Gini Dietrich

Twitter Handles: My Name or a Nickname?

By: Gini Dietrich | July 15, 2010 | 

It’s a Twitter week! My friend Jennifer MacDonald asks, “I have been pondering and asking many people their opinion on Twitter handles. If you are a professional in the social media space, should your Twitter handle be your real name, or is it ok to use a nickname/hobby? If you use a nickname, do you still appear as a professional to those who do not know you?”

My answer is in the following video, with a special guest appearance from The Beast. Do you agree with me? What do you think?

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Tom

    Anyone my age probably remembers what it is like to grow up with AIM and hotmail. I remember all the ridiculous screennames and email addresses I had growing up (shameful disclosure: my first AIM handle in 5th grade was “TomDaBomb5050”). Obviously, I don’t use those anymore.

    The kids growing up with Twitter are going through the same phases as I did with instant messaging. I suspect there are a lot of “Bieber4evah” names floating around that they’ll be embarrassed about in the future.

    I’d definitely go with a simple name on Twitter. It’ll make you easier to find and more professional, and it’s a lot more timeless.


    • Such great advice, Tom! We had an intern who had a crazy AIM handle. We tried everything to get her to change it while she was here – after all, she was representing us. She wouldn’t do it. But I’ve noticed she now has changed it. She learned. 🙂

      I’m going to call you TomDaBomb from now on!

  • As you mention, we want to connect with people through twitter and that means names and faces. When I first created my handle @AbbieF I chose not to use my last name because at the time I wasn’t quite sure how twitter worked and really didn’t want that much information readily available. Figured you could click on my bio if you were really interested and find out anything else about me. And now, even though I am much more comfortable with twitter, my handle has some equity built in it so it will remain.

    We waited about 18 months to establish a twitter handle for our company, @HMA_PR, in part because as individuals we wanted to create a presence for ourselves first. We didn’t think people would follow a company until they knew the people behind it. And as you suggest, our bio indicates that the account is managed by our account service team.

    • Just like you, we JUST launched @spinsucks. It’s pretty funny, because everyone assumes it’s me and they keep sending me personal DMs. So we’re having to figure out how to keep me as the face of the brand, but let others own pieces of the pie. Still don’t have an answer, but I think this is bigger than tweeting as yourself, which we all know I already do. 🙂

  • Gini, I totally understand your point about the name, agree. I also think a handle can also convey something about your brand as a professional.

    Being a shy newbie, I was unsure about using my name so I opted for the company name when I joined Twitter and looking back, not sure I’d do it differently.

    I’m a multitasking solo PR and my handle, @3HatsComm, is intended to convey that brand message. I joined Twitter to network for business. Sure I’m personable, social, and authentically ME, but the professional comes first. My profile of course has my real name, so you I’m still quite findable. FWIW.

    • Where I see the difference is that you own the business and your name is associated with it. Had I started wit @armentdietrich instead of @ginidietrich, I think it would have been the same effect that I have on my personal name. We have the advantage of being the face to the brand.

  • I changed my twitter name this week from a hobby-based nickname to my real name. One main reason was there are others using the same nickname elsewhere online but I’m the only me.

    It makes life easier when you’re meeting online contacts in person too, they don’t need to remember me as my real name and my online name any more.

    • You ARE the only you! That is such a true statement!

  • I must admit, some of my old social profiles have a crappy text and number username, and now I’m probably stuck with them 😉

    I like the idea of two accounts (if feasible). Use your own name for the majority of profiles that you have, and then company/business name for where that’s needed.

    You can always have title and company in your bio, as well as link to your company. Or have a dedicated background with all the info you’d ever need on there.

    People listen to people’s views and opinions, and that’s what stays with them. So say someone’s looking for a PR agency – they’ll say, “Gini’s great at PR, let’s check out her company” as opposed to having to Google PR companies or agencies.

    They remember you because of interaction and human touchpoints; they might not as easily remember a brand.

    • SO FUNNY! My AIM handle is prginiarment. NO ONE knows me as that anymore, but it still lingers. I’d actually like to have an offline conversation with you about what I just commented to Abbie and a couple of other things jumbled in my brain.

  • Your handle, like your bio, should instantly reflect who you are and why you are on Twitter.

    I am, of course, a horrible example of this (especially since I’m not even a DJ “…yet”), but am too stubborn to change.

    I suppose it all comes down to how seriously you are going to take Twitter and how much professional interaction you are going to have.

    I like it for consumption and interacting with friends and a select group of people related to my work, so I’m not overly concerned with the perception that @dj_justjay gives off.


