Names on the internet: towards electronic socio-onom@stics
The Internet represents an abundant source material for linguistic research, which continues to pose new challenges and opportunities on how language is used by its speakers. Its personal naming system, for example, has remained largely unexplored. Of the many facets of names on the Internet awaiting closer scrutiny, the phenomenon of usernames is perhaps the most fundamental. This thesis investigates the role they play in online life, the most suitable methods to approach them, and how they compare with the names used offline and where their place is in onomastics in general. With people’s names inevitably connected with one or another aspect of identity, this work focuses on the relationship between usernames and online identities. The data has been gathered from a forum on the Russian-speaking sector of the Internet (RuNet) and comprises all registered usernames (676 at the time of collection) as well as an extensive and methodically selected sample of users’ conversations. As a general analytical framework, it utilises Garfinkel’s (1967) ethnomethodology, which conceptualises identity as a result of the ongoing interaction that people negotiate and achieve in everyday life rather than a set of inherent inner qualities. More specifically, the following methodological tools devised by Sacks (e.g. 1995, 1984a, 1984b) have been used to perform the analysis: Membership Categorisation Analysis (MCA) to categorise the usernames of the forum participants, and Conversation Analysis (CA), to observe how usernames contribute to the construction of individual identities. Finally, the concept of Stance, as presented by Du Bois (2007), has been used as a lens to identify relevant evidence in the conversation samples. The analysis has demonstrated the need for a systematic categorisation of usernames. The way in which they associate sets of attributes, facilitates the allocation of named entities as members of certain categories of persons. Both linguistic and typographic elements of usernames contribute to how they are perceived and what impression they create. It is also argued that usernames have an important role to play in the active and ongoing construction of individual identities. The study concludes that CMC participants operate their usernames as meaningful linguistic devices to construct and co-construct each other’s identities. CA and MCD are confirmed to be relevant methods to analyse onomastic data. This study has generated a reliable body of evidence for the assertion that usernames are far from meaningless, and demonstrates, moreover, how their meanings are established. In so doing, it constitutes an important contribution to onomastic theory with the potential to shed new light on personal naming in general.