Lesson 2: Choosing a User Name

Welcome to Social Networking 101! In this series of lessons, we are going to teach you how to establish your presence in the vast world of social networking. Whether you are just starting out, or if you are a social networking maven, we hope to share some unique methods and tools that can save you time and give you a more visible web presence.

If you missed lesson one, Establishing Your "Brand," you might want to go back and read it now.

Choosing a Unique Name

In the last lesson I discussed the importance of establishing a personal "brand" and mentioned how some people may even want to establish two brands: one each for their personal and professional web presence. That is what I did, establishing "thechuck" for my personal stuff and "macchuck" for my professional web presence. 

Or at least that is what I tried to do...

In this lesson, we are going to look at how you go about choosing a user name. This is where things can get messy. The more memorable your user name, the better your brand. "TheChuck" or "MacChuck" are pretty easy to remember, and once you start seeing one or the other on a variety of sites, you rapidly start to build an impression of the person belonging to the name. User names are one of the most important things that contribute to the first impression you give to someone online. (There is even an article on how a good user name can improve your online dating success!)

With so many Internet savvy users out there now, however, the more recognizable your user name is, the more likely has already been taken by someone else on at least some of the sites to which you want to belong. I ran into this myself on more than one occasion. So here are a few tips to help you choose a good user name (and what to do if it is already taken).

Context

Consider the context in which user name will be used. We have already divided it into two groups: "Personal" and "Professional." For instance, you may not want the first impression you give someone on a professional site to be cuteasakitten99 or headbanger007

Also consider how much you want to be associated with the user name. For me, I prefer to be known and I want my user name to reflect that. But you can just as easily build a brand while keeping your real-world identity hidden. If that is what you want to do, make sure you don't use your real name or initials as part of the user name.

Variations

Using a variation of your name and adding characters can also help make a user name unique. Try spelling your name backwards, or adding special characters such as an underscore ("_") or periods. Make sure you do not start or end your user name with a special character, however, and don't use the at sign ("@") as that is reserved for email addresses.

Use special characters sparingly. When you stray from standard alpha-numeric characters, the result can be unattractive to look at and hard to remember. It is unlikely anyone would want to interact with §mar†∑∑¶an†$ (and you probably don't want to interact with those who do). Some sites also restrict which characters you can use, or how many special characters can be in a user name. So best to stick with simple ones, like the underscore ("_"), hash mark ("#") or period, which s especially useful when separating a first and last name — "firstname.lastname@mydomain.com" for instance.

Different Languages

If you really want to be adventurous, consider translating all or part of your user name into another language. A quick Google search will reveal web pages that can translate words from English to just about any other language, including Latin, Esperanto, and even Klingon! Just for kicks, here is how MonkeyBoy translates in those three:

Latin: MonachusPuer

Esperanto: MakakoKnabo

Klingon: tlhIngan_HolloDHom

The underscore used in the Klingon translation is where a space occurs in the Klingon word for "Monkey." The underscore is used because most web sites won't allow spaces in user names. So if your name is "Mary Jane" you might want to use "Mary_Jane" instead.

Compound Words

Other ways to create variations on your user name would be to create a compound word with something associated with you. My professional username ("MacChuck") reflects my work with Macs, for instance, and one of my AIM screen names ("nolamacchuck") reflects both my interest in Macs and my location (New Orleans, LA). 

You need to be careful, however, as it can also be limiting. Choosing "StarWarsMikey" may show your affinity for the George Lucas film series, but could cause prospective employers to not take you seriously (and raise the ire of others should you participate in online forums at startrek.com).

The bottom line is, don't give up on your desired user name just because someone else has it. You can use the techniques above to create a unique variation or two.

Online Tools for Generating User Names

If you are having trouble coming up with a user name, or if you just want to have a little fun, try out generatorland.com. This is a really fun site. They have a bunch of name generators, some of which are actually useful. If all you want is a nondescript but memorable user name, this site will create one for you. What it seems to lack is a way to create user names based on a word or phrase you input, however.