    • Even though we’ve already talked about this on Twitter, it’s worth a comment here. I think it’s hilarious that you’re not a DJ (yet), yet you refuse to give it up. Our tweets led to a discussion with @nomeatballs and she said she cringes a little when people call her No Meatballs when they meet her IRL. That’s what happens. I will always call you DJ Just Jay forever. Just like I call my friend Ljuba, TStone and my friend Rochel, Joyful.

      • It’s funny too, because I was at a tweetup once and felt bad because I couldn’t remember actual names… only handles in some cases.

        But it’s alright, the more that people call me DJ Just Jay, the more encouragement I get to actually learn how to do it… 🙂

        Besides, it’s always a conversation starter:

        “So what type of music do you spin?”
        “Ha- yeah, see the thing is… I don’t actually do that.”

  • Gini thank you for answering this question. This is something that I have really been deeply considering for a while.

    I agree with Marc, it will make it much easier for me when I meet all of my Twitter followers in person. When I introduce myself they dont make the connection, but when I say my twitter handle they instantly know me. It would be nice to be able to have instant recognition.

    On that note I’m going to take your advice and make the merge. If any of you follow me please expect the change from @jennygirl207 to @jennimacdonald. My picture will remain unchanged.

    Thanks Gini!

  • I wanted to use my name for personal branding. It was taken so I used initials and last name. Of course, I do not go by initials. Perhaps it has hurt me. I could not find an easy way with dashes as I do on my web site Any other ideas?


    • Rob, I actually don’t mind rcberman. It gives me enough information to your name. I would call you Rob, if I met you IRL. Unlike I comment to DJ up ahead, I wouldn’t call you RC Berman. It’s close enough to your name that I think people would know you as Rob.

  • So my question would be, what do you do if you have created a network and are known by your site name, for example, and don’t want to have to “start over”. Would love to hear ideas on this, because I have been wondering about this for a bit now. Great post. Woof woof, Jack!

    • Courtney,

      I’m wondering the same exact thing. So I would love to hear everyone’s thoughts too! 🙂

      • Well, this is what I think. I think if you’ve already built equity in your handle and, if it doesn’t bother you that someone meets you IRL and calls you Pizzazzerie or GlassHalfFull, then why change it? I mean, I know that it’s Courtney and Jessica, but I likely wouldn’t call either of you that IRL. It’s like my own secret pet name.

        If you were just starting out, I would advise you both to use your real names. But because you’ve both already built equity, I say keep them!

        With Jen’s position (the one who asked the initial question), she had jenmacdonald207 and jennimacdonald. My advice is that she merge the two into one – one that she doesn’t mind being called; i.e. Jen or Jennie.

        • Fabulous. But if you slip up, I’m totally cool if you call me Pizzazzerie IRL 🙂

        • Um, we call you pizza cutie IRL. 🙂

  • I use ExtremelyAvg for the Twitter account which I use to promote my blog, which is called Extremely Average. I wanted to promote the blog as my brand, more than my name. I do use my own picture though.

    That is my reasoning. I am not sure that my reasoning is sound, or that I shouldn’t have just used Brian Meeks, but I have grown fond of the moniker now, so I think I will stick with it. Much like I stuck with that last sentence and kept going and going and going.

    • I gotta tell you, in my head I don’t call you Brian. I for sure call you Extremely Average. And, knowing you, you are NOT extremely average, but I can’t get away from calling you that. It’s kind of like Prince changing his name and everyone expecting to follow suit. I’ll never be able to call you Brian now.

  • Mark Sherrick

    Some time ago, my twitter handle was HeyThatGuyMark. Then one day I ran into @shellykramer. Shortly thereafter, I changed my handle to my actual name. People do take me a bit more seriously this way. Well, they take me seriously when I need them to. I don’t have a business, so I can’t really speak to that part of the question.
    One thing I’m not a fan of is having both a personal and business account and using one strictly as a retweet machine. I know thats not really what this is about…but it does let me say this: pick one and stick with it.

    • I think you make a valid point, but there are circumstances where it is best to have both.

      I personally have two (actually 4, but I don’t use 2 of them), but only 3 or 4 people follow me on both. I try not to mix my business tweets with my personal. I never tweet when I update my blog, on my business account, and don’t ever send out business links on my personal.

      One is for my personal brand and the other is for work. They are vastly different beasts.

      That being said, I do agree with the point about a RT machine.

      • Mark Sherrick

        Oh, having both can be quite a good idea, if you USE them both. I recommend it, I just don’t follow suit because I’m not a business

    • I had forgotten you were HeyThatGuyMark! I totally remember that now! You’ve done a nice job of transferring that to your real name. And EA, I agree with Mark that having both can be a good idea, IF you use them both.

