Alright, so - there have obviously been past questions about updating one's username, e.g. Changing user name does not update @lerts / cites?, Change all @username references in comments when a user changes their name?, and notes about making name changes public for clarity, e.g. Make the "past names" list public info for 30 days after changing your name.

The two relevant points from questions/comments like these can basically (as far as I can tell) be summarized as follows:

Editing past mentions/alerts for old usernames is probably due to the technical difficulty of doing so and its vague pointlessness.

Here I am to make a counterpoint/request that hopefully will not bring down too much wrath upon my head: this sucks for trans users who update their username.

I was pretty active pre-name change, and scattered around the network are tons and tons of references to what is now my deadname. Comments, chat messages, references in answers themselves, and I'm sure other places. I understand that making updates everywhere across all users any time anyone changes their username is...probably unnecessary. However.

I would like to propose that some sort of pipeline/process be implemented so that users could request that their deadname be removed from the site as best as possible. Obviously this might not be able to reach every single mention - ones in answers, for instance - but I'd like it to not be insanely easy to figure out my deadname from looking around. Edit: I completely agree that a fully reliable/completely generalized version is impossible; I'm just looking for a tool that provides at least some assistance.

Please note that I'm not asking the entire network be scoured for every single mention - I'm asking for a semi-automated process, if possible, that can be implemented upon a specific user's request that gets maybe a majority of these old mentions, and potentially some sort of policy where it's allowed to edit old answers/etc to update names.

EDIT: Have been told in the comments that comments are purely text and don't retain references to userID. If this is the case, this is an even more difficult feature request than I thought. However, I'm not going to retract it, and instead ask if there are any possibilities here. I think the underlying problem I've pointed out is major enough that this request is worth retaining, though it seems it will be more difficult/by necessity take a different form than I originally thought.

EDITED again to remove second sub-request as I misread the answer in the related question. Apologies.

Finally, just a general plea: I'm still kind of tired of Mother Meta due to everything that went down in late 2019. Please, please don't ask me 'why this is a big deal,' 'whether this is really important,' refer to me by my old username, try to figure out my old username [completely understandable if you've already run into it], or try to make this into some big 'censorship/positive commands' argument. Please. This paragraph is not intended to incite, just a beg for the overall question to be answered so I don't have to go into the weeds. Thanks.

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    There's no uniqueness to display names. Many other people might be using your deadname and might get caught in the crossfire. And if the process is automated in any way what happens if someone with a more common name wants that removed. Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 18:55
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    @RobertLongson but display names are associated with user ID, right? Or am I misunderstanding what I've read through?
    – auden
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 18:59
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    Nope, in comments they are just text. Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 18:59
  • @RobertLongson ah, okay. I've updated the question to address this - while this will then be much harder than I thought, I still think it's an important issue worth asking. Thank you for your clarification!
    – auden
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 19:03
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    Worth noting that this does work differently on Teams than everywhere else. If we were to swap to the Teams pinging system, this might be easier to implement.
    – Mithical
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 19:04
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    For chat, I guess your best bet is having your messages anonymized. This post gives more details on that.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 19:08
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    I explained a bit more thoroughly that it's just not possible. Our developers already thought through this very thoroughly when implementing GDPR and came to the conclusion that comment mentions would just not be covered by those requests. If they decided that even GDPR didn't warrant writing scripts for it, pretty much no reason will even change that decision.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 19:08
  • ^ I was just writing that up ;) --- It is not technically possible, the software was not designed in the first place to allow a later request to implement this feature: meta.stackexchange.com/a/252030/282094 meta.stackexchange.com/a/366683/282094
    – Rob
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 19:16
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    Am I misunderstanding Shog's answer to his own request about making past names public for 30 days? It looks like that's not the case so I'm confused about what you are asking for. Mods can see past names but I don't think regular users can.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 19:19
  • @Catija I apologize, I did misread that particular section - particularly since the second answer gave an alternate solution to view that info, but it looks like that link is dead. Edited to update.
    – auden
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 19:24
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    Maybe you can rescope the request a little? Last time I checked, the API exposes a reply_to_user field on comments that could at least be matched with a leading @ mention (unless I am missing the point of the field) uniquely, thus allowing for at least some mentions to be updated. Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 22:18
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    @OlegValter ah makes sense, thank you! Maybe write that up as an answer?
    – auden
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 22:33
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    @AudenYoung probably :) I need to take a peek at the API again first - but it seems like it is possible. And not at all costly even if made from the outside. Surely it can be done from on the inside (unless I am missing a caveat). Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 22:37
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    @ymb1 thank you so much!! I didn't realize that needed to be updated as well. I've updated :)
    – auden
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 22:51
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    @AudenYoung upon reading animuson's answer on the thread they linked, they actually answered exactly what I mentioned in my comment above and to a great detail too, so I think my answer here would unnecessarily duplicate things - but it does seem like your request would be possible to grant at least in part Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 23:15

3 Answers 3


As mentioned this is really difficult to do as comment mentions are simply part of the comment text. A fully reliable version is impossible, the best we might potentially be able to do is a tool that catches most well-formed and unambiguous mentions. I'm writing down an idea here on how that might work, but I suspect that I'm likely to miss a few issues here:

  1. List all comments that generated an inbox notification for the target user

  2. Extract the @notification out of the comment. Ignore if multiple @notifications are present in the comment (those are not valid anyway, so I'm not sure if they could be present in this list)

  3. Apply the same algorithm that creates the User suggestions while typing an @notification to check how many users this particular @notification would notify

  4. If that is exactly one user which is the target user, replace this @notification with the new name

This will fail for comments with multiple @ characters and for cases where the @notifications are ambiguous. The first case should be rather rare, and the second one is simply not safe to change.

