he year was 1989, shortly after the big earthquake. I learned through a friend in my dorm that it was possible to communicate with people on the other side of the United States, live, via a computer using a program called fnet. It seemed pretty intriguing and having grown up in rural Northern California (Somes Bar, population 150) I was yearning for more contact with the world.
Of course once I went to the CATS computer center I had no idea what to choose for my account name.
While I've always had an active imagination I never really played any characters...oh my mom gave me Dungeons and Dragons when I was a kid because she heard it was cool but not living near any other kids I never had anyone to play with and I couldn't figure out how to play solo very well. I didn't have any favorite characters from books who I identified with despite being a voracious reader growing up. Maybe I just lacked exposure to being someone other than me in a real life context. Maybe I was just an idjit fresh out of high school. Whatever the cause, the result was that I couldn't think of anything better sounding or more appropriate once I was on the spot at the computer center so I went with familiarity and chose "yvonne".
You might think the story ends there but it doesn't. Later that same year I was playing a game with Larry Hastings, account funkstr (The Galactic Funkster), coming up with words and sentences made up of letters, rebus-style. Things like "I NV U" for "I envy you". In a stroke of genius I thought up CNMNE for "sea anemone" which I thought was especially clever since I was in the marine biology program at UCSC. I was so entranced with it I decided to change my login from yvonne to cnmne. I was told it would take up to 24 hours from when I filled out the paperwork. It was so exciting when I finally got to log in as cnmne!
What I wasn't expecting was to be an outsider all over again. Of course no one recognized the new account name, and no one could figure out what it was on their own since it was all lowercase.
Even after I told people it was me they didn't seem totally trusting in the online environment (oh what a shocker). I felt like an outcast and I missed my old self. I know that sounds sad. So 24 hours after I changed my name I went back to the CATS computer center and requested to change it back. The women who worked the desk were very resistant and annoyed. I begged and pleaded and finally persevered.
Not long after I learned CATS changed their policy and changing accounts was no longer allowed. I never found out for sure but it seems pretty likely my case may have helped push along the new policy.