When trying to edit my SO profile, it will not let me save any changes to my profile, since my username (yc) is below the 3 character limit:

"Display name must be at least three characters"

Now, when I created my username, it was of legal length. Is there any way to grandfather in shorter usernames so I don't have to choose between changing my username (whose length I quite like) and being able to ever edit my profile?

(At some point, SO decided that my saying that I live in Brooklyn meant that I live in Brooklyn, Alabama, and not being allowed to change it is driving me nuts.)

Edit: Besides the idea of forcing a user to change their username being fairly user-hostile, it's also of consequence for old @-replies, which will now make no sense if I change my username to Fluffy Bunnies.

  • 3
    Two downvotes? Man, MSO is a tough crowd.
    – Yahel
    May 22, 2011 at 15:04
  • 2
    Downvotes on Meta typically mean that people disagree with your question. They don't think it's a bug, they don't think your feature request should be implemented, etc. May 22, 2011 at 15:08
  • You need to hit the edit link on your profile if you want to change/fix your location information.
    – random
    May 22, 2011 at 15:09
  • 6
    I sort of get it, but I don't understand the opposition. Forcably making a user change their username feels pretty user-hostile, and has negative consequences for the site. If I change my username to Fluffy Bunnies, all of the @ replies in comments to @yc will not make any sense. It's reply rot.
    – Yahel
    May 22, 2011 at 15:11
  • 3
    @random yes, but it's making me change my username first before I make any changes to my username, at least on SO.
    – Yahel
    May 22, 2011 at 15:12
  • +1 - Seems perfectly reasonable to me. If the system has no problem with you keeping a two letter username until the moment you click edit on your profile, why shouldn't you have the option to keep your username as is, and just change other fields? May 22, 2011 at 15:58
  • @ire: Because we want everyone to have a user name longer than 3 characters. But we don't want to disrupt them and force them to change their user name just because we've changed the rules for the system. For example, it's user-hostile to prevent people from logging on until they change their user name to fit our guidelines. Instead, we wait until they try to make a related change, and then impose the new rules at that time. That's more user-friendly because it only disrupts them when they're trying to make a related change, not do something else completely unrelated. May 22, 2011 at 16:26
  • 3
    @Cody: Don't forget that the OP just want to fix something in his profile that was changed without him being involved! May 22, 2011 at 17:10
  • @Hendrik: How's that relevant? Retag the question to feature-request if you want to be able to use user names that are < 3 characters. I've already provided a perfectly adequate explanation for why such user names are not accepted by the system anymore. You are grandfathered in, but that's lost when you make modifications. Every building code (where, to my knowlege, being "grandfathered in" originated) has a stipulation that if you make a certain amount of changes to the original building, you must bring it up to compliance with the newest guidelines. You lose your grandfathered-in status. May 22, 2011 at 17:13
  • 4
    @Cody: Hmmm, I don't quite understand you. The system automatically and wrongly changed the OP's location. He wants that fixed, nothing else. I find that very much relevant! (If he wanted to change more things, like updating his "About Me" section, then I'd be completely on your side.) May 22, 2011 at 17:22
  • Very closely related, but 10k only: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/25542/… (tagged [status-bydesign])
    – balpha StaffMod
    May 22, 2011 at 18:12
  • 1
    @yahelc: "It's reply rot." It doesn't have to be. If your new name starts with "yc", old replies with @yc in them will make perfect sense to readers who are accustomed to the way abbreviation works. Even if it's "yahelc", it's not to hard to sort out. May 22, 2011 at 20:30
  • @Rick Good point. I'll be changing it to yahelc.
    – Yahel
    May 23, 2011 at 0:21

3 Answers 3


No. If you attempt to update your profile, you must choose a user name that's at least 3 characters. The comment system is designed to work with user names at least 3 characters in length. The fact that you were able to get away with this when you initially created your account was a bug. You're required to fix it now, if you make a modification.

The official word is here:

We no longer allow names of 2 characters.

3 characters is the minimum name length, and this is enforced.

However, users who have an existing 2 character name may retain it, but will be unable to copy their profile from site to site until they make their username at least 3 characters.

You had to choose a compliant user name when you created this account on Meta, so it's not clear why you're resisting doing the same thing on Stack Overflow.

EDIT: In contrast to what Jeff says here, balpha says in the comments here that there's a special case in the code that allows @ replies to work for existing user names of under 3 characters (but more than 1). I'm not sure which is correct, as I haven't tested it myself.

But even if it does work, that's a backwards compatibility hack, which is something that we all as programmers should know better than to rely on. When you start making changes to your profile, you lose your "grandfathered-in" status, and have to bring your account up to full compliance. I struggle to see where you think lies the real cost of this change. To paraphrase Steve Jobs:

Just change the name of your account. Not that big of a deal.

