Countdown to the 2011 Name of the Year: Runner Up #2

Dec 12th 2011

Our first runner-up for Name of the Year was a fashion phenom. Our second is a phenomenon of a very different sort:

Mark Zuckerberg.

No, not Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg the name. The name that got Mark Zuckerberg, a bankruptcy attorney from Indianapolis, kicked off of Facebook.

This name stands as a symbol of the year's biggest ongoing name story, the growing tension between online and "real world" identities. Some 2011 highlights:

May: Indiana Attorney Mark Zuckerberg finds his Facebook account has been shut down. He's done nothing wrong, he's using his real identity and photo, but his name alone made him persona non grata in the social network. He already jumped through special hoops just to open the account, providing Facebook with legal documentation proving his name. But it seems that in the world of Facebook and Mark Zuckerbergs, There Can Be Only One.

May & August: Politicians get caught behaving badly, under the presumed protection of anonymous Twitter handles. In May, Democratic Congressman Anthony Weiner, flipping between Twitter accounts, slips up and posts a revealing photo under his real name. In August, a top Republican political consultant working for the Senatorial campaign of Scott Brown is found to be behind an anonymous Twitter account dedicated to whipping up nasty personal sentiment against Brown's Democratic rival.

July: Facebook marketing director Randi Zuckerberg (sister of Mark) says "anonymity on the Internet has to go away."

July: New social media entrant Google+ attempts to police its "real names" policy by freezing the accounts of many users whom its review flags as pseudonymous. These include people using well-established nicknames and professional handles. Users revolt, and the ensuing controversy and debate over online pseudonyms is dubbed the "nymwars." Google apologizes and adjusts its policy.

August: A Vermont man is accused of using the wealth of personal information that a teenage girl posted on Facebook to stalk and threaten her in real life. This is one in a year-long series of cases where sexual predators took advantage of users' trust in the privacy and veracity of Facebook's "real names" environment to target young victims.

August: A former staffer for Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign claims that Gingrich's huge Twitter following is fake, comprised mostly of dummy users bought through specialized PR agencies. An outside review confirms that 92% of the followers appear to be fakes. Subsequent reviews of other politicians' followings show that many of them have similarly taken advantage of the ease of creating Twitter accounts to create a false impression of popularity and influence.

October: A Google executive announces future plans to formally support pseudonyms in Google+.

November: Facebook suspends the account of world-famous novelist Salman Rushdie for the sin of going by his middle name Salman, as he has all his life. They subsequently reinstate the account under his "real" name Ahmed. In a moment of pure zeitgeist, Rushdie whips up a public furor over the forced Facebook renaming...on Twitter.

These identity issues break down into two broad types, abuse of aliases and control over real names. This reflects the two kinds of social media name environments. In "handle" systems, like Twitter (and the comments on this website), users may adopt any kind of name they like with no expectation of it matching their driver's license. In "real name" systems like Facebook and Google+, each account is expected to be an accurate online representation of a real person, real name included.

Media theorists and technologists have hotly debated the merits of the two approaches. Advocates on each side make persuasive arguments about safety, reliability, and community. For instance, real-name systems are a safeguard against bullying and oppression, because would-be attackers can't hide behind anonymous handles. And handle systems are a safeguard against bullying and oppression, because vulnerable individuals don't have to expose themselves to real-world repurcussions in order to share their experiences or connect with others in similar situations.

It seems obvious to me that each approach has its place. You want real names for purposes like coordinating a high school reunion; you want handles for purposes like protesting against a dictatorship. Real names can establish trust; handles can establish a theme or purpose to your communications, or even serve as an art form. (It would be a shame if Twitter threatened to shut down @LochNess4Ever unless she could provide government I.D. proving she's the real Loch Ness Monster.)

The trick to real name social networks is the unique practical challenges they pose in implementation. For such a network to work, users have to be able to rely on other users' stated identities. That means the network has to establish standards of what counts as a real name, and some means of enforcing those standards. And make no mistake, no real "real name" network currently exists.

