Take the accepted answer on this thread:

OOP vs Functional Programming vs Procedural

If you look at the comments, someone @'s techzilla. But who is techzilla? No one in this conversation is named techzilla. In the same comment chain, someone @'s tastro. Who is tastro?

I know users can change their names so I assume this is what is happening. These users have changed their display name or switched to their real name after their comment was posted.

Much of the time you can discern who the person was replying to by context of the conversation. In this case, Jo Smo is the only person discussing advantages so obviously Jo Smo must be tastro. techzilla is J. M. Becker after visiting his profile and seeing his LinkedIn name.

Sometimes determining the persons' name by context is a little more difficult. While it may be a semi-rare occurrence, it makes it more difficult than it should be to discern who is replying to who's comment. This problem will get increasingly worse as people decide to change their name in the future. This is more so a problem when comment chains start to become very long. (Though, perhaps there is an opinion of whether comment chains should be so long in the first place or whether people should use @user to indicate specific users.)

As I browse SO more often these days, I do run into this issue. Is there a way to avoid it and if not, is this a small enough issue to other users to ignore completely?

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    Comments may also be deleted. – William Price Feb 24 at 1:54

You can use this SEDE query I found called Usernames used in possible comment replies to comments by a given user, written by Martin20528, which seems tailor-made for the purposes of figuring out which user is being replied to when a @username is used in a comment thread.

Simply put in the user ID of each user in the comment thread into the query. Then compare the list of results with the @usernames used in that thread.

I tried it out with your example.

  • J. M. Becker's ID is 645957, and the top result in that query was @TechZilla.

  • Jo Smo's ID is 1286942, and the top result in that query was @tastro.

These are the only results in either list that appeared in the comment thread, and so it's easy to work it out. If there are multiple @usernames that overlap, you'll have to do a bit more detective work, but I don't think that's likely to be needed very often.

Of course, this will only work if the user that the @username belongs to still has an undeleted comment on that thread.

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    In theory, you could potentially use a datadump for a point-in-time check of what the username was but that seems like a tremendous amount of work. – Journeyman Geek Feb 24 at 0:46
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    @JourneymanGeek Yeah, if one cared enough to be sure that some username actually belonged to a user, it might be worth the effort. I suspect that a legitimate need for this would be rare, but I've been surprised before :) – cigien Feb 24 at 0:52
  • I'll mark this as the best answer for now. While this will work, it's a different type of hassle as you'd have to input all user IDs found in the comment section. It may be quicker than simply trying to guess which user is who. However, if one needed to know who someone was @ing with a high level of certainty, this is the best bet. – Apprentice_Programmer Feb 24 at 3:48

Nope. Mods have a way to see previous usernames via the profile page but there's nothing available that would work for regular users of any reputational level.

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