Has anyone looked at the statistical correlation between a person's reputation and their use of their actual name on SO vs. use of a "handle" or nickname? I sometimes see users with obvious "developer" nicknames, but rarely (never?) do they seem to be high reputation users. A quick scan of the first few pages of users on SO shows that the vast majority use their name or part of their name for their SO identity.

It made me curious if there is some statistical correlation between the use of an actual name and a person's reputation. Not curious enough, mind you, to calculate it myself, just curious enough to see if anyone else has already looked at the data.

Yes, I'm a bit of a statistics nerd.

  • I wouldn't be surprised if there was. I would have thought any correlation would be based on how seriously you take the site. If you're just there to look around for a bit, a throw away handle doesn't really matter. If you actually planned on being active, then having people know who you really are would be preferable. – Brandon Aug 25 '09 at 21:34
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    I don't believe Jon Skeet's real name is Jon Skeet at all. Who the hell would name their kid Jon Skeet anyway? – GEOCHET Aug 26 '09 at 0:24
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    Mr & Mrs Skeet – LRE Aug 26 '09 at 0:32
  • Currently, I think the highest category aren’t people with no real name, or people with their own name, but people mentioning someone else’s name. – Andrew Grimm Dec 6 '19 at 8:23

Well, here's a quick and dirty stab at it... Let's assume that actual names generally have at least one space in them (firstname lastname, first m last, etc.) while nicknames generally do not (PAX, tvanfosson, etc.):

Average reputation of users without a space in their names: 389

Average reputation of users with a space in their names: 442

Of course, that doesn't really give you the whole picture either; there are far more users without spaces than there are with them. If i exclude the top-ranked 100 users from both camps and average the reputation of the next 500, i get 4655 vs 4273, with space-free users now coming out ahead (sorry, not much good with SQL, couldn't figure out how to pull this in a single query).

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  • Instead of just looking at the mean, how about creating a histogram for both types of user? This way you can get a visual of the two distributions. – Carlos Rendon Aug 25 '09 at 23:20
  • Probably it should be "average rep without space and numbers" in their names. ;) – OscarRyz Aug 26 '09 at 0:52
  • No love for 17 of 26, eh Oscar? – Shog9 Aug 26 '09 at 1:56
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    I assume that tvanfosson stands for T. Van Fosson, which would put him in the "actual name" category. Not that I have a better idea, just pointing out that the OP's userid isn't the best one to use for an example. – phenry Aug 26 '09 at 2:01
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    @phenry: you're probably right, but that only further illustrates how pointless it is to try for anything more than rough, entertaining results. – Shog9 Aug 26 '09 at 2:19
  • Figuring out which are real names and which are nicknames probably makes this too hard to figure out unless you really restrict the search space. Restricting the search space defeats the purpose. – tvanfosson Aug 26 '09 at 13:48
  • that's two very interesting dead links you have there in your answer, I wonder where they led to when they were still working :p – user1306322 Dec 5 '19 at 15:36
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    This assumption didn't really pan out ten years later now, did it? – Sonic the Masked Werehog Dec 5 '19 at 16:25
  • median would be more telling, I think. – Scott Seidman Dec 5 '19 at 20:05

Maybe they have read this:

from How to become a hacker

The problem with screen names or handles deserves some amplification. Concealing your identity behind a handle is a juvenile and silly behavior characteristic of crackers, warez d00dz, and other lower life forms. Hackers don't do this; they're proud of what they do and want it associated with their real names. So if you have a handle, drop it. In the hacker culture it will only mark you as a loser.

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Looks at first page of SO users...

Let's see... cletus, Pax, litb, Bill the Lizard, jalf, Tomalak, Gumbo, chaos, Quassnoi... some of those may be based on their actual names, but it's hard to tell.

More generally, a person who uses their actual name may be more familiar to other users (who may know them from their blogs or activity on other sites). This familiarity may get them more votes, but it's hard to say. I'd be interested in seeing the statistics as well, but determining what's a "real" name is a difficulty to overcome.

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glances at the first page of users on SO

Uh... Nope, no nicknames there. Wait, except for you. You know, I've always been curious, is a fosson a kind of snack to eat while one watches TV?

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    Are you the ninth member of the Society of Haitian Obstetrics and Gynecology (shog.org)? ;) – gnostradamus Aug 25 '09 at 22:42
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    No, but i do have these tongs... – Shog9 Aug 25 '09 at 22:50
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    Variant spelling of Dutch Van Vossen, a habitational name for someone from Vossem in Brabant, Belgium. – tvanfosson Aug 26 '09 at 11:39

I think the consistency of the avatar makes a difference too. It's a bit jarring when someone well known changes.

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  • I actually think the avatar makes more of a diff than the handle does, unless your handle in Unknown and you were to lazy to change it. Nonetheless content is still king. – waffles Aug 26 '09 at 0:32

You'd have to make quite a few assumptions. For example, my user name, ab2, is taken from my initials: ABB. For decades, I initialed documents at work as ab2. So there are people (most of whom are not on SE) who would instantly know who I am. But I could equally well have adopted the name of a relative (e.g., Elsa L.) or a person from history or fiction (e.g., Margaret CS) that would look real, but would not be real, for me.

All you can do with confidence is eliminate names that are obviously made up, e.g. @Rand al Thor, although who knows? Maybe his real name is Thor Randall.

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