Should Google Force You To Use Your Real Name Online?

Should Google Force You To Use Your Real Name Online?

One of the less pleasant aspects of Google’s Google+ rollout has been an insistence that everyone using the service not only have a public Google profile, but also have a “real” first name and last name. It’s not hard to come up with scenarios where that’s not realistic or fair.

Here’s a few obvious ones for starters:

  • Traditional Australian Aboriginal cultures don’t have a first name/surname structure as Western societies would understand it; family groups are identified by skin names, which work quite differently. Google+ has no way of handling this scenario that I can see.
  • Many people develop a separate online identity which has just as much social capital as their “real” name (the prominent example being quoted in the news at the moment is iPhone developer MuscleNerd. To argue that they’re being deceptive by using this name in Google+ shows a profound lack of understanding of online culture.
  • Using a pseudonym allows you to interact online without people making presumptions about your gender, which can have benefits.
  • Users who have used a Google account with a pseudonym for years have found themselves blocked not just from Google+, but from all their Google services. I can’t think of any way that this can be reconciled with the company’s often-quoted “don’t be evil” mantra.

How do you identify yourself online? Is your main online identity quite distinct from your “birth identity”? Are you happy to be identified as yourself? Do you have different approaches for different online environments? Tell us (and tell us why) in the comments.


  • I’ve had this particular nickname since ’96. Even prior to my using it exclusively as my online monicker, the vast majority of people I interacted with socially both online and offline also knew that any reference to “Bastard Sheep” was a reference to me. This is basically the reason why I eventually took it up as my main name.

    Ever since I first started going online I had it drilled in to me never to give out personal details online. You never know who the person is at the other end. Personal details should be reserved for people you actually know in person. Pseudonyms and nicknames for me started out as just a method of having some privacy, but now it is all but my common name.

    I know more than enough people who have used their real names on social media sites, only to have them, their partners, and their children threatened by name (and these people never stated their partners/childrens names online). This is one of the main reasons I do not like using my real name online.

    If I was to start using my real name on social network sites, I know a lot of people in real life, and a hell of a lot more online who would not be able to find me anymore. I also do not like to mix my professional life with my personal life, and keeping the two separate would definitely become a lot harder if not impossible.

  • I’m totally fine with this. I see it is necessary these days as some people hide behind a handle to give them no responsibility for their postings – which can be malicious and illegal (aka Cyber Bullying).
    Google+ does also allow you to also use a Nickname to display instead of your real name.

    • Hunter, the “real name” policy does nothing to protect against people hiding behind false names. Google does not require an ID verification check to sign up, so if someone wanted to hide behind a false name such as “Richard Wellinger” (note: Name picked totally at random) there is absolutely nothing to stop them.

      People can still hide behind false names to give them no responsibility for their postings with googles “real name” policy, but those who are actively and almost exclusively known by something other than their real name cannot use it.

      • So explain to us why you can’t sign up a Google account using the name “Bastard Sheep”? Given the amount of ridiculous ewe-neek names kids are having forced on them, your online moniker is just as valid. The bottom line is unless Google or FB or others start requiring an identity check, similar to when you open a bank account, then you can hide behind any name you want.

  • Doesn’t Google Profiles let you hide your last name, so you appear as “Angus” with a profile picture (that could be you, your car, Calvin peeing on the word “Ford” etc.)

    Personally, I prefer it this way. About 95% of my Facebook friends use their real names instead of “~~xOxOxO~~ sPaRkLe PrInCeSs ~~xOxOxO~~” like in the MySpace days. Those who don’t use a reasonable pseudonym or even false yet acceptable names to avoid (real) stalkers or troublemakers

    If I wanted to hide my identity and I had to use a real name, I’d use something like “Frank Smith” or something that is a reasonable name, but isn’t mine. Anyone who wants to find me, knows to look for Frank Smith.

  • Lots of cultures have different naming practices. Indonesia is a very populous country with a lot of people who have just a single name. Other cultures have the given name last and the family name first.

    That said, the people I know socially know my real name, and this will be the case for the vast majority of people in the world. I think that is the target for this first phase of G+.

    The ‘professional identity’ isn’t there yet. Google would love every individual in the world to have a Google account, and every organization in the world a Google Apps account. Individuals would often have one personal identity plus one or more ’employee’ identities. That is the situation Google wants.

    Once Google Apps accounts are fitted into the G+ system, multiple accounts for an individual will be expected.

  • No! It is also a breach of privacy in my opinion! Many online identities are people’s public way of coping with life. Their blogs, tweets and other posts are like a personal diary that they’d never bother to write let alone allow anyone read in the ‘real’ world. Online I have 100s of friends, many of these are closer than the ‘real’ people but without this identity I would simply not exist online! I also agree 100% with the comment about hiding your real identity. My human has a real name online presence too but she hates that she can’t say what she really wants to a lot of the time due to concern over people such as employers/clients reading it. She has also had her online nickname since 1996 & doesn’t see why she needs to change. Plus it’s so much easier grinding people via a nickname, trying finding John Smith online!

  • Wouldn’t it make it just that bit easier for some crazed stalker, to track you down, or inflict some kind of cyber bullying? Besides that, I like my anonymity, so if that’s the way they’re going, I certainly won’t be signing up!!

    • I was actually quite surprised when this first started becoming an issue for that very reason, that this has been stock standard policy for MyFace from the start. Why is it only a problem when Google does it, and not MyFace?

      I personally didn’t make much of a deal about it because I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to MyFace. It has always seemed like the sites primary goal is to expose private information publicly, with a few odd other features here and there. Due to that I never saw the appeal so stayed away for a long long time. Even now that I’m on it I’m on as “Bastrd Sheep” and check it for notifications/events once a week at best (those are the things that made me relent and sign up).

