Pet Peeve #25: Your First IM Name Will Never Go Away

Let me tell you about Wanda.

Remember when your e-mail actually said, "You've Got Mail!" every time you got a new e-mail?

Wanda was my high school bus driver. Skinny as a toothpick but less brittle, Wanda had been driving buses for years. She had a long tangle of blonde hair and a crooked smile, and she took pride in driving us kids to school every day. She even took us to McDonald’s for breakfast once a semester.

Wanda had a nickname for everyone, and I had the good fortune of earning two of them: Cutebuns and Sweet Cheeks. She was referring to my butt, as it were. That may seem sketchy to you, but I don’t think Wanda even knew what my butt looked like, with my backpack hanging as low as it did. I think she just thought they were funny nicknames and she knew I’d play along.

You might recall that it was about 15 years ago that instant messaging got big. Everyone was on AOL IM. So the day came that I had to pick a screenname.

These days, most people use their real names online. Thank you, Facebook and Gmail. But back in 1996, most people thought if you used your real name online, an identity thief would immediately reach through the screen, grab your wallet, and punch you in the gut.

With these concerns in mind, I chose Cutebuns09 as my IM screenname (and yes, there were 8 other Cutebuns already taken. That should have been a sign that I was choosing the wrong name).

Of course, I didn’t stop there. I soon added a Yahoo account and an eBay account (what I was doing with eBay in the late 1990s, I don’t know. I don’t want to know). I’m sure there are other accounts out there with Cutebuns09 on them too.

When I went to college, I gained a Wash U e-mail address with my name. But we still used IM back then, so I was still Cutebuns09. And on eBay, every purchase I made using Cutebuns09 improved my buyer rating to the point that starting from scratch would be a huge step back.

Finally Facebook and Gmail came along, and I’m officially Jamey Stegmaier wherever I go. But Yahoo still thinks of me as Cutebuns09, much to the chagrin of the other guys in my Yahoo fantasy baseball league. So does eBay.

I have no doubt that I’m going to be 90 years old, hovercrafting between iReality oxygen chambers and Dippin’ Dots stores, and I’ll still run into people who identify me through their Yahoo 3D Contact Lenses as Cutebuns09.

Somewhere, Wanda will be smiling.

I’m sure I’m not alone with this. Come on, fess up on that first IM or e-mail username that you’re too embarrassed to use now.