What’s in a name?

Ever since Display Names came in – and a jolly good idea they are to, in many respects – there has been an on-going reaction to the loss of the last name option in Second Life. To be frank, the removal of the last name option in the hope (in part) of spurring the adoption of Display Names was a bloody stupid idea.

Now it seems, voices may be being heard. A JIRA started earlier this year petitioning for the last name option to be returned has gained a response. Admittedly, it’s a response that is open to interpretation, but it’s a response nonetheless. Commenting on the JIRA, one “ProductTeam Linden” said:

“It’s clear there is a lot of interest in SVC-7125. The intent was for users to specify their last name using the Display Names feature found in users’ profiles, which most Viewers now support. For those that haven’t used Display Names yet, you can also set them on the web: https://my.secondlife.com/settings/profile.

“Know that we hear you and value your passion and that we are currently reviewing some of the decisions that were made with the username / Display Names implementation.”

Does this signify anything may change? Possibly; but equally possibly not. At least it shows someone at the Lab is aware people aren’t entirely happy with the situation. Quite who from the Lab is listening is also open to question; “ProductTeam Linden” is another of those “group” Linden accounts that appear to be on the increase and which seem to be aimed at obfuscating communication as much as anything by generating anonymity behind “official” posts and commentary. Just what is the problem with company representatives using their own names when dealing with customers by way of things like the JIRA?

I’ve never personally understood why LL did away with the last name feature – the ability for the platform to accept new accounts with the traditional first name / last name set-up hasn’t actually been removed, only disabled from the official sign-up page. Those who are prepared to make the effort can find a number of sign-up portals that offer the first name / last name format when creating a Second Life account.

Of course, there are security risks involved in trusting third-party sites – so going and finding one that offers the ability to sign-up to SL is a case of caveat emptor, so to speak. But for those who are interested, I can offer at least one small pointer: there is one portal that should be relatively safe, and that can be found here in the UK, on the Daden servers.

Daden Limited are a Birmingham-based company heavily involved in virtual worlds, most notably OpenSim, where earlier this year they sponsored the initial development of non-player characters well ahead of LL’s announcement to they’d be offering this in the future. As such, it is unlikely the Daden website hides any nasty surprises, although the choice of last names is limited.

There is much to be said against the current sign-up process as implemented by LL, and most of it has been argued in-depth often enough for it to need no repetition here. Suffice it to give just a handful of reasons why it was a bad move:

  • First names effectively become a one-time use option, as anyone trying to use a simple “Dawn” or “Peter” without having to resort to a numeric string (“Dawn12345679”) or and idiotic name born out of sheer frustration (“PeterXrayHowsYourFatherBongBong”), will testify
  • People end up spending what can amount to 30 or more minutes trying to find a suitable name that avoids either of the above – as I can testify; and even then, it’s not easy. When testing the new system, I resorted to Maori, Swahili and Sinhalese names – and still had problems. It’s a wonder there has been any upturn in sign-ups, frankly
  • While probably well-intended (give it’s old connotations), “Resident” actually leaves people without the same sense of belonging that is created when they can pick their name in full and take it as their identity. Let’s face it, would those at the Lab feel particularly happy if real life dictated they all had to adopt “Citizen” as their last name?

Nor does the Linden argument relating to Display Names actually carry any weight in the matter of name choice. Really, it matters not if “Dawn12345679” uses the Display Name option to change her name to “Dawn Glorie” or whatever. To (probably the majority of) those observing her, she will remain “dawn123456789”, because that’s what we see sitting under her Display Name, and that is what most people seeing it will take as her identity in SL, no matter what her Display Name states.

Far better for the last name option to have been retained, as at least “Dawn” would have been able to become a Starr or a Ghost or an Orchid or … well, Pey for that matter, right from the off and not have to worry about looking like a refugee from AOL or CompuServe while wandering SL.

Nor should bringing back the last name option be that hard – as stated above, new accounts with a first / last format can still be accepted by the system, and would it really be that hard to implement a set of last name lists once again that are rotated periodically as part of an automated process? Or how about being really radical, and allowing the use of a space when users define their names. Again, the functionality is there in the Viewer, so shouldn’t be that hard to implement in the sign-up pages.

Finally, it’s a shame that when LL get so much intrinsically right about our right to identity they have, in the matter of names, got it so fundamentally wrong. In the past, the names we chose for our avatars were always personal; we took care in selecting a last name that would reflect our personality or character and which would become as much a part of our in-world identity as the look of our avatar. For those entering virtual business, the name could in fact become a brand around which a reputation is built.

In abolishing the last name option, LL stripped that part of identity-building away from SL, and lumped everyone coming into the platform or who needs to create a new avatar together in some homogeneous pile tagged with the label “resident”. In doing so, the also curtailed some of our ability to embrace new avatars perhaps as closely was we once did. “Inara Pey” is very near and dear to me; I’m not sure I’d cherish “Inara23412 Resident” (were I ever to have cause to create her) to quite the same degree.

So come on, Rodvik & Linden Lab. Stop dithering. Let’s see last names returned. Christmas is coming – it’ll be a nice treat for everyone.