On some accounts I use my real name on-line (Google+/Facebook/Wikipedia/personal blog), others (Q&A/Gaming) I use an alias.

My question is: Security and privacy wise, what can people do with my real name? What are the dangers of using your real name on-line.

  • 13
    Good question. I know things are different these days, but not too long ago it seemed the common wisdom was to never use your real name online except for conducting business.
    – Iszi
    Dec 6, 2013 at 14:24
  • 11
    I don't believe it's the case now, but IIRC at the start G+ required that you use your real name. (Which got George Takei temporarily banned when some Google moderator didn't believe it was actually him.)
    – Brian S
    Dec 6, 2013 at 15:48
  • 11
    For an interesting case of this, have a visit over at MathOverflow (you could start with the "wear pants" section of their help center).
    – E.P.
    Dec 8, 2013 at 2:51
  • 6
    @Izkata The wording has been relaxed, but I wouldn't say it's gone. There's enough wiggle room in the terms that Google could suspend your account if they don't like the way your name sounds: support.google.com/plus/answer/1228271/?hl=en The most recent official change that I can find is January 2012 when Google broadened support for "established" pseudonyms (whatever that means).
    – pseudon
    Dec 9, 2013 at 4:41
  • 17
    Google closed my husband's Google+ account for not believing it was in his own name just a couple of weeks ago. They graciously offered to maybe reinstate it if he'd scan his own passport and send them the scan. So I'd say that they are still closing accounts for not sounding or looking right to their very blinkered eyes.
    – Jenny D
    Dec 9, 2013 at 13:19

13 Answers 13


This is actually an interesting new field in infosec—reputation management.

  • Employers, Law Enforcement and other government agencies, legal professionals, the press, criminals and others with an interest in your reputation will be observing all online activity associated with your real name.

  • These "interested parties" (snoops) are usually terrible at separating professional and personal life, so you could be made to suffer for unpopular opinions, political or religious convictions, associates or group affiliations they consider "unsavory", and any behavior that can be interpreted in the most uncharitable light. (Teachers have been forced to resign for drinking wine responsibly while vacationing in Europe. No, really.)

  • Conversely, you need an online presence, otherwise you will be made to suffer for a lack of things for the snoops to spy on - employers, especially (from Forbes):

    Key takeaway for hiring employers: The Facebook page is the first interview; if you don’t like a person there, you probably won’t like working with them. The bad news for employers, though, who are hoping to take the Facebook shortcut: “So many more profiles are restricted in what the public can access,” says Kluemper.

  • You must carefully balance your public and private personas. Give as little information as possible in your public persona, and be mindful that unknown entities who may be antagonistic toward you will look to use whatever you put online against you. For instance - you announce you're going to visit relatives for the weekend! Robbers and vandals may take notice (from Ars Technica:)

    39-year-old Candace Landreth and 44-year-old Robert Landreth Jr. allegedly used Facebook to see which of their friends were out of town. If a post indicated a Facebook friend wasn't home, the two broke into that friend's house and liberated some of their belongings.

  • Social media companies such as Facebook and Google have proven to be hostile to the notion of privacy, and continually change their terms of service and "privacy settings" without consent to share more and more of your information with others. You cannot rely on them to protect your public reputation from your personal life. From NBC:

    The Internet search giant is changing its terms of service starting Nov. 11. Your reviews of restaurants, shops and products, as well as songs and other content bought on the Google Play store could show up in ads that are displayed to your friends, connections and the broader public when they search on Google.

    The company calls that feature "shared endorsements."

  • It is best to offer information of a more personal nature pseudonymously, and keep the pseudonym(s) carefully firewalled from your real identity. Avoid major social media services when participating online pseudonymously if at all possible.

