You may be more used to reading things related to technology on this website, and you might be thinking to yourself "well this ain't it, chief".

You're wrong.

There have been recent discussions in my online circles around the concept of "real-name policies", which is a requirement within certain projects to provide your actual, real, legal, certified-100%-you name alongside your contribution. More generally, it is a requirement that people appear as a legally bound and identifiable identity within certain spaces and for certain purposes.

It might make sense to you at first if you have never thought about it any further of course: sure, sometimes you need to be able to delegate legal responsibilities to a contributor to your project, especially when it comes to their work and contribution. By then, of course, you think, naively, you need to have a unique immutable legal certified gold-plated absolute name recognized by a state to refer to them.

Can you sense I am exaggerating for a purpose?

Real Names do Not Exist

As many people have pointed out, real names are just a fantasy. This might come as a shock to you, especially if your life revolves around using your name around for various purpose such as academic publication, contributions, administrative presentation, and such. Spoiler: your name is not any more real.

It may happen that, if you happen to travel abroad, your name will be transliterated on your passport. Which one is real then, the name recognized by X embassy, or that of your country of origin? Country of origin? Okay, but then what if within that state, agencies cannot even agree on how to spell it? Even my own government has made multiple mistakes in registering various people I know at their birth... And what if you do not have a country of origin, or no paper from that place? Say you've been uprooted by war, famine, climate change? Records have been destroyed?

People believe a lot of things about names. It's like a lot of things. We believe falsehoods about names that do not pass the reality check (that post is from 13 years ago), and people in computer science are especially bad in that regard.

Now let's introduce this: I have multiple names. People who know me as a silly fox online call me one thing, people who know me more personally online call me another, my friends IRL call me one of two names alternatively, my colleagues call me a third combination of first and last name, and the government might soon start to call me a fourth one if they aren't a-holes about me asking them to. As a bonus fact, that is an especially complex situation to resolve when managing GPG keys, for example.

In this situation, none of these names are in any way less "real" than others. Nor should any of them be recognized as any more important and true than any other. They're all real, in a way, all destined to their individual community, and if your answer to that is to say "okay, but then what's on your ID", well, we've reached the real hard problem with "real-name policies":

Real-name policies drive away minorities whose "real name" is controversial or debatable in the eyes of the established norm

If your policy requires that I reveal the male name I was given at birth, I will simply stop contributing to your project. I will also tell my other trans and non-binary friends that your project is not safe for them. From a utilitarian standpoint, I'd argue you will lose out on the contribution of very capable people. From a more general viewpoint, you contribute to a general climate of hostility and gatekeeping that alienates marginalized communities from your projects, meaning the same demographics of western cisgender (often men & white) people keep the helm of projects that could all benefit from diverse input.

And beyond people who change name because of a profound experience of self realization, those whose "real-name" is controversial will often be racial minorities, migrants, and such. They will also be caught in this.


I'm the kind of person who thinks there shouldn't even be such a concept as legal name. Legality is a collection of meaningless decorum we act through to keep up the collective hallucination of our society. That's confusing enough of a take as is, but you can read between the lines to try and gather what it means.

In short? Don't require people to disclose their "real" name when contributing to projects, whatever you think that means. Let people use nicknames, change names. Heck, let them edit their names in previous contributions as well (I have notable gripes about the way tools like git(1) handle names as a permanent record; once again, a tool which design could have benefited from input from other people; and it's not the only one).

Here's a couple of issues I think people could have:

  • "But what if they submit something illegal" then you take the hit. Copyright issue? My answer is "fuck copyright", but a more practical one for you would be: have people handle those issues and remove offending things if needed. Malicious code? Same. It doesn't scale? Find a way to make it so that you don't need people to disclose their deadnames or argue with you for hours about their IDs
  • "But what if they act maliciously as a result? Doesn't anonymity foster antisocial behavior?" wow there's a lot to unpack there, but in short: people are going to stick to a name that's recognizable (heck, they might even have a little piece of government-issued plastic with that actual name on it!), such that they are going to build a reputation just the same way they would on social media or, very likely, in your organization chats. Yet, sometimes, that name could change. Or it could be used only in your social circles. Or maybe not! Identities are complex, and it blows my mind to recall that most people just have not grasped that fact, or never had to.

So, yeah, fuck real name policies, in short.