Emallson & I

Written by J. David Smith
Published on 13 September 2015

Recently I commented on Facebook (and Twitter, see below) that I was tempted to just have people call me Emallson. It occurred to me afterward that most people that have me on FB (1) have never seen the name Emallson in association with me, and/or (2) have no idea what the background on this name is, and why I use it. So that's what this post is for: to clarify that I am Emallson. This isn't my only alt-name either. The other common (public) one is Atlanis, which this domain is named for!

I got the name Emallson more than a decade ago in the least exciting of ways: a random name generator. I was just starting to play Anarchy Online, my 2nd MMO, and couldn't seem to come up with a name that wasn't already taken. So I hit random. 3 or 4 tries later, Emallson popped up, and the game let me finish character creation and enter the world. Not very exciting, but in some sense it was a transformative event for me. I have a lot of good memories from AO, almost all of them as Emallson. AO has this interesting XP-debt system. When you die, your unsaved XP is added to a pool and you earn 1.5X XP until the pool is empty. At one point the pool was so full that the XP in it could have taken me from level 40 to 80 by itself. I never got to a very high level. I played AO heavily for years, and very quickly became attached to that name. The reactions I get to Emallson It's in my email address. in the real world are about what I'd expect. Weird glances, confused faces, requests to spell it out one more time. One thing that struck me as odd was how many people responded the same way in-game. Neither of these deterred my use of it. Each time I explained it to someone, I got a little more attached to it.

When I first installed Ubuntu, I had to pick a username. I'll let you guess what I chose. I've been using that name as my Linux username ever since. I picked up the email emallson@archlinux.us. My official university emails are emallson (at UK) and emallson (at UF). My login to the UK lab machines is emallson. Still working on getting that changed at UF Almost everywhere except in direct contact with other human beings, my name is emallson. In my mind, it doesn't seem strange to be called emallson: people I know are the only ones that don't. Funny how that works.

There is another bit of history in this name. Y'see, when I became involved in as many different communities as I did, I had a lot of different names. Most of them are dead now, but emallson Capitalization of emallson is strictly optional. (and to a lesser extent, Atlanis) live on. The way I approached these community identities was very much like one might approach a tabletop RPG character: compartmentalization of what each identity knew and how each behaved. First person to cry schizo gets slapped. I can't say for sure why I did this; I know some part of it was that it entertained me. Emallson, being such an early arrival, didn't suffer from this. Emallson was always me. More than that: it was a blank slate. I knew of nothing in any way related to anything that remotely sounded like Emallson. Emallson was connected to literally nothing, save me and my AO character. Even my real name has more connection than that.

My real name is Johnathan David Smith. All three terms are crowded with others claiming the same names. You can't google that name without coming up with millions of hits that are entirely unrelated to me. You wanna know what you get when you google Emallson? Go look; I'll wait. This ultimately was one of the core reasons that Emallson stuck to me, I think. It was empty and I could fill it, versus a name that was already full that I needed to force my way into. "'Force my way into'?", one might ask. Yes. On my soccer team in high school, I was Smithy, because there were other Davids and Johns. In my internship this past Summer, I was Agent Smith, because I sat next to John Peyton and John Butler, and again there were other Davids. The name of the Tau Beta Pi chapter president my junior year was David Smith – and it wasn't me.

Quite a few people on campus have already conversed with me via email. Typically, they'll have talked with me via my University address, which reports my name as Johnathan D Smith. Trying to get *that* changed, too. The conversation typically goes like this:

"Hello; Johnathan, right?"
"Yea, but call me David."
"Yea, middle name."
<insert explanation here>

It's been this way for my entire life, and I'm kind of frustrated with it. That was the instigation for that comment. I'm tired of explaining myself, tired of being mistaken for others. One thing I'm not quite tired of is being able to easily hide. As names go, David Smith is easy to go unnoticed with. Emallson, on the other hand, is still a name, but it is mine and none other's. I can make a statement about Emallson that I can't about David: I am Emallson, and Emallson is me.