The bigger issue are not the false negatives above, but false positives. The only kind I can think of are cases where the other involved users changed names, so the @notification appears unambiguous today, but wasn't back when it was posted and some users had a different name. This is potentially fixable, but expensive as user names would have to be queried at the date of each comment.

I think the biggest issue is anything that could lead to collateral damage, changing comments that are not actually directed at the target user. The tool must be safe to use as reviewing the changes would mean an unreasonable amount of effort. This tool will also be expensive to run, but that might be acceptable as it will be rarely used.

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    This is an interesting proposal that does seem to address the issues people are discussing - thank you! Interested to see if there are any issues with it. I completely agree that a fully reliable/completely generalized version is impossible; I'm just looking for a tool that provides at least some assistance.
    – auden
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 20:06
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    "List all comments that generated an inbox notification for the target user". The system already does this. It's the responses tab in your profile, visible to yourself and moderators. (Changing your name may mess this up though.) I understand the complications but I don't see why this couldn't be the starting point for an effective semi-automated system.
    – Laurel
    Commented Nov 23, 2021 at 14:25

The Trust and Safety team wants all users to have an enjoyable experience as they navigate our platform, and so we understand that this is something that causes significant harm. Sadly, because comments and pings are stored as text and not saved in relation to who they’re about, this isn’t something we can easily technically fix. A manual fix is very time consuming too - we’d basically be searching for a string and evaluating if these comments are about the user or not.

However, if you feel there’s an active threat against you, please contact us at [email protected] and we will evaluate if we are able to offer a one-off manual review. Because this is a very time consuming process, please understand we are not able to do it in all cases. Please include details of the situation and any comments you know of.

Another option is - in the case of comments - to flag for moderator deletion. Moderators on sites can help you with that if the comments are no longer needed.

I hope this answer helps alleviate some of the distress around this issue, and as always please reach out if we can help in any other way.

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    It can happen that two people with the same username are involved in the same comment thread. Even an intelligent human, let alone an automatic process, might then be unable to determine if a particular @-mention in a comment there was directed at this or that user. Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 18:30
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    @Randal'Thor that's a case I wouldn't be too worried about, since we'd be doing it manually anyway, it's very likely that an intelligent human will be able to make a call that's appropriate for the situation (leaving it if it's still needed, deleting it if it's not).
    – Cesar M StaffMod
    Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 19:38
  • @CesarM Good luck with this comment ;-) Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 19:49
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    @Randal'Thor looks like it's still needed :P
    – Cesar M StaffMod
    Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 19:58
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    @Randal'Thor This SE API query for users #294 and #1497 indicates the system only pinged user #294 for your comment. In other words, who was pinged is determinable, public, and a list of all pings for a user is available.
    – Makyen
    Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 1:02
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    @Makyen I'll add that one to our notes, thanks :)
    – Cesar M StaffMod
    Commented Jan 11, 2022 at 16:53

The argument that this is difficult for technical reasons has some truth to it, but seems to me to be largely bunk.

For Comments

Clearly the list of comments that mentioned a specific user with a past display name of theirs is stored in a display-name-change-independent fashion:

  • https://api.stackexchange.com/docs/mentions-on-users proves this. It will get comments that mention a user by user ID, and will return comments that perform the @reply using current and past display names. There even used to be a user-maintained website that would use that API endpoint to query for all the display names an SO user had used in the past given their user ID.
  • In my user profile under "All responses", all comments mentioning me with my old display name(s) are there.

You wouldn't be able to reliably replace references to an old display name that aren't part of a @reply comment, or which are not @replys, but it would likely handle the majority of old references.

For Chat

Though chat will display display names as they were when the comment was created, it also clearly associates the user ID of the chat user with their messages, which is display-name independent and stable. I can tell because I can search for old messages of mine passing my user ID in the chat search interface and find chat messages with my old display name(s). I can't understand why updating those user cards beside chat messages of their senders couldn't be updated easily.

And as for chat mentions, you could at the very least get chat messages mentioning a user by their old username via comment reply, since those messages' text start with :<message-id>, and then you just find all those that comment-reply to comments sent by the user of interest.

Note that if the display name was changed to something longer, truncating it in the replaced strings might be necessary to prevent exceeding length constraints (such as comment length and chat message length). Though that should be fine since @reply and @ping were built to work with prefixes.

  • Yep, Makyen commented about this on Bella_Blue's answer, and Cesar M said it's been added to the company's list. Commented Feb 7 at 6:01
  • @SonictheAnonymousHedgehog this answer post was originally a comment reply to Cesar expanding on Makyen's comment, but I felt so provoked as to write a whole post.
    – starball
    Commented Feb 7 at 17:54

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