  • I completely agree Gini. I attend quite a few Twitter events and people seem to get offended if you don’t know who they are, but then you find out they have a logo or cartoon for a pic and a biz name or nickname. I think some have not gotten past the ridiculous days of the weird screen names of the 90s. For biz it makes no sense to use a nickname unless that is what they are going to be tweeting about.

    • DEL WILLIAMS COMMENTED ON MY BLOG! YAY!!! Even though we disagreed earlier. Yay! 🙂

  • I totally agree with you from a business perspective, Gini. The only time I’d disagree is for people with really long names! It’s sad that it’s not until *after* you’ve created a Twitter account that you realize the number of characters in your name counts toward character count!

    Check out Del Williams above me — she’s smart to drop the length in Delores to shorten her Twitter handle, IMO.

    So then what about those of us who aren’t tweeting as pros/social media experts? I’m just a person, and this is my personal account, y’know? The “Ant” persona is one I started using YEARS ago, when I started interacting online (not to be confused w/ my original AOL name of DontDoMath in early 90s). Basically, I needed a screen name for, and had 9 nieces and nephews at the time, so I became Antof9 … online. That nick carried over into my blog on LiveJournal, I use it on Flickr, etc., etc.

    Back then, there was more concern for privacy, and frankly I didn’t want people to know that my husband was out of town, or what bank we used, etc., etc., so it was better to have a pseudonym online. Since then the lines have blurred a bit, but I try to keep my real name and my screen name sort of separate, although I’ll admit you could probably connect them pretty easily with a little bit of time.

    All that to say that my other online concern has been that I would NEVER EVER in any way pretend or attempt to represent my (former) employer online. In fact, it wasn’t until April 2009 that I even connected my employer’s name w/ my LinkedIn profile! That was the month we laid off 1500 people, and everyone was jumping on LI. Prior to that, no one in my online circles knew who I worked for. I would never ever have connected my online persona with them. Would have been very inappropriate. However, in March of 2010, they laid off 200 more people, myself included, and now I’m less concerned about representing anyone but myself online.

    All that to say that I *like* being Ant online. It’s how people from other sites find me and even talk to me IRL. And even though my siblings have continued procreating after they said they were done and I’m now Antof12, most of my circle knows me as Antof9.

    Last, my name is Margaret, and to most people, that is a woman over 85. Heck, it is to me too! I’m 43 but most people think I’m about 34. If I saddle my online persona with an old lady name, most people wouldn’t even want to be friends with me 🙂

    • I think Antof9 is pretty funny! I think you hit the nail on the head when you said you would never represent anyone but yourself online.

      • Thanks! I suppose I feel the same way about switching to Antof12 as some of the others do switching to their real names 🙂 It’s the whole “don’t switch your avatar” thing 🙂

        This has been a really interesting discussion to read, Gini — thanks for starting it!

  • I agree with you Gini. I’ve always used my whole name because that’s how people know me. I think people should use their name if it is available. I have met many people at Tweetups whose names didn’t resonate with me at first because I only knew their Twitter name. As soon as they told me their Twitter name, the true connection was made. If your name is gone, make your choice easy to remember so it comes to mind when someone is trying to remember it. Adding a hobby or affinity toward something as part of your name isn’t my favorite as these change, where your name does not.

    Luke looked up when Jack Bauer barked. I think he was sending a message to my boys.

    • Please bring the boys here and we’ll do a cameo for all of them! 🙂

  • I agree and also with the comments that using your name and your OWN picture is needed if you want people to actually know who you are! I refrained from putting my name name at first for certain reasons that don’t matter now… but now I like RandomShelly 🙂

    I don’t think I have put my last name on my account yet though – should do that now because I know that people have me in their phone as RS LOL

    Jack is adorable by the way – and loved your pic of him in the rental 🙂

    • Um, you will ALWAYS be Random Shelly to me. Even when we meet IRL. That’s what I will always call you. BUT I know your name is Shelly and I think that is more important than knowing your last name.

      We’ve been joking all day that we should have give him a pipe, a smoking jacket, and the paper while I drove him around town. It, seriously, was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Him sitting in the passenger seat like a person. Man alive!

  • Gini,

    Love following you and we have shared some great conversation.

    This was a great post. I agree that Twitter is one big networking party. I’ve been able to network and meet a ton of great people via Twitter, especially moving from the north to the south.

    I guess I’m wondering where I fall. I thought about changing my Twitter handle to reflect my full name. As you know it is @GlassHalfFullPR currently. When I started on Twitter back in 2008, I formed my personal brand as @GlassHalfFullPR, since I was also beginning my freelance/consultant business I thought it would have more leverage. My presence on Twitter has helped me with freelance work and job offers, I haven’t seen it particularly hurt me…yet.

