"No, no, the real name," said Holmes, sweetly. "It is always awkward doing business with an alias."
Yesterday, I mistook someone's real name for an alias. Why would anyone do such a thing? Well . . .
Sherlockians have liked their aliases for a very long time. Going back as far as the first issue of The Baker Street Journal, you can see Sherlockian founding fathers using a pen name on occasion. And once the Baker Street Irregulars started handing out investiture titles, the idea of Canonical nicknames among Sherlockian societies spread far and wide.
We like our Sherlockian nicknames, and they've been used in some odd places over the years -- one of the oddest was when an article in The New Yorker decided to spread dark rumors about a particular Sherlockian and use his B.S.I. investiture as a coy "we're not really saying his name" ploy. Which may have made their subject anonymous to the general public with no time to Google search, but to the rest of the Sherlockian community? Pretty obvious who they were casting aspersions about.
Because we never really hid behind our nicknames from the Sherlockian Canon.
Pen names still came up in places like the BSJ over the years, as some professionals felt writing about Holmes might reflect negatively on their professional lives somehow, but that practice went to a whole new level when BBC Sherlock came on the scene.
I remember the surprise at the very first 221B Con, both to many of the organizers and classic Sherlockian attendees, when a goodly number of the attendees wanted to be identified on their con badges by their Tmblr handles. The world of internet fan fiction, with so much of it "scandalously" erotic in nature, had brought a new reason for pen names, and many a new Sherlock Holmes fan was known only by a pseudonym. And that all made sense . . . in that circumstance.
But where it starts to get awkward, as Holmes would say, is when we start to deal with each other as human beings, outside of that specific context. If "carbunclebleucheese" suddenly shows up on your web doorstep with no bonafides, how seriously should you take them?
A few months back, I had a Sherlockian take issue with the way I expressed something in this blog, and, in addition to staying behind an alias, actually had their thoughts forwarded via a second aliased Sherlockian's e-mail, who added their own thoughts wrapped around the other alias's message, which changed the tone of the whole communication. What might have been one considered opinion turned into a couple of masked thugs jumping out of my e-mail to beat me about the head and shoulders.
It made things rather awkward in a situation that was awkward enough to begin with, and very hard to reply.
But one can't even single out the newer fans for the amount of alias-play strangeness these days, as one sees books and organizations expressing opinions and having personalities on Facebook and other social media quite a bit. Which, like the pen-names, makes sense to a degree . . . until it goes a bit too far and doesn't.
I'm not about to raise a cry to abandon aliases. They're a fun little part of our hobby. But like every other toy in our toybox, they have their time and place. But when one wants to be taken seriously, and have an honest discussion, the first thing one needs to be honest about is who they are. Especially when it reaches the point where one can not be sure what's an alias any more and what isn't, as happened yesterday.
Because as the great man once said, "It is always awkward doing business with an alias." Always.