It takes only the most cursory search to reveal that Facebook is brimming over with fake identities. When I was researching my post on international translations of Bob the Builder, I kept running into hordes of Facebook accounts with names like "Puuha-Pete." But perhaps "fake" is too loaded a term for these identities. While some online pseudonyms represent scammers, many more are simply standard nicknames and alter egos. Most of us have multiple ways of presenting ourselves. My Twitter handle is @BabyNameWizard, which is not my legal name but is still an honest identifier. And as I discussed last week, fewer and fewer politicians run for office under their driver's licence names. They choose what they want to be called.

Handles can also protect privacy. Researcher danah boyd has reported that pseudonymous Facebook handles are routine for groups like black and Latino teenagers. She suggests that the notion of Facebook as a "real name" environment is a polite fiction by and for people in positions of power and privilege, who have the least to lose by expressing their views in public.

The power dynamic is what makes Mark Zuckerberg the perfect name emblem of this ongoing debate. As I wrote when the story first broke, Facebook grants unique privileges and protection to names of certain prominent people. (Certain prominent people, but not others, in a seemingly capricious distinction.) That means that according to the policies of the uber-powerful network, its founder literally has more rights to his own name than any other Mark Zuckerberg has.

What's more, any definition of real name comes down to telling people what they may and may not be named. How can anybody tell Salman Rushdie that he isn't allowed to be Salman Rushdie? Your right to your own name is a deep and powerful right. In the real world, the United Nations treats forced renaming as a human rights abuse. As more and more of life is lived online, the nymwars increasingly become a debate over the nature of our own identities.


By A Rose, nli (not verified)
December 12, 2011 11:29 PM

Loved the post!

On the issue of 'fake' naming on Facebook, I would like to point out that many teenagers have fake names when applying to college. I don't have an actual friend named 'Kate Collegescantfindme,' but this is something a lot of teens do so colleges can't see their pictures.

By jjjjjj (not verified)
December 13, 2011 12:37 AM

Great reasoning...gets my vote for name of the year! Look forward to seeing #1.

By Jeannoi (not verified)
December 13, 2011 3:38 AM

Great post. I agree that lots of college students or high school students use fake names on facebook to protect themselves from colleges holding things against them that are on facebook or to keep their personal and their school lives separate. I certainly do, I couldn't imagine having everything visible. Before social networking that was easy to do, privacy/anonymity is still important.

December 13, 2011 8:47 AM

Laura, Thanks for consistently providing such insightful cultural critiques. This is a brilliant post. I am really curious to see NOTY now!

December 13, 2011 9:00 AM

Ooh, there's a rumor on the Name Candy Celebrity Names blog that Lily Allen's daughter (born in late Nov.) is named Ethel Mary. Do you think she reads this blog and remembers our Ethel Mae postulate?

By Essy01 nli (not verified)
December 13, 2011 10:34 AM

fascinating analysis and topic! in terms of anonymity this relates to the discussions in the nomination post for all the votes for anonymous but puts a name to it. Anonymity is both useful and harmful.

By Amy3
December 13, 2011 11:51 AM

Fascinating post, Laura! Thanks, as always, for your insight into the impact of names on all sorts of current issues.

Part of my comfort with FB's "real name" system is that my real name is so common it serves as a sort of anonymity. That's also why I only go by fn-married ln with no inclusion of my relatively uncommon maiden name.

Would I want my daughter to use her real name on FB? I'm not so sure. While I know she does share her fairly unique name (including fn-ln combo) with others, it wouldn't take long to figure out which was her. With my name, people are in for a longer hunt!

But the idea that a service provider determines you can't use the name construction you typically do (e.g., mn-ln) or that your name somehow doesn't belong to you (e.g., the "other" Mark Zuckerberg) or that you must go by a real name when it's impossible for them to determine (in many cases) what that is, is both creepy big-brother and absurdly capricious. They built it, people came; they should let the people call themselves what they like.