For a more personalized approach, try the Screen Name Generator from Make Words.com. This site gives you three fields into which you can put words that relate to you in some way. The site then generates 99 potential screen names for you. Many of the names may not be particularly interesting (or desirable), and some may already be taken, but it is a great tool to help you get started choosing a user name if you are having trouble coming up with one on your own.

Add A Suffix

No matter how hard you try, it is very likely someone will beat you to the punch on at least some of the sites to which you want to belong. When this happens, you can either choose a different user name, or you can add an easy to remember variant to it.

Some people make their user name unique by tacking numbers on the end. The number should be easy to remember, but you don't want to use important info from bank accounts, credit cards, or your social security number. You may not want to use birthdays, addresses, or phone numbers either, as such information might be a bit too revealing.

When this happened to me, I started using MacChuck instead of TheChuck on personal sites, and vice versa on professional sites. Obviously, this has the potential to create a small amount of confusion. So lately I have started tacking "2237" on the end of either of those when the original form is already taken. So far, my chosen name with "2237" on the end has always been available.

("2237" btw, is the last four digits of my very first cell phone number. It isn't in service any more, and it is very easy to remember, making it perfect at the end of a user name.)

Check Availability

Now that you have some user names to choose from, let's see how available they are on various social networking sites. You could, of course, visit each site and manually input names to see which are available, but that would take forever. 

Fortunately, there is a better way.

There are several web sites that will help you determine whether or not your desired user name is being used by someone else. Here are seven that are easy to use and cover all the popular social networking sites:

Friends call me… checks a huge number of web sites for your desired user name, so it is a great place to start. There are two cool things about this site: they group the sites they check into categories, allowing you to focus on particular areas of interest; and they offer a free service to notify you whenever a new site comes online so you can register on it.

Knowem will check your desired user name on 120 web sites. If you are busy, for a one time charge of $64.95 per user name it will also register your name on all of the sites it supports. That's about 50 cents per site, and well worth it if you don't have the time to spare to register on the sites yourself.

Namechk is a quick and dirty checker that tries your desired name on 72 different sites.

Usernamecheck is another quick and dirty user name checking service that checks 68 sites.

Wakcoopa also checks for your user name across 68 different sites.

Usernamez is another quick and dirty site that checks 66 sites.

Dialusername checks 62 sites for your desired user name.

When using the above resources you will notice they check many of the same sites. That's OK. They may use different methods to do their checking, so their results may differ slightly. As you try different user names, keep track of how many sites list the name as available. When you are finished checking all your user name choices on all the name-checking sites, choose the user name with the most availability on all of them.

Why Bother?

Is all this really necessary? Do you really need to see if your user name is available on 200 or so sites? That depends. This is where we get back to branding. As I said in Lesson One, if all you want to do is register on a couple of sites, you don't have to worry much about branding, and remembering different user names for those two sites (if necessary) will be no problem.

But if you want to establish a strong web presence, either socially or professionally, having a user name that is consistent across all the sites on which you register is an absolute must. It makes it easy for others to find you, and, more importantly, makes the task of remembering which user names go with what sites a LOT easier for you.

Summary

  • Choose a user name easy to remember for you and those with whom you will interact.
  • Use special characters to help make your user name unique without making it hard to remember.
  • Don't start your user name with a special character. Use letters or numbers only.
  • Consider translating your desired user name to a different language if it is not available in English.
  • Use compound words to better describe you and increase the likelihood your user name will be unique.
  • Tack on an easy to remember number when your chosen user name is taken.
  • Use one or more name checking sites to see where your desired user name is already registered.

Assignment: In lesson one you were asked to come up with 5 user names (or 10 if you also wanted to establish a professional brand). Select your best favorites and modify them (if necessary) using information from his article. Run them through the services listed above. Modify again if necessary until the majority of sites show the username as available.

Extra Credit: What compound word is represented by "§mar†∑∑¶an†$"? Post your answer in the comments.


Next Lesson: Passwords


©2009 Chuck Rogers Consulting