What’s In A (Sur)Name?

It would seem that the Jira asking to Bring Back Last Names Options! has struck a nerve on many residents of Second Life, including me. The issue becomes more convoluted due to many points of view (and to me, nearly all of them quite valid), depending on individual needs and ways of looking at Second Life. My own comment to the Jira was this:

In a world of our own contrivance, I feel that history and continuity are important components in adding depth and richness to our chosen virtual existence. Amazing sims come and go constantly, but with luck, we avatars have a longer lifespan. The ability to choose a fitting surname means a lot. I also like the legacy system in which names were retired after a span of time. My surname (Writer) is one of those. I take a sense of pride in the years I have given to Second Life, and hope that I help make it a more meaningful place.

If we are to fully immerse in Second Life in a positive way, I feel that our shared cultural history and experiences are a big part of the process. Surnames are one facet of that. Please consider allowing new residents to choose a name they can be proud of – and perhaps they will carry that pride towards their Second Life accomplishments.

This being (a repost from) my own blog, I will only speak for myself, please take it as such and know that I respect your viewpoint too!

On St. Patrick’s Day, 2007, rather than drinking green beer, apparently I was more interested in creating my first avatar. I browsed the list of available surnames, thought of a few amusing plays on words to go with some of them, but eventually settled on “Writer”, as this describes what I aspire to be. For many years, I had answered to an online nickname of CJ, a shortened version of CocoaJava, which is the name of my own website and domain. So, I plumped that nickname up and it became Ceejay.

Later than year, I discovered the Steampunk City/State of New Babbage. It overwhelmed my senses, and I joyfully explored this amazing place built by what I saw as impossibly talented mysterious people well out of my league. My admiration was detached, I did not feel I was worthy of bothering these artists. Then one day I found a Babbage shop called, I believe, Writer Steamworks (I may be off on the shop name, it has been gone a while). And something happened. Something really nice! I realized that another Writer had helped create New Babbage. The name Writer had been retired (that’s how it worked back then, after some months, names were retired and became ‘legacy’ names) and I recall distinctly feeling a burst of pride that one of my ‘family’ had done so well.

And with that realization that New Babbage was not built by some mysterious engineer-gods hiding in the clouds, I formed a new bond with the city. I moved in shortly thereafter, and got brave enough to contribute in my own way to the city I’d grown to love.

Now and then I meet another Writer, and we always say hello. It’s a happy thing. We share a history, having rezzed in during the same time period, and probably share many of the same memories of watching Second Life grow. It is not an elitist or clique-ish feeling, just one of a comfortable ease of talking with someone your same age.

Fast-forward up to yesterday. I have a quiet, friendless worker alt who’s last name is “Resident”. For my purposes, that’s okay, she’s not meant to socialize at all, she just produces work. But as she was running around the grid trying to quickly collect landmarks for a project, apparently she was noticed by the owner of one of the businesses she’d made a stop in. This worker alt does have a cutsie display name, added for my own amusement, but her underlying name of Resident will always brand her as a ‘newbie’. The shop owner IM’d her with this (And I quote exactly) “dontr know why u were here. u give me a bad vibe. Ibanned you”

Maybe she was having a bad day. Maybe she’s just a jerk. And just maybe that newbish ‘Resident’ name unnerved her, as we all live in a world where copybotting and other forms of theft exist. Would I have been banned had Miss Writer paid that short visit? I’ll never know. But I’ll wonder.

I realize that there’s more important things to fix in Second Life. Chat, lag, mesh, viewers, a plethora of to-do’s are constantly on the Linden Lab workpile. But consider this: If the people behind the avatars do not feel a sense of connection, community and pride in their virtual self, are they as likely to contribute in positive ways to our overall experience? How will it feel to forever be a member of Clan Resident – never aging in others eyes, always and forever a newbie, giving off that ‘bad vibe’ to older avatars who may be suspect of their intentions.

All the upgrades in the world can’t give one the sense of pride and belonging that their own name can. Names are powerful, in any reality.

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6 comments

  1. I agree. The original JIRA went on about ‘uniqueness’, but that actually misses the point I think. The surnames created community, and all the things you pointed out.

    I’ve said this before (in plurk, I believe), but to me, Resident just says ‘noob’, and segregates and labels a whole new generation. It was a bad idea.

  2. Considering that the display names were the typical “ohhhh shiny” response to distract from bigger grid problems, and that also typically they did not answer the requests from many residents for the ability to change their surname to another surname.
    Some folks certainly wanted to be able to create a surname, MANY wanted to be able to adopt the surname (or hyphenate) of their beloved. I felt like the Lab really missed the boat on not just offering the option to change one’s surname for a substantial upfront fee, like $L100. A money sink for them, and a chance for folks who really want a new surname to have one.
    I miss the days of an excited annoucement going out in group chat, such as: “Hey, Steampunk is now a surname!!”

  3. I think Fogwoman captures my thoughts on this. A surname is something that in our first lives we do not choose at all, at first. We inherit it from our parents. Then as life deals us our cards we retain it, adopt it, donate it or combine it, as befits our life at that time.

    If we consider the history of surnames such as Fletcher, Plumber, Wainright, and Smith, nominal recognition of the person’s way of life we see parallels to the Writers and Steampunks, the Engineers and even the Nerds (yes they were here).

    So, in one sense display names give us some freedom to express our life choices here, and a charge to make a change would not be a bad thing, but nothing about display names means that resident should be the only surname available. Why not allow for the choice of surnames as before. Restablish the families. Like Ceejay I smile broadly whenever I meet a cousin of mine and tend to greet them as such.

    I hope the lab are listening. there are almost a thousand votes for this now. 🙂

    Think on this. If they change the policy what a family “the Residents” will be. Harking back to this shortlived era in the evolution of Second Life. Perhaps in time it may become fashionable to wear the birth name Resident and not a stigma.

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