  • 3
    You present the 'reviews in ads' comment as a way that Google is sharing more and more without premission whereas those reviews were public from the beginning (only difference in which context they are shown). Dec 9, 2013 at 10:15
  • 19
    @DavidMulder- Context is everything - aggregation and presentation of undoubtedly personal information in a new, and possibly damaging way is pretty much par for the course. You really want your boss to know you bought the Insane Clown Posse boxed set when she pokes around online music services looking for gospell? Too bad, Google's going to tell her, anyway. Your reputation is now tarnished. Even shopping accounts should have pseudonymous logins Dec 9, 2013 at 12:16
  • 14
    @IanWarburton - From the article: "Payne said she was pressured to resign over the e-mail; the district said she volunteered." Unless you think she was wracked with guilt over drinking a glass of wine on vacation, it's unlikely she resigned willingly. Dec 9, 2013 at 16:58

Using your real name does not cause any harm to you. You do't have to pay for bad deeds done by an impostor.

So, using your real name online is not a bad practice, it depends on your wish. But the information you share is the real key.

Let us say that you have a blog or social network account with your real name. And you'd share information like the places you work/live, your likes/dislikes, your school/college/degree, photos, etc., it is an unending list.

This information can give an overall picture of you (of your real name). So there is a high possibility of an attacker(if you are targeted) misusing your name in such a way that you will have to suffer.

A sample scenario:

Let us assume that the attacker has gathered all of your information from your social network accounts, your personal blogs, etc., He creates a social network account with all your information and obviously with your info and picture.

He send requests to the friends listed in your profile. At least some of them will accept the request since it represents you.

Then he starts impersonating you in chats, mail and whatever and misbehaving with your friends and eventually your reputation starts spoiling (The worst thing is, you don't even realize whats going on until it becomes a terrible issue).

Later, you will face a hard time proving that it was not you but a fake one.

Bottom Line: Using real name online is not a bad practice; Using your real information may be.

NOTE: I am not saying that you should not share your information online, i am just reminding you that it is at your own risk and there are better chances for getting hacked when you give out more information.

  • 13
    As someone with an extremely Googleable name (quite rare first + last, unique combination), my Google results form a core component of my CV. People are incredibly bad at keeping things separate (even when they are logically separate), so "drew naff stuff on DeviantArt when he was 16" will affect the impression a prospective employer has of me.
    – cloudfeet
    Dec 10, 2013 at 14:42
  • A very relevant thing to consider here, is identity theft. Info scraped from internet combined with certain pieces of information that could be found by intercepting snail mail or contents of garbage cans can allow an identity thief to do things like take a loan in your name etc.
    – JaR
    Oct 20, 2019 at 12:56

Using your real name is not only safe, it's important for you to do so. Just bear in mind that you don't want to simply attach your name to all your activities, you want to build and cultivate your online identity.

Take the sad case of hapless, hopeless Rick Santorum. He was (and possibly still is) a politician with hopes for fame and power and sights on the US Presidency. He also has extreme political views that make him extraordinarily unpopular with many people; including most tech-savvy people in particular. Rick never cultivated much of an online presence until his presidential campaign made it important to do so. By then it was too late. Google can tell you the rest.

His case may be an extreme one, but the root of the problem is that no online identity existed until it was created by those he disagreed with. This made it trivial for those people to craft his online image however they wanted. And while it's unlikely his political career would ever have gone anywhere to begin with, this issue helped bring about its early demise.

In other words, Whether or not you ever use your real name online, other people will. And if they're the only people talking about you, theirs is the only message that will be heard.

If you establish a public identity, an authentic identity, your story told first-hand, then others will have a place to look to see the story as told by you. This includes friends, followers, employers, employees, investors, police and investigators, and the curious general public. The more complete and established and extensive your visible identity is, the more credible it becomes. A couple of blog entries and a Google+ profile doesn't cut it.

Just bear in mind that everything you put out there for the world to read you're publishing for the world to read, just like printing it on the front page of the newspaper. Keep yourself safe accordingly, but still say something.

  • When you are building a professional brand, you are required to use your real name, but again you open yourself up to identity theft but as long as you account for that and take proper countermeasures you should be safe. And considering to use a pseudonym for other accounts not directly related to building your brand might be an alternative.
    – JaR
    Oct 20, 2019 at 13:00

Sadly, whether or not to use your real name online may depend on your gender:

On a personal note, I have found StackExchange to be a safe environment but have used a gender-neutral handle on the last few forums I joined.

