Your twitter username is your de facto byline now, so get a good one.
I just changed my Twitter handle from “xjparker” to the more sensical — and byline-like — @johnpavlus. You should follow me by clicking here! [sorry, but it works.]
As someone who makes his living creating content, I should have done this a long time ago. When all your professional peers — including folks who can give you work — are on Twitter, your username is as important as your byline. And “xjparker” just doesn’t make sense in that context.
You may ask, “Yeah, no sh*t… when DOES that random handle make sense?” The short answer is that it’s very useful phonetically. Ten-ish years ago when I was first starting out as a freelancer, I had to give my email address out over the phone a lot to editors and sources. And let me tell you: “Pavlus” may look simple, but in practice it is a black hole that sucks in misspellings with irresistible force. In fact, my Dad got so tired of people writing it down as “Paulus” or “Pavlos” or “Dablos” that he’d just give the name “Parker” when making dinner reservations.
So I took the same approach with my email address. But since “Parker” was taken on Gmail about one Planck-time-unit after the service was started, I had to add some extra characters. So I chose the two letters in the English alphabet that are phonetically unique — unlike B and D, or S and F, X and J cannot be mistaken for other letters when spoken out loud.
Thus the handle XJParker was born. And I never had to tediously spell out my email address letter by letter again.
When I first got on Twitter a couple years ago, I just used the same handle that I’d already gotten in the habit of using for email, IM, and Skype – xjparker. And it was fine. But as Twitter has evolved into more of a professional tool (where my online identity crosses paths with strangers more than friends), I started to realize that it made a hell of a lot more sense for my Twitter byline to match my real one.
Here’s the tweet finally convinced me to change it. I’m probably never going to be on as many editors’ speed dials as Jonah Lehrer is, but I figured the least I could do to make my byline more recognizable would be to, well, actually use it. In fact, given the way people in my field use Twitter, my username is more likely to be seen than my real byline is, anyway. Expecting an editor (or anyone, really) to mentally translate “xjparker” into “oh yeah, that guy John Pavlus” is probably expecting too much.
And since I never have to vocally spell my Twitter handle out to anyone in meatspace–it’s always linked or copy/pastable on a screen–there’s no reason to wrap it in the same phoneme-optimized shell as my Gmail address.
[Good lord, I never thought I’d ever find myself writing 500 words on the subtleties of online name choosing…]
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