What do our webmail names say about us?

By Jean Hannah Edelstein

A silly moniker can easily damage our chances of getting a new job, says Jean Hannah Edelstein.

A silly email address is unlikely to persuade a prospective employer to take you seriously. Photo / Thinkstock
A silly email address is unlikely to persuade a prospective employer to take you seriously. Photo / Thinkstock

I know perfectly well that it is a cardinal rule of relationships that you shouldn't try to change your partner. But I would really like mine to change his email address.

I waited until we had been together for a couple of months before I raised the issue gently: that his Hotmail handle, featuring the surname of a famous actor followed by the digits 6 and 9, might not always be appropriate for all emailing occasions.

"You are very handsome," I said, "but you do not resemble this actor. And as you were not born in 1969, the numbers are a bit ... creepy."

"I like it," he said. "It's my email address." A friend at my boyfriend's first real job in the late Nineties made it for him, he explained. He'd never had one before, so his friend set it up so that they could spend their boring workdays gossiping - she'd told him to pick the name of his favourite actor, and appended the 69 for extra hilarity.

"Look, I'll make you a nice new one with your real name," I said. "The password can be 'mygirlfriendisalwaysright'." He declined.

His situation is not very unusual: for most of us, first forays into the world of email meant conducting our correspondence under risible handles. And my boyfriend is also not alone in his dogged adherence to the thing: out of habit, out of affection, out of the belief that changing it would be too much of a hassle.

The convention of using an email address that did not include one's real name seems to have grown out of the early days of internet correspondence for leisure, in the early Nineties when internet relay chat was hot and people used email to participate in discussion forums. Anonymity was important.

The comedy email address is far more personal than one based on the name inflicted upon you by your parents without consultation - an assertion of your personal brand. People assume that you choose it to reflect things about yourself that you consider to be representative and significant. They also assume, if even faintly possible, that it's riddled with innuendo. "I was Frenchbabe16", recalls one of my best friends - the "French" bit was actually a guileless reference to the horn that she played in the school band, but it was rarely interpreted as such.

When I was first learning to use email, I couldn't conceive of using it for anything sensible or important, which was why I was very happy for all my correspondence to be sent direct to me at jeantherapy@ hotmail.com. Even when my university granted me "email for life", I continued to use "jeantherapy" well in to my early 20s: out of habit, out of laziness, out of a belief that if I changed my address, people who knew me might be writing me very important messages that I would never receive. Had the widget at Gmail not kindly suggested that I would like to use the reliable and sensible jean.edelstein@ gmail.com, I might still be. And it might have been to my detriment.

Not too long ago, I found myself charged for the first time with the responsibility of reviewing job applications. Most of the applicants were at least five years younger than I was. Yet despite the coming of age in an era when it is the norm to post on the internet under your real name - and next to hundreds of photos of yourself looking worse for wear at parties - many were still employing hilarious email noms de plume, but not always with hilarious results. Some appeared illogical (I am sure you have a reason to use 'MikeJones22' as your email address if your name is Greg Smith, but to the recipient, it's just confusing). Some were mildly amusing. And some just made their owners sound like creepy sex pests.

I am sure I am not the only person who has found that if the act of typing an applicant's address in to the 'To' field on an email made me recoil with a frisson of horror, it was hard to overcome the feeling that the job-seeker who was happy to ask a putative employer to write to them at "davidbeckhamismyhawtlovah87" might not yet be ready to take on a lot of professional responsibility.

There are three simple ways to determine whether your email address is acceptable or embarrassing. Have you been using the address since before you were old enough to vote? Could it be construed in any way to be, well, sexy? And are you still trying to decide whether it falls into the "sexy" category? Then it is probably time for you to open a new account with your real name, even if you use it just for job applications, or writing to your bank manager and your girlfriend's mum. It is sadly uncreative, I know. But you can still get away with calling yourself something hilarious on Twitter. Just about.

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