  • 7
    +1 for thinking outside the box and raising awareness :P Dec 10, 2013 at 16:00
  • 12
    @MauricioPasquierJuan: Yeah; but since women are half the population, it's kinda sad that considering women's issues constitutes "thinking outside the box".
    – ruakh
    Dec 11, 2013 at 7:23
  • 1
    @ruakh it kinda is, considering no one has touched this subject in other answers nor the original post. That's thinking outside the box for me, not only answering from outside the male privilege mindset, although that's awesome and welcome, too :) Dec 11, 2013 at 15:16
  • 1
    I guess there are quite a lot of women sheltering under gender-neutral handles on SE. It removes the element of scary bullying (or the suspicion of it, which can be just as significant). Dec 12, 2013 at 9:45

Behave in the same way on the internet as you would in the street outside your house (probably) - be consistent about who you are (you shouldn't have to compromise on your core values), keep your clothes on, don't drive while drunk, don't walk up to a stranger and give them your pin number, take reasonable precautions to ensure your safety, never go to Hillbrow for New Years Eve.

Well, my answer is different because I live in rural South Africa and nobody here cares if I drank wine in France. More likely, even prospective employers would be asking why I didn't bring them back a bottle. Out here I get commissioned based on who I know (and probably shot a few back with) and the quality of my work.

That said, I follow a few basic principles when it comes to "the online" and my professional career:

  1. Live my life unashamedly and do whatever I want.
  2. Don't want to do anything stupid or embarrassing or "compromising" (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) within range of a camera-phone.
  3. If I don't want it public, don't put it on the interwebs which is by its very nature a "public space". That includes: trolling when I'm having a bad hair day; my ATM pin number; dark secret thoughts.
  4. Don't work with people who I'm likely to have "creative differences" with. This is my number one rule now that I'm older and wiser. I am a libertarian anarchist. No, I don't "mind" "The Gays". Yes, I'm a single mother and no, I won't get married... ever... No, I don't go to church. And the hardest for SAers to comprehend: I.am.a.vegetarian.

    This all makes me as close to heretical/controversial/demon-worshipping as a South African can get to other South Africans. Am I worried someone will find out on www.topsecretvegetarians.com/forum? No. I already told them myself. Do I still get commissions? Yes - because of building offline relationships and the standard of my work. If someone takes exception to my core beliefs, well they can just go and throw new \Exception($themselves) and try and find a better web developer than me (they won't, teehee ^_^).

    South Africa (and Africa) has got nice big, wide open spaces for developers. You all should come on over. Bring wine. ;)

So, in answer to your question, I USE MY REAL NAME which is Gaetane le Grange. You can all go and google it now, I'm the only one in the world - thanks mom and dad :/. My nick here is only because it amuses me - links back to my blog with my real name (don't bother looking, I lost interest in it). My facebook: www.facebook.com/gaetane (don't bother looking, I lost interest in it).

When you walk into the street outside your house, you walk out as you (hopefully with all the appropriate bits and pieces tucked in and zipped up, minding the muggers). The internet is just a bigger street (more tucking, bigger zip, automated mugging).

  • 6
    Hey! Why the downvote! Is it because I'm a vegetarian? ^_^
    – user35251
    Dec 8, 2013 at 5:45
  • 13
    No, it is because you gave a very irrelevant answer. This isn't a personal blog you know!
    – Ufoguy
    Dec 8, 2013 at 6:25
  • 3
    @Ufoguy: It isn't!?! Oh dear, looks like I typed in the wrong URL... My bad! ^_^ OR in my personal bloggish way (for which I am somewhat infamous), I have feebly attempted to indicate that there is a way to live online without fear, using myself as an example (and responding to the points raised by the other answers - no really, I did, go check! :P). Some of the answers here made me really glad not to be living in the "first (class crazy) world"... To live under that much >unnecessary< anxiety and suspicion seems terribly sad.
    – user35251
    Dec 8, 2013 at 6:47
  • 2
    @Ufoguy *Shrugs* I'm going to put it down to "cultural differences". In these parts: pretty much every conversation contains something similar to "one time, in band camp"; it is considered impolite to tell someone else's story instead of sharing part of yourself; it is impolite to not empathise with what the other person is saying by saying something along the lines of "Ag, shame, dude. It isn't lekker, hey? Something like that happened to me and then I...[story]" Dude: "You lie! Serious!?" Me: "See ri us." Dude:Clicks tongue | Both: Drink Wine
    – user35251
    Dec 8, 2013 at 14:50
  • 2
    I don't understand. "Didn't answer the question"? Is the question is that simple to be answered 'per se'? Some can blame intimate wording but I think this is the best answer in practical reason.
    – 9dan
    Dec 9, 2013 at 6:17

