A little while ago, Jeff Harrell mentioned me in passing, and reminded me of something I tend to forget: I don’t use my real name when I post.
The origins are simple: I started out here as a commenter, and I recalled the famous advice about “never give your real name online.” Simply phoneticizing my initials seemed a good compromise; I’ve used it off and on for over half my life, in various fora. Then when the guest-posting gig came up, I thought it might be a fun lark, and I’d established “Jay Tea” as my identity, so I stuck with it. And I don’t recall when that temporary gig became an essentially permanent position; it just sort of evolved on its own when nobody was looking.
So, a good year and a half later, is it time to dump it?
The Powerline guys had a similar dilemma, when they started moving more and more toward the mainstream. They were becoming a major force in the media, and one significant barrier was the names they had chosen. Guys with monikers like “Hindrocket,’ “The Big Trunk,” and “Deacon” have a lot of trouble getting past the giggle barrier. So they ditched them and started using their true names.
That’s not a problem for me. I’m not interested in becoming a more public voice.
Also, I’ve put a lot of work into “Jay Tea.” He’s become not just a pen name, but a full-blown persona. (He’s a smidgen taller, a bit lighter, and has better hair, just to name a few differences.) “Jay” has become a voice in the blogosphere, and has a bit of brand-name cachet of his own. To toss that aside would be difficult.
One of the main arguments against pseudonyms in the blogosphere has to be “credibility.” “Why should we believe you,” they say, “when you don’t even tell the truth about your own name?”
I’ve considered that argument, and I agree it’s a valid one. But I’ve always had my own way of dealing with it.
“Credibility,” to me, is a form of trustworthiness. It’s saying “you should believe what I’m saying, because of who I am.” And that is an incredibly seductive power — one with which I don’t trust myself.
Whenever I make my arguments, I always try to make a point of spelling out exactly what I believe, and why I believe it. I give my position, but then back it up with facts. I don’t want people agreeing with me simply because I say something, but because they also think I’m right.
I’ve seen what happens to people when they start trading on their reputation instead of their work. It’s mainly on the left, where people like Oliver Willis or Kos simply pronounce things, and expect their loyal followers to blindly follow them. And it frightens me.
I am, at heart, a lazy guy. But I know that, and I know how to avoid some of the pitfalls. I don’t want “loyal followers.” I don’t want people to simply agree with me. I want to continually have to re-win their approval and agreement. I want people to agree with me because I make sense, not because I’m me.
So, in the end, I think it doesn’t matter if I post here as “Jay Tea” or “Joe Tormolen” or “James Tiberius” or “Jackass Twit.” The messenger’s name is irrelevant. The messenger himself is irrelevant. It’s the message that matters.
After all, everyone knows what a marathon is. Some even know it involves the Battle of Marathon. Some can tell you that it’s 26.2 miles long, the distance a messenger ran with the news of the victory. They might even be able to quote his exact message — “Rejoice! We Conquer!!” — and say that he dropped dead the very next instant.
But how many can tell you the name of that messenger?