Is a pseudonym the same as a persona?

* Superman/Clark Kent - which is the identity and which is the persona?

We were recently having one of our interminable discussions on the Identity Gang mailing list (this was the privacy vs. anonymity discussion which dates back, oh, dozens of years) when Oracle's Nishant Kaushik - identity architect at Oracle and author of the Talking Identity blog - raised an interesting question: "Isn't a pseudonym the same as a persona [as defined in the identity management world, by my understanding]?" Well, there's nothing I like better than chewing over the meaning of words - so I did.

Before I get to that, though, a quick note to point your browser to and register for a great Webinar to be held this Wednesday, Jan. 14, at 11 a.m. EST. It’s called “A Real World Look at the Changing IT Security Landscape for 2009,” and will be a panel discussion with execs from Bridgestone Europe, the City of Miami Beach and Parkview Adventist Medical Center, moderated by yours truly. Hear how these IT executives plan to manage their authentication and access management in 2009 – I know I want to find out.

Back to Nishant’s question, “Isn't a pseudonym the same as a persona?” The correct answer is yes. And no. Or, maybe it’s “sometimes.”

The authors of the Federalist Papers (Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison) published the 85 works under the pseudonym “Publius.” There was no attempt to create a persona for Publius, though, it was simply a “handle” so that all the papers would appear to come from a single writer. In late 18th century public discourse, it was normal for publicly distributed papers to appear over the name of a Roman orator (“Cato” and “Brutus” also participated in the debate) without any thought of creating a “character” or persona.

On the other hand, there’s the “novel” (in more ways than one) case of Ellery Queen. This pseudonym was created to act as the author of a series of mystery novels by Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee. But not only was “Ellery Queen” chosen as the pseudonymous author’s name, it was also the name of the books’ protagonist. An entire character, or persona, was created by Dannay and Lee then tagged (or “identified”) by their pseudonym (or “nom de plume”). Interestingly, the names “Frederic Dannay” and “Manfred Lee” were also pseudonyms (for Daniel Nathan and Manford Lepofsky)!

Then there’s the case of Superman/Clark Kent. One is the entity’s “real” identity, the other is a persona. But which is which? He was born “Kal-el” (a.k.a., Superman) but carries “identity papers” (driver’s license, voter registration, etc.) for Clark Kent. Maybe Kal-el has two personae, then – certainly he has two pseudonyms!

I think we can state that a persona can include (indeed, pretty much always) a pseudonym, but a pseudonym isn’t always an indicator of a separate persona.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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