The Goddess Speaks

By Nadine Kam

Tuesday, November 9, 1999

Internet pals can
call me Stella

MY apologies to Stella. Stella Wong. I know you're out there, because the day after I adopted your name, you sent me a press release. Now, I never intended to pilfer your name. It happened only because I am 1) paranoid and 2) inept at technology.

Imagine, it wasn't too long ago that I was making fun of a woman friend who had succumbed to the Palm Pilot. "That's a man thing," I told this pal. "Every time I'm in a meeting, they're whipping out those things and writing things down. They always need some toy to play with when paper and pencil is enough."

But I've gotten to the point of needing such a device to keep track of just my Internet aliases and computer passwords. "Stella" was just the beginning.

It started innocently enough. When I signed up with an Internet service provider, it was important for me to protect my privacy, and although the ISP company does have my real name, I also listed a phony name that -- because I didn't know what I was doing -- attached itself to my e-mail address.

I was peeved. My boyfriend liked it even less. We share an account and he doesn't like being Stella. It was hard for him to explain this to his kid brother, a computer genius.

ON the Internet, alter egos are the norm, but trying on new names has been something I've been doing since I was 4. My mom tried to tell me my name. "No!" I stomped my feet. "My name is Tintin!," a variant of my Chinese name.

Then I started reviewing restaurants and the shielded identity became a necessity. I haven't made a reservation in my own name for 10 years and have shaken hands with chefs, looked them straight in the eye and told them, "Hi, I'm Mollie!" Or Nikki. Even Suzie Wong.

That would be a variant of my rock 'n' roll persona, Suzie Wrong. Playing in rock bands, too, allowed for name switches, not to mention adopting an angst-ridden, disaffected air.

"So, what do you do?" potential bandmates would ask at auditions. "You go to school?"

"Nah," I'd reply glumly, using as few syllables as possible. "I just work."

"I hear you."

How could I tell these 18- to 20-year-old minimum-wage stock clerks that I was actually a decently paid newspaper editor, and worse, happy?

The music is now behind me, but I continue to play the name game. I tried to become a Yahoo! member by using one of the other log-on names I've used in the past. Hippie Chick. Taken. The variant Hippie Chic. Taken. Lavagirl. Taken.

I'd use the same name all the time if someone else would stop beating me to it! Short of coming up with something ridiculous like chugalugabiglug or something, it seems all the good names are taken.

Then I had to invent a password, which used to be an easy four-digit number in the days when they were only required for ATM cards. These days, longer combinations of alphabet and numbers are suggested for security reasons. Financial organizations often require a minimum of seven characters in a configuration of alphabets and numbers specific to the organization to ensure this password won't work elsewhere.

Just the other day, I was trying to remember the log-in name for my portable Hotmail e-mail. I'd like to use it, so I e-mailed an ex-boyfriend in New York to find out if he remembered it. He did. Didn't help me though. I couldn't remember the password.

Nadine Kam is features editor of Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

The Goddess Speaks runs every Tuesday
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