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Nov 16 / Caro

Internet Privacy: To Name, Or Not To Name?

In the last couple of years I’ve come across a increasing number of people who choose not to share their child’s name publicly on the internet. To be honest, had I not read about other people doing it, it almost certainly would not have entered my head to even contemplate doing likewise. And that’s particularly odd, given that I’ve always been reticent about sharing my own full name online.

I have reasons for that. My maiden name, which I still use for work, is unusual and distinctive. There is not much chance of it NOT being recognised by people who know me in a professional capacity if they should stumble across it online. And moreover, a quick search for my professional name yields results that almost exclusively relate to me. I like to keep some distinction between my personal and professional life, particularly when I’m posting about very personal matters, such as my health and relationships. I’ve always been more than a little afraid that people will judge my ability to do what I do not on how well I actually do it, but on misplaced, narrow minded preconceptions. And there are some good reasons for that too, since I’ve had more than my fair share of cruel judgement from people who really should know better. So I keep my full maiden name under wraps when talking about anything other than professional topics and thus far this seems to have been reasonably successful.

Marriage opened up some new possibilities. My married name is much more ordinary and I’m not the only person with the exact same name in the UK – in fact there are apparently more than 200 of us. I also don’t divulge my married name to patients, to minimise the risk of nosy people looking me up. I spent a lot of time finding ways that I cold ensure my married name was not strongly linked with my maiden name online, so that the new name was not easy for people to find. I know that it’s not impossible – and things I’ve done have even made it specifically possible, such as a print (not online) article about our wedding, with both names included – but it should take more than a casual internet enquiry. Someone would have to go searching, and if they’re that determined, a part of me says let them have it. So I do use my married name online, although I’m still cautious. I’d probably be more cautious if I hadn’t, perhaps foolishly, borrowed my now husband’s name to make a pseudonym back before we were even engaged. Thus I began writing under that name before it became my actual name and it’s a bit late to scrub that now.

So I’m well aware of the issues of internet privacy, but it still hadn’t really occurred to me to consider giving my child that privacy. It’s going to seem stranger still when I tell you that we’ve actually decided not to keep his name under wraps. This is our personal decision, and one that I know is not right for everyone, but we’ve thought our specific circumstances through and it’s the decision we’ve reached that is right for us.

I understand the reasons that other people give for keeping names under wraps.. The fact that our children don’t get to make the choice about how much of their identity is available online. The fact that it may make them a later target for cyber bullying. The fact that once something is published online, it’s forever online, since completely hiding all trace of anything that was once there from determined eyes is all but impossible to do. What goes on the ‘net definitely stays on the ‘net.

But I think it’s possible to keep these things in perspective. I’m careful about my own identity in the here and now because inappropriate dissemination of the information I share has the potential to affect and harm me in the here and now. By the time our son is old enough for people to be searching specifically for him, anything I’ve shared here will be long out of date. For starters that means it won’t pop up page one in search results. And whilst teenagers might like to make jokes about his potty training exploits, it’s honestly unlikely that anyone would go to that much effort to find old information to use in a cruel fashion. Bullying of all types in children and teenagers tends to be opportunistic, not based on what their parents wrote a decade before. This is all quite aside from the fact that “normal” childhood experiences such as potty training shouldn’t be anything to be ashamed about. Everyone has been there, and I’d like to teach my children not to be embarrassed about such normality. I don’t intend to share anything that *could* be deemed to be very private or personal.

It also turns out that our son shares his name with a huge number of people, including a reasonably (currently) prominent boy band member. Although that person may fade in to obscurity, it’s safe to say that our son will blend in to many, many other internet search results should anyone choose to have a look. My decision would quite possibly have been different if his name was different.

I’ll also admit that I didn’t really want to deal with stress of trying to control what others do online. I can imagine the reaction if I told everyone that I know that we wanted to keep his name private, and even if no one intentionally went against this, there is a massive potential for a casual error. I know of one couple who went to great lengths to try and ensure their little girl’s name was kept private. Yet they shared it with so many people in real life, it was inevitable that it found its way online eventually – in a completely innocent slip up.

There are positives, too, to sharing his name. I find it hard to write honestly without sharing real names. My own writing is much more stifled and self conscious when using nicknames or omitting names entirely. His name isn’t a secret, it’s part of his identity and whilst for many that may be reason enough not to share it, I feel if I’m sharing anything, it should be the whole picture.

So, here we are. Welcome on to the internet, Thomas.

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