And now I really, REALLY can't wait to see NOTY. The 99%? Anonymous? Or are you going to totally surprise us?

By Amy3
December 13, 2011 12:48 PM

@Elizabeth T, that would be so funny if Lily Allen really did read about Ethel Mae here!

By Kern (not verified)
December 13, 2011 2:16 PM

I wanted to thank everyone here who helped me numerous times with our name lists. I really appreciated your help. Our little girl was born 12/5 and is happy and healthy. We named her Octavia Kern (my MN and my grandmother's maiden). We've had a lot of great responses, though our families clearly don't like it....oh well, they'll adjust.

December 13, 2011 4:41 PM

from namecandy - Duggars released name for their miscarried baby: Jubilee Shalom

By lain (not verified)
December 13, 2011 5:33 PM

Sorry to go off topic but I could really use your help. I read this blog and the comments regularly but I do not post. However, we are pregnant with twin girls due in February and really need to figure out names!

We have one daughter already. Her name is Amelie Grace _animal last name that rhymes with box_. Grace is a family name. We agreed upon Amelie instantly and no other names were under discussion once we knew we were having a girl. We are having a hard time coming up with two girl names that go with Amelie and each other (not in a matchy-matchy twins sense but that aren't discordant) that we can agree on.

We both like:
-Fiona--but not sure how it works with the last name--I'm not crazy about the alliteration
-Marina--was a strong contender but my husband isn't convinced; we wouldn't use both Marina and Fiona, as I don't like the matching last syllable; also I'm not sure about how I feel about both FN and LN being nouns
-Olivia--but it is way way way too common for me (my husband doesn't mind this)
-Mireille--but I have big concerns about the spelling/pronunciation; I have a very uncommon (as in I have never met anyone with my name, though I know they exist) but much easier name than this and I can imagine the nightmare of this name being much worse (Amelie is difficult enough for people) and then what would we name the third if two have french names?

My husband is generally less picky than I am and doesn't mind names being more popular but I do.

I would appreciate any suggestions/thoughts!



December 13, 2011 7:03 PM

Love this post! For the record I use a fake name on FB. I always have and it's never been a problem til now. Between the fake name and my relatively high security settings people can't find me, which I like. I also use different handles on all sites I visit/comment on. I don't like being too identifiable.

@lain, congrats on the twin girls :) I do love Amelie and it's on my long list. I am also a big fan of Mireille but one of the reasons it didn't make my short list was pronunciation and spelling issues. I am keeping it in mind for a future middle name if I have another daughter.

I do like Fiona, it's a bit more common here in Australia and I have a couple of aunts named Fiona but I also know a 1 year old named Fiona. I don't mind it with your last name. But I am partial to some alliteration, I know it's not for everyone though. I'm not crazy about Marina. To me it's a place where boats are docked. Olivia is a long time favourite but it's way too popular here. I'm currently trying to sell it to friends who like popular names and are due to have a baby any day now.

Other thoughts for you:
Elodie (although a little matchy with Amelie)

I can see all of those as a sibling to an Amelie and with your last name and I can see some nice twin combos in there. Any take your fancy?

I think I like something like
Amelie + Delphine & Genevieve
Amelie + Imogen & Allegra
Amelie + Ondine & Eirlys
Amelie + Juliet & Susannah

so many options though....what fun!

By AA (not verified)
December 13, 2011 7:23 PM

I actually go by a nickname both on Facebook and Google+, and both apparently assume it's my legal name. I, in fact, had no idea either had a real-name rule. Of course I go by the same nickname in real life, too, and sometimes it gets into official papers, if I don't pay attention:)

December 13, 2011 8:28 PM

I just read a book whose main character was named Marina F0x. The book is "State of Wonder" by Ann Patchett. It's terrific--highly recommended. It's sort of a modern "Heart of Darkness".

