In Names, Words

false nose and glasses

Regular listeners to radio phone-in shows will be familiar with the phrase “Not her/his real name.” This occurs when they’re talking about some sensitive issue, like gender neutral toilets or bad feet or one as a result of the other, and someone calls or writes in wishing to comment without being identified.

So the presenter will give them a pseudonym. For example, “Sarah Evans (not her real name) writes…” Which raises all sorts of questions. All sorts.

Like, firstly, who chose the name Sarah Evans? Does the presenter have to make a name up on the spot or does it get referred to a special department at the BBC that specialises in making up names for people who wish to remain anonymous? If so, how do you get a job there? What are the qualifications? “Must be good at making things up.” And how do you test that in the interview? A candidate might say they’re good at making things up but how do you know they’re not making that up? You could argue that if they did make it up that proves they are good at making things up but then why did they feel they had to make it up in the first place if it’s the truth?

Secondly, how do the people in the BBC Pseudonym Generation Dept decide on a name like Sarah Evans? Do they go for something that’s quite similar to the person’s actual name or something very different? For example, was Sarah Evans really Sarah Ovens or was she Barry Goodman?

Thirdly, does the person who’s having a pseudonym made up for them get a say in the name that’s made up? What if Barry Goodman doesn’t want to be referred to as Sarah Evans. Can he complain? And if so, under what name? Come to think of it, when a person writes in asking to have their name changed, do they put their real name on the initial correspondence? If so, why?

Fourthly, what happens to all the people who are really called Sarah Evans if someone hears the show and assumes it’s them who has written in about their bad feet?

Fifthly, why bother with the surname? Why go into that detail? You might as well say, “Sarah Evans of 23 Acacia Avenue, Solihull (not her real address).” Why not just stop at Sarah? Or, for that matter, Barry?

In fact, why bother making up a pseudonym at all? Why not just say, “Someone who wishes to remain anonymous writes in to say…” Is that somehow less authentic than making up a pseudonym? If it is, why not just make one up and not tell us? Would anyone be offended.

Interested to hear your thoughts. Please address your comments to [email protected] (not my real email address). Your identity will be protected.

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