I’ve told this story a number of times, but it’s probably worth getting it down here.
Somewhere around my senior year of high school, I got involved in a group called Hecklers Online. It was a comedy site with games, jokes, and a game show style chat room that ran for about four hours a night (maybe more… it’s been a long time, so I don’t remember for sure).
Two hosts would run various games in which they would either do trivia or comedy contests; I almost never did the trivia, just the comedy. These contests had a lot of variety to them, but in general the hosts would first randomly select a judge from the participants; they would give all of the participants a set-up; the participants would provide punch lines; the judge would pick the three best completely subjectively. Those three would win “points.” At the end of the hour, the three with the most points would win virtual tokens, and if you won enough virtual tokens over the course of weeks/months, you could cash them in for actual physical prizes. I won a few T-shirts and can coozies, mostly because I wasn’t saving up tokens for video games.
In 1999, I actually went to a HO-Con in Toronto, where I met about a dozen of the hosts and some players. It was a blast. A few months later, I was offered the chance to be a host. It meant I couldn’t win any more tokens, but I got free internet for it.
Now I had not only my regular screen name (which at the time was DeMorseaux, a pen name I used in high school) but a Hecklers Host screen name (HEKsWhyZee).
I was allowed to play games that I wasn’t hosting, but I quickly learned that since everyone knew I was a host, they wouldn’t ever vote for my responses as the funniest (so that other people got points). It was a little bit of a letdown to my needy side. So, after talking with a few of the other HOsts, I learned that it was relatively common to get a THIRD screen name for playing anonymously. You shared it with the HOsts, but the judges didn’t know, so you might still win points. If you were lucky enough to win tokens, the HOsts would secretly skip you in the final tally and award them to the top three non-secret-HOsts.
I pondered another screen name. Finally, I settled on Somebody Strange. I did this entirely because it gave me a giggle to enter the chat room and see:
somebody strange has entered the room.
Very quickly, I became a regular and everyone called me Strange… and then even weirder things happened. I started using the name Somebody Strange on other websites, including the forums for brilliant webcomic writer Howard Tayler (if you’ve never seen Schlock Mercenary, you’re seriously missing out)… and even when I mentioned that my name was David, I was still “Strange.”
I started meeting people I only knew online, and inevitably they just called me Strange. Eventually, I really started thinking of myself as Strange, because I am more honest, more real, and more comfortable online than I am in real life. To me, “David” became the person I had to be, but “Strange” was the person I wanted to be.
They say that on the internet, anonymity means that you can be anyone you want to be. I took on the persona of Strange and made “him” who I wanted to be… and to my deep surprise, it turned out that who I wanted to be… was me.
There are lots of instances in the Bible, in history, and in literature in which people changed their names (or had their names changed for them) as a way of defining themselves. Strange had started to become my new name.
After a while, I settled in to being Strange/David, and I will answer to either one.
However, because I am still David, I have a lot of trouble in “real life” introducing myself to people. I always want to tell people to call me Strange, because it makes me more comfortable. There are lots of Davids, after all. But my social anxiety always leads me to tell people that my name is David.
Plus, I work in insurance. Very few people want to call their insurance company and hear,”Hi, this is Strange.”
Technically, I guess this counts as a nickname I gave myself, although it certainly wasn’t my intent at the time. Every now and then I have pondered having my name actually legally changed, but I think it would lead to more issues than it would solve. I mean, I doubt my family wants to start calling me Strange, and there would be an awful lot of paperwork.
So, for now, I’m Strange on the internet and in a few areas of “real” life, and David everywhere else. We’ll see what happens as time goes on.