I don't know if sharing the name with the protagonist of a book would bother you, but I thought I'd throw it out there.

December 13, 2011 8:29 PM

Oops--my bad. Marina's last name is Singh. Her beau's surname is Fox. So no problem.

By mk
December 13, 2011 9:12 PM

I'm similar to Chimu in that I use lots of alias online. I have a real name facebook account fro friends and a fake name one for games, contests, etc. I don't like how facebook increasingly wants us to tie everything together under one account.

lain: I think alliteration works well with some names, and in your case Fiona plus your last name sounds great. And I like Fiona much better than Marina. Other names, especially if you want French ones:
Sophie (though maybe this is too common for you)

December 13, 2011 9:22 PM


What about Amelie, Genevieve, and Sabine? I think a lot of Chimu's suggestions are great.

December 14, 2011 12:19 AM

Wonderful choice Laura and great post! With every website you visit these days asking you for a login name, it is hard not to have multiple aliases. I have 3 main ones I use. I feel very attached to each of them for their individual uses. I have this handle for a majority of general sites, a handle for gaming, and then my real life identity. I do not use Facebook but do use Google+. I do not use my real name on there but use my gamer handle. It is however close enough to an actual name to NOT get flagged. I have met some of my gaming friends in real life. They refer to me by my gaming name when they talk to their families because otherwise their families wouldn't know who they were talking about. I do the same about them. It's interesting to talk about what makes an identity. I think it is not just your name and doesn't even have to be what we normally consider an actual name.

New babies I know: Regan Marie; Grace Anne

lain-I love the name Amelie Grace. What fun to be having twins to follow. The first thought I had was Charlotte. I like the choices mk gave you too. So some combos:
Charlotte Marie + Genevieve Celeste
Sylvia Claire + Lucy Noelle
Giselle Louise + Vivienne Rose
Naomi Beatrice + Cecelia Renee
Best wishes!

ETA: I just realized I didn't address the names you have listed. Fiona (okay); Marina (I don't think this matches the style of Amelie); Olivia (too popular for me too). I did also think of another suggestion in Bianca Michelle.

By Jennyanna17 (not verified)
December 14, 2011 12:45 AM

lain - I like all the French names! I don't know how it is pronounced, but Mireille looks very pretty. What about Colette? Amelie, Mireille and Colette.

By breyerchic04 (not verified)
December 14, 2011 2:22 AM

One of my friends had her fb deleted at the same time, she's a Kate Middleton from Indiana who looks much like dutchess. It was reinstated with proof of legal name and a call from her congressman boss.

December 14, 2011 9:26 AM

lain - After thinking about it more, I'm wondering if 3 syllable names sound a little better with the short last name. I'm especially liking 3 syllable names with the stress on the first syllable. Amelie, Genevieve, Vivienne, Josephine, etc. The two-syllable names don't seem to flow quite as well, though I do like the suggestion of Esme for you.

December 14, 2011 11:38 AM

from the last post, i wanted to mention that i like all of your choices, but kind of have a soft spot for sylvia and adore it with ursula. and i think sylvia brings out the prettiness of ursula. i strongly prefer sylvia to sylvie just because sylvie sounds like a nickname to me. i know it isn't; i know it's the french version. but especially next to ursula, it just seems less substantial and less serious. i also agree with zoerhenne that sylvie and ursula don't quite "match" in the way that sylvia and ursula do. but sylvia is just perfect. and you can always call her sylvie. but this is just my personal taste. i almost always go for the longer version of a name. i like your other choices too. :]

December 14, 2011 1:56 PM

Just as Laura has picked 2 appropriate runner up NOTY's, TIME magazine has also picked something appropriate for its Person of the Year-"the Protesters". Seems they've been on everyone's mind this year.

