Forgive me if this sounds stupid, but I'm not familiar with the "First Name" and "Last Name" system, although I know last name means "family name".

Case 1

Suppose someone use his real name as an account: "Brad Pitt".

Case 2

Suppose I know someone's real name by visiting his profile.

We don't know each other, except that we both are members of the community.

Is it okay to address him as Brad? Or is it impolite? Or does it not matter at all?

This is to refer to the person; not tagging someone in a comment, or a post (not @BradPitt, but "From Brad's point of view ...").

For the sake of this question, the scope is for a forum-like community (StackExchange, Reddit, etc.) and for US-Europe first-last name system (I think Japan's has a different culture).


6 Answers 6


You are never going to be wrong calling someone by their full username (including punctuation, numbers, and such). There are a few places where it is safe to use less of the name:

  • the person has a clear "western firstname western lastname" display name, like "Brad Pitt" or "Kate Gregory". It's typically safe to just use the first name in this context.
  • the person has a clearly fictional name, such as the name of a character in a book. It's typically safe to use the same nicknaming as the other characters in that book (if you know it)
  • the person has some numbers at the end, such as Sunshine123. Here you can safely omit the numbers and just call the person Sunshine.
  • the name is a phrase like "Darkness Comes By Midnight" - you can try using just one word (choose carefully) to refer to them, and they may or may not be ok with it.

And of course, the person has told you what to call them. I was in a forum where a person's handle started with Makarios and then, starting with a capital letter, the rest of the handle was the last name I presume. Some people were calling this person Mak and were told: "either Makarios or Meky please." I don't know the nickname forming rules in that culture, but that's ok, because I was told by the user how to handle it.

If you're worried there will confusion because there are two Brads or two Kates in the conversation, then just as we use last names (or clarifiers like "Susan's Brad") in conversation to clear that up, you can use full user names.

In some places there are two names. For example, on Twitter my handle is @gregcons, though my display name is Kate Gregory. Same on Slack. Some people call me (and refer to me as) Kate, and some as gregcons. I am ok with either. I notice that when you call someone their display name instead of their handle (here on Stack Exchange we don't have separate display names and handles) it gives the interaction a more personal feel. It suggests the people involved really know each other. That is generally a good thing.

If you happen to know someone's real name, and it is not their display name or handle, I would generally avoid using it. For example, I have met some Stack Exchange people (eg at conferences) but I would not write a comment here calling them by their real name just because I happen to know it. Partly because their real name may be a piece of private information, and partly because the other participants may not know that when I say Steve I mean Darkness Comes By Midnight so they will get confused. (Made up name.) That applies even if the real name is in their profile - it's not immediately shown to people reading the question and answer, so the use of it may leave others confused.

  • In an online community, you should pay heed to the fact that if you know their real name but it isn't public knowledge in the community they might not want their real name spoken in that community. It doesn't sound like that's the case here - it sounds like they use their real name in the community and it's expected that everyone knows each other's names - but something to keep in mind.
    – Zibbobz
    Aug 15, 2017 at 13:34
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    @Zibbobz right, "their real name may be a piece of private information" Aug 15, 2017 at 13:38

You should always use their chosen display name in full


  • This is the name the user chose to be seen as and spoken to. It's only polite to respect his wishes.
  • This is the name all people in the communication know him by. Don't confuse others that might not have as much information as you do.
  • This name is unique by the system. Just imagine you write something to "Brad" (BradPitt123) and 5 minutes later another "Brad" (BradBrad35t, BadBrad or maybe simply Brad) joins. Confusion.
  • Cultural influence that is not obvious. While a Bradley might say "call me Brad" and anybody would recognize the short form, as a non-native speaker, it will always be a mystery to me, why a William is Bill and a Richard is Dick. Makes no sense. So again, avoid confusion from knowledge one participant has and another has not.

The display name is the display name for a reason. It makes communication easier by using unique identifiers all participants understand. So don't water it down. Use it.

