What’s in a name? (My fulfillment of Comment Challenge 13)

Three recent commenters began their comments with the following greetings:

“Hey Kam, . . . ”

“Hi, Kam, . . . ”

“Thanks Kam . . . ”

Today’s comment challenge involves creating a post using comments, which is convenient for me because I now that I’ve been addressed as “Kam” three times, I probably ought to clear up the confusion that I’ve created. My username for WordPress, meebo, Twitter, del.icio.us, Diigo, StumbleUpon, and the assorted Ning networks to which I belong is “kamccollum”. However, my name isn’t “Kam”. KAM are my initials. My name is Kimberly, Kimberly A. McCollum.

It’s nice to be in a friendly community and to be on a first-name basis with people from around the world, but if I’m to be on a first-name basis, I’d really like it to be my first name. I’m not silly enough to be offended by being called the wrong name, especially since it’s my fault for only including my name in my very first post. (Today I amended my “about” page to include my real first name.) However, being called “Kam” made me feel like they were talking to somebody else and led me to think a little about the nature of identity online.

I see a wide variety of usernames among my students. Many of my students are college juniors and seniors who are still using online identities that they created in high school. I suggest to my students that should create a “professional persona” based on their name, but I still receive emails from “brattyangel”, “pinkprincess”, “ditzyblonde”, or “studman” (I made these up, but they are inspired by experience). Maybe I’m wrong, but I have a feeling that parents may take an email less seriously from “brattyangel” or “studman” than they would from “miss.thompson” or “teachersmith”.

I created kamcollum less than two years ago, when I decided it was time to stop using my maiden name as my email address. I would have preferred the email address “kimberly.mccollum”, but someone else beat me to it. I considered both kimccollum and kamccollum, but since I didn’t want people to think I was Kim C. Collum, I went with kamccollum, which I read K. A. McCollum. I’m comfortable with kamccollum, because I feel like I’m the same person online as off. I’ve stuck with kamccollum for consistency and to limit the number of usernames that I have to remember. I wonder though, how do others decide who they will be online?

Beyond usernames, what makes an online identity? Sue Waters had a post about the importance of developing an online identity a while back, but I think the username and avatar are only part of the picture. Once people can recognize us, what will think of us? It’s mainly our words, in blog posts, comments, etc. that make up our online presence. To me, the question then becomes, how much do we reveal about ourselves? I’ve revealed my name, my occupation and some of my professional interests. I’ve also revealed that I taught 8th grade in Baltimore for Teach for America, that I once one an award for teaching in a suburb, that I grew up in Maryland, that I’m married, and I’ve only been swimming in the sea once. That’s really not much to go on. I’m wondering, how much should we reveal about ourselves and when?


About Kimberly McCollum

I'm a former middle and high school science teacher and current stay at home mom.
This entry was posted in about me, edublogosphere and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to What’s in a name? (My fulfillment of Comment Challenge 13)

  1. Robb says:


    I happen to think that “Kimberly” is a beautiful name.

    I agree with your comments about email aliases. I spend a day during the first week of the semester talking about professional email and the impression that an alias can have on readers. I too have received emails from several “princesses,” plenty of “girls,” and a few “chicas.” (Perhaps the reasons why I get more feminine email monikers is that I teach more men than women, and is not necessarily evidence that woman choose less professional aliases than men).

    Even this week, after discussing this very topic, I got an email from birddogboy and a few from students whose names show up only as non-English characters. Sometimes I think that it’s possible that students aren’t even aware of what shows up in someone else’s inbox when they send an email, and they are certainly not aware of the impression it creates.

    And yet, perhaps using a non-personally identifying ID has its benefits, say of you were sending an email and didn’t want to have your words associated with your identity. But that seems fairly cowardly, and if you can’t stand behind your words, then are they really worth sharing?

  2. Sue Waters says:

    I’ve tried really hard to get your name right Kimberley but it wasn’t until last night when I checked on the wiki that I realised that it was Kimberley. So the other day when a commenter wrote Kam I made the bad assumption they must know more than me 😦 (should have checked the wiki).

    First I would like to separate student identities from adult bloggers. We have to abide by most school guidelines that students don’t use their real identity.

    With adult bloggers ultimately it is their decision what identity they use. My personal recommendation is you can only be one identity online i.e. you can’t have one that is professional and the other that is going out partying or doing inappropriate things. I prefer to be known by my name Sue Waters and where possible now have that as my display name as it helps people connect with me. However my username dswaters is also well known so it doesn’t cause too many issues.

    I’m glad that you have created your about page which makes it easier for your readers to address you by your name. I would also recommend that you consider changing your name for Edublogs to your real name (as explained in my post) because it means that readers can check the bottom of your post and know immediately who to respond to without needing to check your about page to be reminded 🙂

  3. Sue Wyatt says:

    I’ve been tasteach for soooo long now, in chat rooms, emails, nings and recently blogging and twittering. When I use my real name many teachers don’t realise who I am, but because I am a teacher, I felt it was important to be a model to the students I teach.

    They don’t use their real names and they have an avatar, therefore so do I. Since I am nearing retirement age, I don’ think I will be changing to my real name so if you see tasteach, Miss W. or Sue Wyatt they are one and the same person.

    But I do agree that by the time students are in college and University they should be thinking of using a name to carry them through life while online.

  4. I’m a firm believer in using your real name online. We’re in a reputation economy where the first thing employers do is google you. When they do, one of three things will happen. If you’ve used your real name, then they will get results that lead to things like your Facebook or LinkedIn profile, your blog, etc. This may give them either a good or bad impression, based on whatever you’ve written there.

    The third thing that can happen is nothing. They will google you and your name won’t show up in the results or another person will “own” your name. That’s almost as bad as them finding the blog where you wrote about your drunken night out.

    The only way for you to OWN your online identity is to claim it using your real name. Otherwise, someone else owns it or there’s nothing at all–neither is the best option.

    I’ve made a conscious decision to use Michele M. Martin (or michelemmartin as a username) where ever I go online. It’s in my blog, in my networks, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Ning, etc. As a result, I show up as the number 2 search for “Michele Martin” (behind NPR’s “michel martin”) and the number 1 search for “Michelle Martin” (many people misspell my name when they link to my blog). On the first three pages of 30 search items, I own half of them. The links that get returned are to my blog and to other blogs that link to me, as well as to the other aspects of my online identity. These are the things that I WANT people to know about me and they further my professional reputation.

    Although I know that schools will never allow this, my personal belief is that we should be teaching students to be online using their own names and that we should be showing them how to manage what they put online under their names so that they maintain a professional reputation. And definitely for teachers this should be the case–it’s the only way to make sure that someone else isn’t hijacking your online identity.

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