Personally, I use my real name online or one of a select few handles that are easily and fairly reliably identified to my real name with a simple Google search. I also have friends who will give me nothing but their handle even after we've been friends for years. There is no right or wrong answer, it really comes down to personal comfort with your online and offline worlds colliding.

I chose to use my real identity online because of having several side businesses as well as having worked with a relatively large fan run gaming press site, so my I had a fairly public online presence associated with my real life identity to begin with. If you Google my name, I'm one of the first few people to come up. I also don't see Internet "anonymity" as something I personally desire and I manage my reputation online just like I would in real life.

If you don't mind having to be careful to manage your identity and understanding what implications of your actions could be, then it's a great way to build a reputation that is useful both online and off. There isn't any real risk other than you personally damaging your reputation.

On the flip side, keeping your identity private may prevent some damage from occurring if you don't bother to manage your identity, but then if your identity ever leaks or you ever actually get seriously investigated, your handles aren't going to hold up for long before a real name gets associated with it and the damage is compounded.

Regardless of what you decide about using your real name, the real important thing from both an information security and a personal responsibility stand point is to manage your identity online. Imagine if everyone in the world knew anything you put online (even if you are posting it for just your friends). Consider your actions through that light and you'll be fine whatever you decide.

  • In terms of your 'presence', how would you say using the same handle all the time would work for you, especially if it was mine (first/last) joined, do you think it matters if you always use real name vs handle?
    – Mattcul
    Feb 28, 2017 at 21:16
  • 1
    @Mattcul - For me, it's beneficial for them to be linked with me in real life and using a handle in real life would be a bit odd. I would also have to pay for private domain registrations to avoid my real name being associated with my domains and would also have much more limited SSL verification if I didn't tie it to myself. It really depends on the identity someone is trying to build though. Mar 1, 2017 at 6:01

First, it's not the same if you have a common or unique name and if your male or female.

Among the danger of using your real name online are stalking, bullying, identity theft, doxxing, etc.

Please note that not using your real name online will not protect you from those, it only makes it a little bit harder and with other protective measure will hopefully allow you to not be one of the low hanging fruits.

If you want some examples of the harm that can be done, research what 4chan does when personal info is posted there and what a human flesh search engine can achieve.

Another less obvious danger of putting your real name publicly online is exposing yourself to cross-referencing. If you used your name to buy an adobe product and the adobe client database is stolen... A secure password policy is key to mitigate this kind of danger.

Then there is reputation, you have to be careful what gets associated to your real name, google has a tendency to return first the stuff that makes you look bad even it's all lies, also once something is online it tends to stay there and resurface at the least appropriate moment.

You could also read the meatball wiki articles about the use of real names in a wiki and on meatball wiki.

  • 1
    The point that pseudonyms are one aspect of a defense-in-depth reputation management regimen - and a long, long, long way from a "magic bullet" to protect you from real-world harm stemming from your internet participation - is an excellent one. Doxxing is a thing. Dec 9, 2013 at 12:27

Using your real name online increases your vulnerability, and constrains your behavior. Being outspoken invites trolling. It's all good fun, until lighthearted harassment and death threats start getting real. You might face 200 pizza deliveries, or wake up to a SWAT raid.

It may also have long-term consequences. Joel Silver notes: "What you say on line lives forever." You don't want stupid things that you said in your youth to ruin your career. You don't want online flirtations to ruin your political career.