As far as why Stack Overflow recently decided you live in Brooklyn, Alabama, more information is available here:

We're doing a best-guess match on locations across the network in an effort to get more consistent location formats for all the users, for example mine would be "Winston-Salem, NC", "City, ST", or "Something, Ontario" for Canada, "London, United Kingdom".

You can update the information now manually, and the system will respect your changes.

  • 6
    I guess I'm moving to Alabama, then.
    – Yahel
    May 22, 2011 at 15:03
  • 1
    -1 for not reading #3 of How do comment @replies work? May 22, 2011 at 15:43
  • @Hendrik: My answer here doesn't say that it won't work. That was my comment to Jon Seigel's answer, which I clarified by saying that it was speculation. My answer here say that the comment system is designed to work with user names longer than 3 characters. That's still true, even explicit within the #3 explanation. The fact that there's a workaround for background compatibility doesn't change the fact that user names are no longer allowed to be < 3 characters for good reason, and why the system forces people to change them when they modify their profile. May 22, 2011 at 15:49
  • The question here is not asking why the comment system isn't working for him. It's asking why he has to change his user name to something longer when he edits his account information. This answer adequately addresses that. Is there something you'd like to see me add to make it more complete? May 22, 2011 at 15:51
  • @Cody: Your answer doesn't say it won't work, but for the casual reader it implies that it might not work. So I still claim that it's misleading if you say "The comment system is designed to work with user names more than 3 characters in length". (Better make that "at least 3 characters"!) So I'd be perfectly happy with your answer (even if I don't fully agree with it) if you just remove that sentence. (As you said, it's not really relevant for the question here; however, I'd also be happy if you just make it clear that a 2 character user name causes no problems in comment replies.) May 22, 2011 at 17:08
  • @Hendrik: Well, I think might not work is still pretty accurate. Arjan has written in the FAQ that it works, and Jeff has written explicitly that it doesn't work. Hard to say for sure, and not recommended to rely on the behavior. Have you personally tested a 2 character username and verified that it works for all @ replies? I haven't. And I'm not going to claim in my answer that it does until I've seen proof of it. May 22, 2011 at 17:10
  • @Cody: Wow, it's hard to convince you, and I like it :-) I hope this is proof enough that it does work: Allow for Comment Reply to Usernames With Less Than Three Characters in First Word (see comments between Arjan and balpha). May 22, 2011 at 17:18
  • @Hendrik: Yeah, I found that. That's the basis Arjan has for the FAQ entry. And it does appear that balpha's post is newer than Jeff's comment, so it's possible that this is a special case added to the code path at a later date. And I suppose it's possible that balpha is the one doing the actual development work and Jeff doesn't know/care about the details. But not personally having access to the code base or being able to test it myself, I'm hesitant to accept one answer over the other. Maybe it's my C++ background, but I'm tempted to declare it undefined behavior and say "at your own risk". May 22, 2011 at 17:23
  • @Cody: It's safe to assume that balpha is involved in the development work of comments. And a dev giving a precise answer to an explicit question is rather convincing, I'd say (taking the post dates into account, of course). May 22, 2011 at 17:28
  • @Hendrik: Regarding your comment to the question, I agree it wasn't very nice for them to change our locations without asking. But that's a separate issue. I think it's perfectly reasonable that making a change to the profile trips the "full-compliance-required" switch. It's not like there are no options here. If we were forcing users to change their user names, I'd have a different opinion. But you don't have to change your profile. The existence of 1 bug doesn't legitimate a 2nd feature request. You'd have to special case the code again, this time for profile edits, and for what benefit? May 22, 2011 at 18:07
  • @Cody: Thanks for the reply. Then it seems we don't quite agree on this, but I do see your point. May 22, 2011 at 18:10
  • +1 for the Steve Jobs quote. Just change the name of the account. 2 second fix. But having the developers implement something that supports a deprecated feature and that will take days or weeks to implement, that just doesn't seem like very good, responsible use of development time. Let's just keep it simple. I suggest yc0 as a username :)
    – jmort253
    May 22, 2011 at 18:34
  • @Cody: Jeff just now made it so that @yc won't work any more. So you win :-(. Once you take edit your answer again to remove that now obsolete part, I'll take away my downvote. May 23, 2011 at 7:47

I understand that you might be nostalgically attached to your grandfathered 2 character name, but you really should change it to the new minimum of 3 characters.

  • Right now nobody can @name reply to you in comments. The workaround for 2 character names only applies in the context of a longer name like, say, Yi Jiang -- we use the space as an implied match.