December 14, 2011 2:57 PM

Emilyrae - You're probably right about Sylvia vs. Sylvie. Normally I prefer the longer name, too. Maybe after a bit of time Sylvia can be freed from the plump little Italian Grandma in my mind. When I say the full name - $ylv1a F0nt3n0t - I agree it's really elegant. God knows why I have that association with Sylvia more than the other semi-clunky, antique names I seem to be drawn to. Both Sylvia and Ursula seem feminine but a little formidable to me - which I like.

December 14, 2011 4:13 PM


ah, yes, well i suppose everyone has different associations with different names. to me, sylvia is a name that was recently an old lady name and is juuust now coming back. maybe this impression is helped by my boss who has an adorable three-year-old named sylvia. both sylvia and ursula combined with your last name are just...smashing, in my opinion. oh, and i meant to ask you: have you seen the book griffin and sabine? that's the only association i have with sabine (and it's a very good one).

December 14, 2011 6:38 PM


My mother's name was Sylvia Eleanor. If she were still with us, she would be 99 years old on Christmas. So perhaps it is time for a revival?

December 14, 2011 7:10 PM

How about Mireya? It's a variant on Miranda so it means "admired." I like Tamsyn, which is from Thomas via Thomasina, meaning Twin.

Amelie, Mireya and Tamsyn is quite nice.

By sarah smile (not verified)
December 14, 2011 9:07 PM

For Amelie's little sister, what about Celine/Celina? I knew a sibset with those names and always thought they went nicely.

By ozy
December 14, 2011 11:02 PM


I too like Fiona and think it sounds great with your last name. Sounds like a secret agent or something like that. Lots of other good suggestions. The one that popped out for me based on your other preferences was Fleur.

By lain (not verified)
December 15, 2011 2:12 AM

Thanks so much for your suggestions!

In terms of Chimu's suggestions--we had already talked about: Lucia, Juliet, Genevieve, Clementine and Susannah--so Chimu, you seem to have quite a good sense of what we like. I like Lucia quite a bit but my husband vetoed it though I don't know why (it had made the original short list before the veto). I vetoed one of his favorites, Juliet (the nn Julie seems almost inevitable and I don't like that). Genevieve would be shorted to Gen which I don't like but I would still consider the name. I will float it again. We both liked Clementine a lot but weren't sure if it was too much (a fruit first name and animal last name) or if it worked with Amelie (or what we would name the other twin). Susannah just doesn't work for me though my husband liked it.

I like Elodie but agree it is too matchy with Amelie. I would consider Delphine and will run it by him.

In terms of other suggestions, I like Celeste, Charlotte and Celina but my husband doesn't. I will run Esme by him (though I do agree with you PennyX, that in general 3 syllable names, particularly those with stress on the first syllable seem to flow better). He likes Madeleine but it is too popular here for me. I will also try out Mireya on him.

My husband also likes Violet (big veto from me since a color first name plus animal last name does not work for me though my husband doesn't understand why). He also likes Seraphina (maybe he just likes Jennifer Garner?).

Thanks again!

December 15, 2011 5:02 AM

@ lain, I'm glad I was kind of on the right track with my suggestions. I love Clementine (it was vetoed by my husband) but I think it goes well with Amelie and it works for me with your surname. I think something like Amelie, Clementine and Genevieve work as a set.

I also like Genevieve but dislike the nickname Gen/Jen so was planning to use the nickname neve, would that work for you? You could also use vivi if that takes your fancy. With Juliet I don't think it would be inevitable to get Julie, it's definitely a name that doesn't have to be shortened.

I like Seraphina as well as Vivienne and Mireya from the other suggestions. I also thought of Matildhe (Ma-teeld) which would go nicely with Amelie.

@PennyX - I also prefer Sylvie over Sylvia but I agree you could do Sylvia nn Sylvie without any problems. I like both Sylvia and Sylvie with Ursula as a sibset. Would your husband consider Camille as a girl name? I like Ursula and Camille together as siblings too.

December 15, 2011 9:53 AM

lain-It seems like there should be a name out there that meshes your style with your husbands. Amelie is a great name. I didn't see you post a response to Cecelia? Are there any boy names you were considering to get more of a handle on your style? I also thought that you could tie the girls together by a common meaning such as using Joy and Allegra as mn's for them.