    • That’s true, and in the earlier days of facebook they were far stricter about enforcing that rule – they also disabled accounts because of fake names chosen.

      In the last year or two, facebook has relaxed the actual enforcement of that rule quite a bit. Google will do the same eventually, but for the moment they’re trying to keep their userbase from falling into bad habits.

  • Real names make the conversation more civilised and less childish. Sad but true. Check out XBox-Live if you don’t believe me.

    Obviously, it is only reasonable for the service provider to facilitate reasonable anonymity (like first names only or something).

    • Personally I think the internet is great for sharing humor and being silly. But since you mentioned Xbox live I assume what you meant is the amount of offensive and explicit language that they have.

      Xbox live’s problem isn’t lack of real names, it’s lack of effective moderation. As a counter example, the online forum at does have moderators who participate in conversations and publicly call out people who break community rules (as well as being able to suspend or block accounts of those who grossly violate those rules).

      Real names alone won’t stop offensive actions anymore than they have in real life.

  • I don’t think Aboriginal skin names are your best argument here. In many years of working in Cape York peninsula I never met an Aboriginal person who didn’t have two names to put on a form in the appropriate places. It’s the form owner’s problem if those names aren’t “Family names” as such.

  • No.

    Anonymity was a core principle of the early web. The fact that Facebook and others ignored this is no reason to continue the practice. I refuse to use any social networking site because of this (also I think social networking is little more than a self-indulgent waste of time).

    I will never give my real name online. Privacy does it exist; it is important and both citizens and government should stop ignoring affronts to our rights such as this.

  • It seems to me that in a real world situation you have a lot of control over the name people know you by; walking past another person on the street, you can’t magically discover a persons name – you have to ask, and they have the option to answer or not, to give a false name or not.

    Google Plus – and all social networks – should empower people to have dynamic control over their names and how easy it is for other people to discover what they are.

  • Hell no for a few personal reasons.

    Forget joining any support groups that is focused on health issues for starters.

    My wife was stalked years ago. Online and offline. It’s an eye opening experience when it happens to you and even the authorities can’t do anything about it. It was a scary time.

    I’ve been promoted high enough where I work that I’m kind of restricted when it comes to making ‘public’ comments. Even something as simple as stating my support for R18+ games could reflect badly on me.

    As a result I have an online persona fully separate from my real one. I chose a more common first and last name for it then my own. My real name is internet unique so I can’t hide out with the other zebras. Real life friends know who it is and why I’m using it. They’re fine with it, so why should I be prevented from continuing with it? It’s not like I’m hurting you, yes you. And even if you do strike up an online friendship with me, does it matter if you know me by a name not on my birth certificate?

    As for facebook doing it. So what. It’s google we are talking about here. If Facebook suspends your account it’s not big deal. Google control a lot more of your stuff. Last week when they did their sweep for illegal names they accidentally suspended more then the profiles for a few people. They apologised and said it was a bug, but still….

  • The simple presumption: Google Plus does not support “online culture”. 99% of people on FaceBook etc are just normal people who are communicating online. They don’t have “online personas”. They don’t need pseudonyms, they don’t want to hide their genders, races, etc from each other.

    So, rather than lamenting Google’s “profound lack of understanding” of online culture, just think of it as “does not support, will not support”.

  • Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. – Oscar Wilde

    Forcing real names might reduce the workload for the occasional website administrator by reducing trolling – but it has no benefit to anyone else.

    I for one would rather know the truth, even if that truth is Australia4Aussies is a troll and a terrible person, rather than that Don Jones is a polite liar when he’s worried that current/potential employers might find his crap online.

  • Only someone with something to hide uses fake names. If you have nothing to hide there is no problem using your real name, if you have something to hide you shouldn’t be posting online anyway.

  • I totally agree that transparency is important with online communications. I used ARPNET and FidoNet back in the DOS BBS days; the message boards were dialup (via the Hayes Modems you could modify to go from 2400 to 9600 baud), however the two biggest issues with real names are STALKERS and arguments that turn deadly, because the guy (or girl) you just had a healthy debate with decided to look you up on GOOGLE, map your address, see your HOUSE using the image taken by their mapping program–and slit your throat! Now you have your kids to worry about (John Stossel has made that one perfectly clear with the help of, with predators lurking about for underage kids; so they too could become victims of this “real name” crap caused by GOOGLE. It’s another case of GOOGLE simply not “Getting It!”

  • Like many I do you my real name in some areas of the internet, however I don’t want to be using my real name while making comments to YouTube videos, google is forcing that on use. Google is going to see a surge in “real name” appearing new google ID. Even if that violates there TOS how many believe the are going to tossing off potential customers for the advertisers off the google system?Google is over reaching here. Np way will google-+ overtake FB, not in this manner anyway, so Google should be looking how to keep it’s current loyal users by improving current services or coming up with new services.

  • Anonymity on the internet is one of the most important aspects of the internet. People are free to express themselves when they have anonymity on the internet. People behave differently when they know they are being watched. Under your real, personal name, you are easily pressured, and you don’t want to ruin your reputation with your peers (or authority figures).
    This is about free speech. Without anonymity, there is no true free speech.

  • In Real Life, There is no longer absolute freedom of speech. Example, A few years ago, A TV news report revealed that a man who spoke expletives aloud in front of school children received jail time. By forcing us to use our real name, our freedom of speech is further suppressed. I have my own thoughts, opinions and ideas which I would like to express without fear of reprisal. The ability to use a pseudonym for my online text only postings imbibes me with a false sense of security that I can no longer attain when being forced to use my very “real” name.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!