I remember the exact day and place that I chose my first online nickname. The first one that stuck anyway. But, several days earlier....

In June of 1989 I was on the campus of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. A friend of mine (Jim Banas) from high school and I were walking by the main chemistry building when he excitedly said, "There's this program I want you to run! There are people who run it and can talk with each other from all over the country. All over the world!" He gave me the information about the program, where it was located and how to use it.

The day I chose the nick that stuck with me for six years I was in what was known as the Engineering Annex, a student use computer center (pod). At that time, the pod consisted of mainly vt220 and vt100 terminals connected to vaxes running either VMS or Ultrix.

I sat down at a terminal and went through the procedure for creating a student account. A straight forward and automated process. I logged in. And then I typed, fn.

Jim had told me that I should choose a handle and infact there were people on the chat who were telling me the same thing. On the spur of the moment, I chose 'opus'.

Before I was even a teenager, I was collecting sunday comics. I was mainly interested in the Bloom County strips at the time and it's unfortunate that all of them were thrown out to circumvent a "fire hazard". But the love of Bloom County had stuck with me and for some reason, on that day, I chose the name of the penguin. Opus gradually evolved into variations that my closer friends would use, such as, "opurt" and "oppie". Opurt seemed to be the favorite of my closest and dearest friends at the time. These weren't just online friends either.

I met a large social group in Albuquerque that included several people I had pal'd around with during high school. It was through chat that I reconnected with those pals and found a whole core of new ones.

However, I stopped using that nickname in about 1995 after I moved to San Francisco. At that time, there were so many changes in my life that I decided to start using my real name. I felt that my real name was rare enough to not collide with a lot of other people and in general, that has held true. The only other people I know of using that name aren't using it as a nick. It's their real name.


I think in a way, I was reclaiming some identity that I wanted as my own. Having a nickname that has its roots in a fictional character, with his own personality and history, carries a certain inertia when chatting. Perhaps it's a good way to initially connect, but if the name just doesn't feel right to you, then what is it that is connecting you and the other person? Telling my new coworkers (in a new city, 1100 miles from my origin) that I can be called "opus" or "opurt" rang very hollow in my ears at the time. I didn't feel like that was me. I'm Colby.

I haven't thought very often about the time that I stopped using opus and opurt. I remember it being a big decision for me at the time. I remember sending e-mail to a lot of friends telling them my thoughts and eliciting feedback on the idea. All of the responses were positive and I haven't looked back since then.