It's good practice to use your real name online where appropriate, and to mindfully build a reputation that furthers your goals. For inconsonant or controversial activities, it's prudent to use pseudonyms, and to appropriately manage their reputations. For that to work, adequate compartmentalization is essential.

  • This doesn't answer the part of the question around explaining why. Could you please update with your reasons.
    – Rory Alsop
    Dec 13, 2013 at 23:21

A thing to consider is that the answer to your question depends on how common your name is.

For example, there are only a handful of people in the world with my name, so if I use my name, chances are that the name can be correctly traced back to me.

If your name is James Smith, then tracing the use of your name back to you becomes much more difficult.

So the pluses and minuses of using your real name online are diluted as a function of how common a name you have.


What you say on line lives forever. The number of miscreants, peer aggressive competitors and general lack of ethics seems a very good reason to keep your thoughts associated with a nom de guerre. Linked-In exists for trading flattery and putting a very professional 'foot' forward for future HR reviews.

A ambiguous photo or post can cost more than imagined in the moment of posting, usually some time later. Given our current wide divergence between political party views, can you really post a cogent argument for either side without potential self-inflicted harm from some future power player with passionately held and conflicting views? While satisfying to declare Public Official A as being a 'corrupt fool', even truth won't protect you from A's like-minded associates. High risk, low value. That's a risk/reward ratio that's upside down and self-defeating, in my view. "Being paranoid doesn't mean you don't have enemies."


While there is much potential harm possible when you use your real name, one thing you should not neglect is others using your name. And while some sites offer means to remove content that seems or seeks to harm your reputation, many don't.

So my take on this is, instead of (passively) fearing for your reputation, actively make sure it is a good one e.g. by contributing well to sites such as this one. Anyone searching for your name will then hit all the positive things you actually did instead of finding mud (and possibly lies) others claim.


In general I would recommend against (except in the relatively rare set of circumstances in which you have no legal or practical means to avoid doing so), using your real name on-line.

The reasons for this have been quite well-described above, but I would also add a couple of other ones :

(1.) While -- today -- in the so-called "democratic" countries, we do have a reasonable expectation of protection from government harassment based on our self-expressed political views, you should keep in mind that (particularly in crises), this can change very rapidly. Think, for example, of someone who advocated the overthrow of the Saudi government, prior to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Using your real name on-line gives a suddenly-repressive government, a trivially easy way of identifying you as an "enemy of the state".

(2.) Children should not be allowed to use their real names on-line, under ANY circumstances. In saying this, I'm not repeating the rather tired (and greatly-exaggerated) fear of "cyber-perverts"; rather, I'm saying that it is not appropriate that every silly or immature thing that a child does or says on-line, should haunt him or her, for the rest of his or her life. The specific thing that you have to keep in mind here, is that the Internet does not have a way of telling an onlooker, "how old was the person, when he or she posted this particular vulgar YouTube video". This is a paradigm shift that no previous generation has faced and we need to err on the side of caution, where children's identities are concerned.

In general -- there are a number of significant drawbacks to revealing your real identity on-line, but conversely there are very few compensating advantages. This tips the balance towards keeping your privacy by using a pseudonym.


If real name, same email address and mobile number is used across social network sites and other websites, it is easy for a hacker to collect open source intelligence on you. A hacker will be able to understand your likes dislikes (example: based on the hashtags you have used in Twitter), where you are travelling, who you are communicating with.

The intelligence gathering algorithms are collecting and draw inferences based on the data available across the internet.

Basic reference:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-source_intelligence

  • I removed some of your specific examples because they are debatable (and there are easier examples that apply) and removed your assertion that inferences are based on a single point, because they are not.
    – schroeder
    May 2, 2019 at 10:09
  • I'm not sure that this perspective is useful. One's "real" name is just one point of connection. If you use the same "fake" name everywhere, then all the threats you describe all still apply. Digital footprint is important to manage whether you use your real name or not, and that's the bigger issue.
    – schroeder
    May 2, 2019 at 10:13

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .