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So this new feature just got rolled out...

There's a new numerical field in user profiles called "past names" which when clicked will display a dialog listing previous usernames and when they were last used.

That's pretty snazzy. And it almost addresses an issue I brought up a long, long time ago, when the 30-day name-change restriction was put into place:

Personally, I found it much more confusing when certain users who had gone months under one name suddenly switched to new names (and, in at least one case, new gravatar images).

Rate-limiting would do nothing to prevent this, but banning name-changes outright would hamper those who picked unfortunate pseudonyms, were poorly-named by their parents, or decide to change their names out of some misguided ideas of transparency.

Just one problem: that little pop-up list is only available to moderators and the name-changing users themselves. Sure that's great for me - I have mod-privileges on all the sites now - but what about all the poor confused users caught soin my former dilemma of finding yourself in the middle of a discussion with someone you could swear used to be named something else...

Let's face it - this is already public information. If you think a user has changed their name, you can pull an old data dump, or even just bring up the Google cache of their profile and find out what it was.

Of course, some folks have important reasons to change their names, to let their former identities fade into the mists of time. It'd be insensitive to ignore these concerns.

So how about this: when you change your name, the full list of all your past names shows up on your profile for 30 days. After that, it no longer shows up (to anyone other than you and the moderators) until you change your name again. Maybe fade the link a bit to indicate this.

A month to settle into a new ID, and a month to clean up any loose ends with your old one.

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A month might be long though. I'd settle for two weeks. –  Jeff Mercado Dec 22 '11 at 4:27
    
Totally agree, I'm pretty sure there was already a suggestion for this somewhere, but I can't find it anymore :( –  Benjol Dec 22 '11 at 6:06
    
Found it: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/28924/… –  Benjol Dec 22 '11 at 10:14
    
Ah, good find, @Benjol. Apparently, I'd seen that because I up-voted it, but it's been long enough I'd forgotten about it. –  Shog9 Dec 22 '11 at 17:20
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@Jeff: I suggested 30 days because that's also the current limit on how often you can change it. The idea being, if you're driven to change your name as often as possible, you'll also get a permanent "history" link on your profile. –  Shog9 Dec 22 '11 at 18:19
    
Just to be sure: you're suggesting to show all history (including all past names), not just the history of the past 30 days (which effectively would only be the previous name, maybe unless profiles were copied from one site to another), right? –  Arjan Dec 22 '11 at 18:50
    
@Arjan: correct. –  Shog9 Dec 22 '11 at 18:52
    
As an aside: the list will be limited to 90 days. –  Arjan Dec 23 '11 at 13:16
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I'd actually really like to make this public; I think it would solve a lot of confusions. I have a slight reservation about edge cases where someone has deliberately removed their real name, but then... You can't really delete from the Internet. One for discussion in the team, post holiday! –  Marc Gravell Dec 26 '11 at 21:17
    
But, @Marc, you're still talking about that limited list, aren't you? (Or, if not: making it public for a limited time, like proposed here?) –  Arjan Dec 27 '11 at 8:39
    
Small question: Are mods allowed to refer to a user (by @ or plaintext) by their previous name (which they recently changed) in public or in private? Just because they have access to that info. –  Bleeding Fingers Mar 5 at 19:36
    
Why would you need to, @Bleeding? It isn't going to notify them if they've changed their name... That said, I do this occasionally here just because certain meta users change their names frequently (cough Pekka cough) and I don't feel like keeping up with it. That doesn't require special mod-privs though. –  Shog9 Mar 5 at 19:39
    
@Shog9 Well, I saw a mod doing that and felt it was not appropriate, given the present was too not even close to the previous one. So I asked. –  Bleeding Fingers Mar 5 at 19:45
    
I can't really comment on that without knowing the situation, @Bleeding - I personally feel that there's a bit of a window for this during which such references should be expected: not just from mods, but from anyone who was familiar with the user in question. But obviously, there can be extenuating circumstances where such a thing would be inappropriate. "Don't be a jerk" is probably reasonable guidance here. –  Shog9 Mar 5 at 21:46

1 Answer 1

I was actually about to post a feature request asking for the past names display to be more widely available, so I definitely agree with your proposal.

While reviewing, I often stumble upon comments and posts like this one, where the @name pointer is, for lack of better word, invalid. In this particular case, I have no idea who this post is an answer to and, therefore, I cannot tell with absolute certainty if this is a comment/question related to another post or a malformed answer to the original question.

While I understand why access to the past name list may need to be restricted, I wonder if it might make sense for it to be available to some users for longer periods, e.g.:

  • Reviewers with a high flag weight and a reputation of e.g. over 10k.

  • Users that have been in correspondence with a name-shifting user by e.g. posting an answer to their question or a comment.

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In that particular example, the "answer" should have been a comment on another answer - I've done this. Flagging these for moderator attention is usually a good way to get them transformed in such a way. I get your point though. –  Shog9 Dec 26 '11 at 20:26

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