  • You will be unable to copy your profile to new Stack Exchange sites. (That is, without getting "01" appended to the end of your 2 character name...)

  • Neither of the 'reasons' for my changing my username seem to currently apply. I just successfully copied my profile onto Photo.SE d.pr/uCKI without trouble, and I regularly get @name notifications without a problem (see: d.pr/l9rK).
    – Yahel
    May 22, 2011 at 23:34
  • 1
    @yahelc for #1, note that it copied as yc01. And we're fixing #2 -- that is a bug. Note that you may get notified even without any explicit @name notification at all in certain comment scenarios when commenting on a post with another single user. May 22, 2011 at 23:37
  • Fine. You win. Changed it to יהל.
    – Yahel
    May 22, 2011 at 23:39
  • 1
    @yahelc that's fine, but just so you know -- users will have to manually copy and paste to @name reply to you. There is still the single user reply detection, of course, which requires no @name at all. May 22, 2011 at 23:48
  • 1
    @Jeff Yeah, I'm just feeling bitter about being forced to change. I'll probably change it to yahelc in a day or so.
    – Yahel
    May 22, 2011 at 23:51
  • 1
    @yahelc well, heh... we also have 30 day limits on name changes to prevent name-change madness.. but a mod can change it for you, just flag one of your posts. May 23, 2011 at 0:10
  • 1
    So is #3 on this post incorrect? Someone downvoted all the existing answers because of that exception, so I'll be amused if it's wrong May 23, 2011 at 4:16
  • @Michael: Read carefully what Jeff wrote in the comments. Jeff just now made it so that #3 is wrong! When I downvoted (obviously it was me), #3 was correct. May 23, 2011 at 7:45
  • -1 for not saying in the answer that you just now made it so that @yc won't work anymore. May 23, 2011 at 7:49
  • @Michael: #3 is correct again, but different from what it said yesterday ... May 23, 2011 at 11:47
  • @Jeff by the way, this brings up an inherent UX problem with @ replies, which is that they have to be manually typed (or, copy/pasted). Why not have a little Reply button on comments you wish to reply to, like in the chat UI?
    – Yahel
    May 23, 2011 at 12:16
  • @yahelc See here, or here for replying with ease.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    May 23, 2011 at 12:39
  • @Grace thanks. the original request mentions using a reply button (like what ended up being used in Chat); that doesn't seem to have been addressed, and would make i18n-ized usernames more keyboard friendly.
    – Yahel
    May 23, 2011 at 14:27
  • For what it's worth, I ran into the same issue. I'm attached to "BQ" myself. But when the system was going to force me to change my username to something longer just to update an email address, I changed my mind and hit "Cancel." StackOverflow "helpfully" updated it to "BQ." anyways despite cancelling my edit. That, or an automatic process did it in the past three weeks or so; I didn't bother to check Meta about this issue until now.
    – BQ.
    Sep 22, 2011 at 16:58
  • Also, I got a kick out of the fact that having a 2-character username hid me from the search results on the users page. One could only find my profile by knowing a specific question I'd answered.
    – BQ.
    Sep 22, 2011 at 17:02

You're already grandfathered.

For comment replies to work efficiently and accurately, it's highly recommended that user names be at least 3 characters long. The system has to figure out who is being @-referenced, so there are many more possibilities when only specifying 1 or 2 characters (the former is disallowed).

Having a user name less than 3 characters long therefore makes it more difficult to communicate with you. This is a disadvantage not only for the community, but also for you, because you'd have to go back and look for comment replies where the system might not automatically notify you.

Basically, being easily accessible through comments is "playing nice" with the community.

  • I've never had problems getting @replies to @yc; the notifications work just fine. In fact, @-replies are part of why I think it makes sense to accomodate grandfathering here: old @ replies won't make any sense to people reading old comments if I change my username to Fluffy Bunnies.
    – Yahel
    May 22, 2011 at 15:14
  • 1
    @yahelc: Are you sure? You will always be notified of comments to your own posts, but as I understand it, the @replies only work for user names longer than 3 characters. And those are necessary for people trying to contact you from a post that's not your own. Like this one for example. Are you sure that you were notified of Pekka's comment there? May 22, 2011 at 15:21
  • @hendrik undeleting this, as I am going to ensure this case is broken for 2 character only names. It was only intended to fix Yi Jiang not enable whining. May 22, 2011 at 23:16
  • @Cody Gray yep. d.pr/l9rK is a @ reply I got from a thread where I had only commented (ie, I didn't own an answer or the question)
    – Yahel
    May 22, 2011 at 23:30
  • @Jeff: Thanks for the notification. I prefer not to comment on the matter itself ... May 23, 2011 at 7:42

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