other such iconic personalities.
While other people come up with new names to distance themselves from their past or an undesirable connection. For instance, US-born model and niece of Osama Bin Laden, Wafah Dufour, took her mother’s maiden name after the events of September 11, 2001.
In Uganda, a notorious rebel leader, Joseph Kony, of the Lord’s Resistance Army, has made an entire community to distance itself from the name ‘Kony’, which ironically means “help” or “assistance”.
Away from these ‘forced’ name changes, the appeal of assumed names, especially on social media is obvious; they are usually catchy, informal, and, above all, they save us the sheer agony of having to go the entire distance to utter someone’s full name because some people have been known to posses names that are so long they call for some effort to finish them. That’s why Muziramakenga sounds better as simply ‘Muzira’.
Most of the names people assume on social media are usually a descriptor of a characteristic trait or personality, or the exact opposite and for the latter, we have a good example in one of my own Facebook friends whose birth name is Innocent Nahabwe but who, on Facebook goes by the name Innocent “Not Guilty” Nahabwe.
Another guy calls himself ‘Positive Brainiac’ and no need explaining the insinuation therein. When contacted, he actually revealed that his real name is Tony Mushoborozi. Brainiac means a very intelligent person, and Tony explained that he added the ‘Positive’ because “intelligence can be either constructive or destructive”.
Still, Mushoborozi is quite long, quite a mouthful and also prone to mispronunciation, which may have further influenced the name change.
Olivier Tuyisenge is a young Rwandan poet who goes by the Facebook profile name Umusizi Tuyisenge Olivier and once, while preparing to write an article about him, I asked what the name ‘Umusizi’ means. He burst out laughing and said it simply means ‘poet’.
There is a vocal guy in a closed group of dedicated Rock music lovers who has a name that says it all; Talkative Rocker.
I scrolled randomly on Facebook and came across names that are simply creative and exude a feel-good factor about them; Purity. She Wolf. And Lillian “Meanspure” Negesa.
Anne Droid was obviously inspired by the mobile operating system operated by Google, while Amina Bed and Amina Rush are definitely pun-intended names. ‘I’m in a bed’. ‘I’m in a rush’. Get it? This wordplay category of names proved interesting as I came across a lot more:
Ryan Retardo. Aneeda Jewlee. Bina Way. Cei Ling. Joe King. Robin Banks. Shi Ting. Lucifar Saten.
There is even Big Booty Joody and Wantana Buttheat and Ej Deathbycrushing!
Some names simply give off a certain sense of national or cultural pride; Nyarwanda kazi, which means Rwandan lady, or Inkotanyi, a Rwandan word which means activist or enthusiast or invincible warrior.
Similarly, I’ve come across quite a few people with the profile nameMutabaruka, a Kinyarwanda word which means “one who is always victorious”. And while it’s a given name for some, others simply adopt it for its honourable meaning.
Then there are the obvious; Rude Boy Emma is likely to be a haughty youth who walks with an exaggerated ghetto swagger, and has collar and natty dreadlocks standing on end. You have the ones that call themselves “Ras” (short for Rastafarian), bad man, Don, Young Money/Mula. Someone with God’s Army as their middle name is likely to be a fanatical Born Again Christian or member of the Salvation Army.
Some names simply have coded native meanings/wit: Mutokambali and Musemakweli are Swahili words that mean ‘one who has come from far’, and ‘one who speaks the truth’, respectively.
Mutokambali denotes someone who has weathered many storms, a self-made individual.
Generally speaking, modern society and culture have become more open to the idea of people discarding of the identity they were given at birth.
Young people especially want a name that they can own fully and can call their own. This fact has been compounded by the worldwide celebrity influence, whereby movie actors, musicians and athletes assume stage or screen names that effectively become who they are.
We are more self-conscious about ourselves, and people are no longer prepared to live with a name that has been assigned to them anymore.
Why use a fake name?
A one Sasha Fierce says that her love for international sensation Beyonce inspired the change of her name on Facebook. “I used to use my real name, but after Beyonce’s album, ‘I am Sasha Fierce’, which I loved so much, I decide to change my name. I use my real photo so that people know who I am but I’m not about to change the name,” she says.
“I think some people change their names because they don’t want to associate their actual lives with their social media accounts. You can be two totally different people. And it’s understandable; sometimes people just want to be silly so they open pseudo accounts under very interesting names,” says Simon Balinda, an architect based in Kampala, Uganda.
28-year-old Umuliza (not real name) is of the view that some names on Facebook just show a complete lack of seriousness on the holder’s behalf. “Some people send me friend requests and judging by the name alone, I can tell it is in my best interest not to accept the request,” she says.
Umuliza adds that, whereas people are free to call themselves whatever they want on social media, it is unbecoming and somewhat baffling for a grown person to use a name other than their own.
This is why some people change their Facebook names (Agencies)
Facebook says it will amend its controversial “real name” policy.
The site can refuse to allow people to change their names and insists people don’t use fake names unless in the most “unusual circumstances”.
Last year a group of drag queens in San Francisco had their accounts deleted because they were deemed to be violating the policy.
People need to feel safe and be confident they know who they are communicating with,” says Facebook. “When people use the names they are known by, their actions and words carry more weight because they are more accountable for what they say.
It’s important this policy works for everyone, especially communities who are marginalised or face discrimination. But why do people want to change their names on Facebook in the first place? Newsbeat hears from four people.
Facebook post reading: I personally change my fake name every now and then because our students are very good at finding teachers on Facebook. Most teachers use a fake name or only part of their name.
The police officer
Facebook post reading: My partner and I are both police officers and don’t use our real names as we can be targeted by people we come into contact with at work. This has happened to people within our force so the majority of officers do this now.
Facebook post reading: I work in advertising and I changed my name on Facebook because a client turned up to a meeting with some embarrassing photos of me at university. Since then I don’t mix business with pleasure.
Facebook post reading: I had to change my name on Facebook because people thought I was impersonating Robbie Williams but that’s actually my real name.
Why change your name on social media?
People look at social media from a different perspective; some take social media platforms as their centre for leisure, fun and entertainment, and as such, find it unnecessary to use their official name.
Many people use nicknames or other interesting names because many of the people they socialise with find it amusing.
Gisa Kaitana, fashion enthusiast
Many people are under the conclusion that when you use your official name; your actions and words carry more weight than when you are under a pseudo name because with the latter, you are less accountable for what you say.
And since social media platforms have more than enough room for recreation, people want to be judged less or not held accountable for some of the things they say.
And this is not the case if you use your real name.
Vincent Kazibwenge, model
To some people, rebranding is very important; they enjoy engaging in almost everything with their ‘new brand’ on social media, something they wouldn’t if they were using their real name.
Personally, I use my real name on social media because I don’t see the point in confusing people, or taking time to inform them that a certain account that holds a certain name belongs to me.
In terms of advertising, it would be difficult for a person with a re-brand to pass such information since people are not aware of him/her.
Arthur Nkusi, radio presenter and comedian
Leaving aside adults where it’s necessary to use real names on social media, in the case of teenagers, I think its fine to re-brand or give themselves names of their choice.
Teenagers live in a world of celebrities, and I guess it makes them feel good to take on their name or use their picture. Name changing is a cool thing among youngsters.
Aline Umuhoza, student