Regarding Change all @username references in comments when a user changes their name? and taking into account the issues raised.

Rather than suggest a change, I suggest a reference removal from every comment that is traced from your specific inbox.*
*( The other question wanted to alter every reference in the entire database )


@anon The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

Becomes either:

@ The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.


The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.

The first Preserves the fact that it was pointed, however it does imply that you changed your name. The latter helps disguise the fact that you changed your name, however it obfuscates the intended flow of the conversation.

The thrust of this suggestion is motivated by greater user security and privacy. For example, I recently changed my name on SE. Suppose it was a very ethnic name, as well as my real name. I may not want users to easily doxx myself by merely sifting through comments on my questions and answers, and finding the @username, and using that information to abuse or discriminate against me based upon my background.

And that's that.

  • @41686d6564 The scope of that question, regarding ALL comments [ of all time? ] seemed to the main issue related to it. That and the fact that it sought to adjust the reference rather than remove it, misunderstood how the comments and usernames were implimented and what challenges and potential abuse this would introduce. I do not see however any issue or technical hurdle in simply allowing a one time removal of the @username found in ones specific history. Hopefully I am right about that.
    – Anon
    Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 2:19
  • 5
    This proposal has exactly the same problems which exist for the earlier proposal which you linked in the question. There's effectively no difference between this and the earlier proposal (from the point of view of implementation and the issues with doing so). I'm not sure what difference you believe there is in the proposals which would result in there being a different response. If I were to pick one of the two, I'd pick the other one, as it appears to keep comments in better shape for the community and would resolve the issues which you mention as reasons for this proposal.
    – Makyen
    Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 2:25
  • @Makyen The issues brought up do not apply because: 1) This is not for all comments of all time. 2) Removal is not subject to the issues raised by name changes. Once you remove a reference, its just a hanging comment at that point, rather than a redirected one. Also, the previous question and answers did not address user safety and privacy, and the problem of doxxing and discrimination.
    – Anon
    Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 2:28
  • @Ano -To Anolota Rabha, what do you think about user "Anon" changing their name. As mentioned in the first comment, in further comments here, and previously elsewhere - there simply is no way to implement deletion, and your question doesn't propose a solution. -- Not only was the commenting system here not designed with that in mind, but it's also not possible; without affecting an innocent party.
    – Rob
    Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 2:46
  • @Rob How does removing ( Not replacing ) a reference, going from @anon to @ or ` `, and only those from your history affect an innocent party?
    – Anon
    Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 2:56
  • 2
    @Anon By "merely those that are in your specific history" do you mean only those comments which you authored? If so, that does limit it more, but appears to be useless, as you almost never @ to yourself. If you mean only those on questions and answers you posted and in comment chains which you participated, then that's no different than the other proposal (it's an implicit, obvious and necessary implementation detail). As to the user safety/privacy issues and doxing issue, while those are important, they are something easily added as an edit to the other proposal or as an answer there.
    – Makyen
    Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 3:16
  • @Makyen then that's no different than the other proposal Wrong. They speak of all comments in the database. See: meta.stackexchange.com/a/258531/267206 : As noted, user names are not unique. The problem is that whenever someone named MichaelT changes his or her name you don't know which comments to update. . In my proposal, we trace the comments from the inbox, not the database.
    – Anon
    Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 4:17
  • 1
    @Anon They have to be changed in the database. That there is the optimization done of only looking at ones which actually notified the user is an implementation detail, not a different feature request. Don't get me wrong, I think it's important and that it should be done, but that doesn't mean the request is fundamentally different from what was previously requested.
    – Makyen
    Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 4:46
  • 2
    Anon: "In my proposal, we trace the comments from the inbox, not the database." - Names are not unique, your inbox doesn't know if the comment is for you or someone else; not much different than Chat, though nowhere near as bad. --- Comments are not uniquely identified to recipient, only to the sender. It's no different than if I say: "Hey Tom", no one can prove who I'm talking to but everyone (Tom included) knows I wrote the comment. --- For your question not to be a duplicate it's up to you to edit (and correct) it; replying in comments won't fix it. --- Say how to do it, correctly.
    – Rob
    Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 5:34
  • @Makyen is an implementation detail, not a different feature request. Wrong because he wanted all related and non related comments to be changed to reflect the current user. My proposal states that the comments should "hang", having no discernable @handle attached to them. which is interesting now that you made me think of it because right now, I could hypothetically take over someone's name, and pretend to be them if I find old comments with their handle attached.
    – Anon
    Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 7:14
  • @Rob Names are not unique, and yet only you will have my comment placed in your inbox. Ergo, the system is keeping track of the intended recipients.
    – Anon
    Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 7:19

2 Answers 2


Before anything like this could be implemented we need to consider all the design details to determine how much work it'd be or if it's even possible given the current system.