    On a personal note, my name was also about to change because I was getting married. And my new name is phonetically very hard to pronounce. I guess for that reason I’m weary about changing that.

    What’s your advice? Keep @GlassHalfFullPR or use my full name?

    • I commented on this on Courtney’s comment. I’m kind of wishy washy on yours, in particular. I don’t relate “Jessica” to you AT ALL. I call you Half Glass (not Full PR) in my head. But you also have a really solid following. People you’ve built a name with. If I were you? I’d ask my followers. My name or keep the handle?

      • Solid advice. I may just do that, I have been throwing it around lately. Thank you so much for the input! 🙂

  • This has been a great discussion. I would like to add one more point to the mix.

    If you have been using a clever graphic for your avatar or a very striking picture of yourself, don’t change it. I find that when someone changes their avatar, I don’t notice that they have, and just assume they have stopped using Twitter.

    I believe that the image should be of high quality, and once a person finds it, it seems best to stay with that one. That is just my opinion, I may be wrong.

    • OMG! You are SO RIGHT! My avatar is two years old so I thought I’d change it. People FREAKED out! I got 156 DMs telling me to change it back. So, even when I’m 75, I’ll look 30. 🙂

  • I definitely think your name is the way to go. You put it best, Gini – Twitter is an ongoing, giant networking party. I’m fairly sure most of us wouldn’t put “CrazyNintendoFan94” on our name tag at the local networking dinner. Probably shouldn’t do it here either.

    At networking events, I just put Tim Jahn on my nametag, I never put my Twitter handle, @timjahn. I joke that it’s the advantage of using your name as your Twitter handle – write it once on your nametag and you killed two birds with one stone.

    And as you said, Gini, it helps people associate you with your name, rather than CrazyNintendoFan97.

    Thanks for sparking the discussion Gini!

    • Uh Tim? I am SO calling you Crazy Nintendo Fan from now on!

  • Oh, I forgot to mention, back in the AOL days, I used to think it was fun to change my screenname every few months.

    I look back and wonder how anybody ever kept up with me!

  • There has been a lot of good discussion on this topic, but I’m going to throw in my proverbial two cents.

    I’m not in the SM business really, but I enjoy using and interacting with it immensely as a hobby. As an outlet. I use Twitter and my blog to say things I want to say, but perhaps I don’t feel comfortable saying under my real name. I have precedence on my side: “The Federalist Papers” were written by men using pseudonyms. Am I doing something as important as what those men did? Of course not. I like to talk finance and markets. About investing and risk management. Some of my friends are still in sectors (like banking, etc.) where what I say is very pertinent to their work. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way. So I want to ensure I’m careful. But seeing what other folks have been able to accomplish in a pseudonymous way is something I take in solace in, nonetheless.

    But at the same time, I kind of like the idea that as time has gone on, there’s this persona I seem to have created. It’s fascinating to see how people react to me when I see them in real life. I can say I’ve met some really cool people who I otherwise just interact through my tweets and my blog and my online persona has in no way diminished the interactions I have with folks face to face.

    So I’m not advocating using a pseudonym, but as long as you’re not using it to do ‘hit & run’ attacks on other folks, I don’t think there’s much of an issue with it.

    Thanks for putting up this post.

    • In your situation, I agree that Professor Pinch works! I think, where it doesn’t work, is when we’re using Twitter (or any other online tool) to move our businesses or careers forward as ourselves, but don’t have an online persona that matches. Just like the discussion I’ve had with @ChicagoDiane, and others, on Twitter if the persona has already been developed, people know you as Professor Pinch, and you don’t mind being called PP in real life, I see no problem with it!

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  • Gini – Are you talking to ME?

    LOL. You and I have had this conversation many times since last summer.

    I went with and have stayed with using my brand as my Twitter handle.

    For me, it seems to work… people like my “Time Management Ninja” theme and it sticks.

    However, I will cede some ground here. As I have begun to make a name for myself in the marketplace, it has become more important to get “myself” and “my name” out there.

    Sitting on the fence currently, about how to procede with the name vs. handle thing.


    aka Time Management Ninja 🙂

    • Two things to YOU:
      1. I will ALWAYS call you TM. No matter what.

      2. Didn’t you have a weird experience when I last saw you that someone thought the person behind the brand was female? That being said, I think you changed your avatar to be more masculine since then. 🙂

      Also, this was totally for you! LOL!