By Essy01 nli (not verified)
December 15, 2011 11:18 AM

lain - this might be a long shot but if you're worried about the fruit-animal combo for Clementine there's always Clemence (with or without the accent aigu on the first E). It's a french name to go with Amelie and avoids the fruit-animal combo

By livi (not verified)
December 15, 2011 1:00 PM

Facebook is so weird with how and when it wields its axe. Salman Rushdie can't go by Salman, yet my bro-in-law, is on FB with a nickname not at all related to any of his given names. And most married women who have changed their last name make their maiden name part of their FB name so people can search for them even though that name is no longer legal.

December 15, 2011 1:29 PM

How about Lila to go with Amelie?

By mk
December 15, 2011 1:41 PM

lain: Just to add, I know two Genevieves and both have always been Genevieve (except for one's dad, who calls her G). The little Juliet I know is Juliet, not Julie/Julia, and she will definitely correct you if you make that mistake. So neither needs to be shortened. I think Esme with your last name would be cute (Esme is Michael's J. Fox's youngest daughter). Bianca and Fiona together would be interesting, since both have the same meaning.

December 15, 2011 9:25 PM

Lain, two more recommendations (in addition to Lila): Isabel (Isabelle) and Jessamine (Jessamyn).

By lain (not verified)
December 15, 2011 10:59 PM

Thanks for the additional suggestions!

I like the nn Neve for Genevieve. (I had only come up with Vivi as an alternate to Gen and didn't care for that.) Matildhe isn't quite right.

Cecilia was a girl I didn't like growing up and I can't get past that.

In terms of boy names to get a sense of our style, my husband's favorite boy name is Alexander. I wouldn't consider it as a first name because it is too popular and I don't like the double X endings of the fn and ln combo: Alex _ox, though I do like the name. I like Ian a lot but think it's too short with the 3 letter last name (and my husband wasn't convinced). We were leaning pretty heavily toward Owen and while it's fairly popular I am willing to go with more popular on a boy's name than a girl's name.

I like Lily more than Lila but it is too popular and wouldn't work with the last name.

Bianca isn't for me but I do like it with Fiona. Esme is growing on me.

We both like Isabelle but it is too popular (and if we are going to do popular then we would do Olivia). I really like Jessamine/Jessamyn (but I prefer the pronunciation Jessameen which I don't think it the way it' "supposed" to be pronounced). I will run it by my husband.

In terms of other names I like, I like Ione and Camille but my husband won't go for either (and Ione might be too short with the ln). I sort of like Linnea (unless it is shorted to Linn).

Thanks again!

December 17, 2011 12:40 PM

My son is Owen and I had the hardest time choosing a name for a girl. I can't imagine picking two names! I too did not want a girls name that was quite so popular. So I will give you my short list girls names, since it seems we have some similar tastes! Although I preferred short names without nicknames...anyway here is is.


I like Fiona and Josephine (Josie for short) combo.

We ended up naming our daughter Brenna, which wasn't even on the list. Maybe it will just come to you!

By Aeschenkarnos (not verified)
December 18, 2011 5:30 PM

One of the more annoying attributes of this pointless kerfuffle is that both sides can have what they want. Facebook, G+ etc could set up "preferred name" fields and unlimited numbers of aliases, with the proviso that at least one of the aliases be the name on one's birth certificate or similar document. Then the user can mark some or all of those aliases not to be publicly visible, however searches *for* that name should still return the person's data record.

While this is still open to *some* abuse, it is nowhere near so disruptive, draconian, and annoying as their current policy.

February 4, 2013 5:18 AM

Indeed, privacy and security is a big deal and very much important when it comes to using the social networks. Many choose to hide their true identity for good, while others use it to harm. Whatever the reasons are, changing or preventing it seems really hard for now.

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