Sure, we could minimize the number of comments we need to scan by only looking through comments that have a ReplyTo UserId set, which would roughly be comments that landed in that user's inbox, or at least the ones that matter. That might exclude some comments where the name does appear, just misspelled, but there's no way we could possibly match situations like that anyways. It would also exclude comments on your own posts (which always notify you) that stripped the @-mention but the user incorporated it into the comment in some other way.

It might sound easy to just match the @ part of that list of comments at the beginning and look for your name, but there are other considerations that make this much more difficult:

  • The @-mention does not always appear at the beginning of a comment. It can be at the end or nested in the middle of a comment. We'd have to search the entire comment for any matches to the @ pattern.
  • The full display name is not required in order to trigger a notification to a user. You can trigger a notification with as few as three characters, so only searching for the full display name may not yield results that could still be identifying of your previous name.
    • This opens another typo avenue. In the case of John Smith, someone could type "@john smith" and the "@john" would still notify the user but the "smith" part would not be part of the mention and would not be recognized by any part of such a mechanism we could implement.
    • You could possibly alleviate this by only searching for @ with the first three letters of the display name and assuming that it would be yours, but I'm sure there are some cases where that's nor true and would break things. The fewer characters you are matching against, the more likely you are to run across actual words, acronyms, or other things that are legitimately used in programming. Which brings me to:
  • Searching for mentions would inevitably require parsing the entire comment first in order to determine the context of the @text, which might appear in code and should not be replaced if matched. As well, the @ characters itself is used in some programming languages, email address, and many other contexts.

I'm sure there are many other considerations for implementing something like this, and we've already dug ourselves a pretty deep hole we would never get out of. Many of these considerations are why we have never attempted to build something like this and even opted to exclude the text of comments from GDPR requests entirely. There is just no good way of doing this automatically.

That's not to say there never will be. Teams has a more direct linking feature that completely re-imagines mentions to allow for direct linking to the user's profile and multiple mentions per post. Because the @-mention is not a part of the comment but a separate entry looking up the user, display name changes would be automatic as well. I am not aware of any plans to ever bring that feature to the public sites, but that is the kind of complete rewrite of the system that would be needed to truly resolve these issues (obviously it wouldn't be applied retroactively, and there's little to no hope of fixing this for past comments). Hacky, text-based alternatives are sure to cause problems and break.

  • 4
    "You could possibly alleviate this by only searching for @ with the first three letters of the display name and assuming that it would be yours, but I'm sure there are some cases where that's nor true and would break things." - Both me and another user with the exact same username (Nick) are active on SO and relatively frequently are both active on the same post, even times having "Nick" in the close list twice, now you can be certain instead of sure :p Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 16:16

I think there are ever only 2 reasons to change your username:

  1. You chose a name that easily identifies you, and you want to be more anonymous.
  2. You just like a different name better.

For the second case I don't feel any need to cater to these users. They willfully chose to break things for "fun", so that's on them.

For the first case, there really is no real point in changing things here. Seeing how many scraper sites are out there, how many pages are indexed by the internet archive, etc. There will always be places where the old status lives on. The age old adagium still holds here: "Think before you post".

  • 2
    Your missing #3: when a person changes the name they go by (I've never heard someone describe that as "fun", especially not when it was done after a divorce).
    – Laurel
    Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 12:23
  • I wouldn't consider a divorce fun either @Laurel. In such case you can just flag old comments as NLN, if they offend you, when you come across them. It's not like SE can wipe that part of a persons part anyways.
    – Luuklag
    Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 13:25
  • 4. I'm transgender and it's my deadname. I no longer want it to be on the internet relating to me
    – Ky -
    Commented Apr 4, 2022 at 22:46
  • @Ky. Which is exactly my reason 2.
    – Luuklag
    Commented Apr 5, 2022 at 4:37
  • @Luuklag I suppose? That doesn't seem really apply to legal name changes, though, and for most trans people, a deadname is a viscerally traumatic memory, not "just not liked as much". Not fun, and I do feel the need to cater to such users.
    – Ky -
    Commented Apr 7, 2022 at 16:58
  • 1
    @Ky. while for those users the breaking things for "fun" isn't really appropriate, I don't see it warranting the dev time this would take (essentially redesigning the complete comment @-mention system, as it would need to be able to store user-id's, instead of just usernames. Seeing the sheer magnitude of such a job, not even thinking about a way to convert current comments, grossly outweighs its potential benefits. If people are really offended by their old name, nothing will stop them from starting a new account. Or go through all their @-mentions manually and ask for those comments [1/2]
    – Luuklag
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 7:06
  • 1
    cont. to be either edited by a moderator, or deleted (more likely). [2/2]
    – Luuklag
    Commented Apr 8, 2022 at 7:06

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