      • Oh…you had to bring THAT up. 🙂

        Yes, once upon a time, when I didn’t have my name or bio up there, that did happen.

        Now, I do have my picture and name on my site. But, I still continue to use my brand name and logo on Twitter. 🙂

  • Great subject! I went with my real name when I joined Twitter because I wanted to build my brand and put myself out there as a real person, as well as allow people who know me professionally to find me. However, I later ended up protecting my Tweets, for a variety of reasons which I’ve discussed in writing and won’t rehash here. One of those reasons was that I don’t really want everything I Tweet archived under my real name in the Library of Congress!

    I don’t think I would change my mind if I could go back, but I do worry about using my real name so much online. I’ve had a couple of scary “incidents” already.

    • No need to worry about the Library of Congress or stalkers, Jelena. It’s me stalking you. I’m harmless. 🙂

  • I usually think people should use their real name. Some people do really well at using their first name or some combination of their first and last name. I think some of the more corporate brands do a great job for the people that run their accounts. You know that @comcastbonnie works for Comcast. The same with @RubbermaidErin.

    One of my friends actually proved to be a bit of an exception to this. Her twitter name was her last name for awhile. She has a hyphenated name and her twitter name was @BellRehwoldt. She had to spell it out every time, and it just didn’t come off very easy. She recently changed it to @CreativesMarket, which fits what she does and was a really great idea.

  • As a second thought, I’ve recently been thinking a lot about this in regards to my email handle. I had always anonymized my email handle somewhat, including using the random string of numbers (sreed1234) … Even though I’ll probably continue to use sreed1234@ for online forms, etc. I’m moving to for more professional things.

    • You bring up a very good point about your name in email, which is a VERY good way to think about your Twitter handle.

      I have a friend who just started a business and still uses an AOL account. The other day he told me he incorporated and I said, “Does that mean you’re going to get a real email address?”

      I think Twitter will be the same way – eventually if it’s not your name, from a business perspective, no one will take you seriously.

      • I’ve heard the same thing said about gmail accounts. 🙂 I think in today’s world where its so easy to get a domain name and email address, any of the free email services look as if you’re not taking yourself seriously.

  • Hey, Gini. I had to come back and revisit this great conversation in light of discussions with a new hire on this very topic. After much thought…

    In addition to continuing to buck the majority of advice given here by keeping @blah2voila instead of switching to danahughens, my new Clairemont team member will be tweeting under a handle similar to blah2voila as part of Clairemont’s branding.

    Like any PR person, I have spent years trying to explain our profession to non-PR people when asked the “what do you do?” question. Additionally, my personal philosophy, and now a guiding thought for Clairemont, is that I/we exist to make things better for our clients. When they hire us, they can sigh in relief that they know — whatever the assignment is — that it will be handled, that they don’t have to worry about it and we will produce amazing results for them.

    In other words, we go from blah to voila for them by either starting from nothing and doing incredible work or taking an existing program and wowing it out beyond their expectations. This seems to resonate with clients as well as non-comms people. We even have a B2V process that we outline for clients and ask them to define voila moments/outcomes.

    So for myself and my agency, it is about our brand personality and a way to infuse a little creativity, fun and whimsy. I resisted the urge to name the company B2V PR — to me, that would have been over-the-top. But for Twitter handles and a light-hearted way to explain how we approach our work, it seems to be a good balance.

    As for people calling me blah2voila… yeah, it happens. And that’s just fine with me. They usually ask what it means which gives me a chance to talk about what I do and my company.Perhaps one of the biggest compliments I’ve received came in the form of a tweet from our friend Kris Schindler who wrote that I am way more voila than I am blah.

    So for now, I carry on & am excited to announce my new team member and her creative, quirky and brand-reinforcing handle in the coming weeks!

    • Gini Dietrich

      Thanks for coming back and leaving your thoughts, Dana! I love the branding around what you’re doing and think it’s great because you’re creating the brand around all of your team. We have a client that we have them do CE (for Computer Explorers) and their first name, last initial – so mine would be CEGiniD. That shows the brand and their name. I think the way you’re doing it is great! Voila!

  • mariasole

    Hey Gini,
    thanks for your advice. I have a travel blog. Just a question: what do you think of  of maintaining 2 Twitter accounts 1 with my personal name and the other one with my blog name? Which is the best solution for me? I’m at the beginning, nobody knows my blog at the moment.

    • mariasole We have both – @spinsucks for the blog and I have my own personal account It was really hard to manage both alone. Now Yvette manages the blog’s handle for the company. I found tweeting for both accounts laborious and boring, but it works really well when you have help. If I were to do it again, I’d do it all on my personal account until I was ready to hire someone to manage it for me.