  • 1
    If it helps, it makes no sense to me (a native speaker) either why Bill and Dick are the nicknames for their full counterparts.
    – Nosrac
    Aug 9, 2017 at 16:46
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    "This name is unique by the system. Just imagine you write something to "Brad" (BradPitt123) and 5 minutes later another "Brad" (BradBrad35t, BadBrad or maybe simply Brad) joins. Confusion." - so? Names are ambiguous, even usernames on some sites (like this one!). We deal with the ambiguity in real life all the time without having to use unique identifiers in all casual conversation. Aug 9, 2017 at 18:13
  • @user2357112 The difference is that in casual contexts there are typically a finite number of people in the immediate area, on the internet any registered user may join in any conversation, the scope is exponentially more vast. user2357111 through to user 2357119 could turn up right now and make this conversation more confusing than having 3 Bradleys in the same room. (I've been in the equivalent of both situations before, and in the latter case I was one of the 'Bradleys' and the solution was unique identifiers - for two years.)
    – Pharap
    Aug 9, 2017 at 19:24
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    I feel as if any confusion that may be caused by not using a full screen-name can be avoided if the person who is new to the conversation (lets call them Brad54) takes a second to realize that it makes NO sense for "Brad" (referring to Brad Pitt who has been active in the conversation) to refer to him. If the conversation had started with two "Brad"s however, or if another Bard joins, then longer/full screen names make more sense. Aug 9, 2017 at 20:58
  • @SnyperBunny It's not about the second Brad... it's about the people coming in after the second Brad. They don't even know that at one time there was only one Brad (BradPitt). They will think "Brad" actually referes to "Brad" instead of "BradPitt", because being unaware of the actual timeline, that's the closest match.
    – nvoigt
    Aug 10, 2017 at 5:42

This, like many things, will come down to personal preference.

Often users who don't want their real name used or exposed, won't put it out there to begin with. As in, they don't post it on their profile.

Even if/when a user publicly posts that information, it's better to ask than to assume. People often have their given name, and what they like to be called... Better to use what they like to be called.

Anonymity is part of the internet, we should at least try to be considerate of people's privacy and wishes when it comes to personal address. If you're unsure and afraid to ask, err on the side of caution and use their screen name.

Only use someone's given name if you've asked, or if their screen name is their given name.

  • What if their screen name is their full name?
    – Vylix
    Aug 9, 2017 at 10:24
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    @Vylix Then you call them by their first name, just like you would in any other setting. The best advice I can give is the most consistent thing in online communities and games is to use nicknames based on the username. For instance, If your name is VylixHedronIII, most people that I've interacted with would call you Vylix, and skip out on the rest. Similarly, if you had the name Vylixianthis, they would still shorten it down to pronounced breaks, IE Vylix, or Vy.
    – Anoplexian
    Aug 9, 2017 at 17:16
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    @Vylix For what it's worth, if someone has a 'screen name' I try to type it out in full every time. Some websites have an auto-complete feature that fills the name in for you, otherwise it's easy enough to just stick it in your clipboard if it's several characters long. I for one would not be happy with people shortening my name without express permission - even in real life people usually have the courtesy to ask if they may use a shortened form of a person's name.
    – Pharap
    Aug 9, 2017 at 19:29

I usually use the full username to refer to a user online.

However, if I have to mention user Brad Pitt more than once in a specific situation, I'd use Brad, after making sure there's minimal chance of getting confused with another Brad.

For online communities like Stack Exchange, you may mention them preferably by their username, or by the first or last name as you see fit. Most users do not disclose their region, culture, religion, gender or even their real names, which makes it difficult to assume whether to use first name or last.

It's better if you could ask the user how they'd like to be referred to, to avoid potential misunderstandings.

For professional networking sites like LinkedIn, it would be preferable to check out the user profile to learn more and use a more proper way. But even then, I don't think it's a major issue.

I for one have a name with N V Z A, and in person, I say, "I'm Z". But it doesn't matter in the online world.


Depends on the fine-grained context of the usage. The more "permanent" the reference is the more I would be inclined to use the full user name. Additionally, the more formal the "forum" is, and the more likely it is that there could be another user with the same, or similar, "first" name, the more you should use the full user name.

Using Stack Exchange as the example. If it is posted in an answer, and refers to another user's answer, question, or comment, then use the user name in full. If it is in a comment, and refers to a comment in the same thread, then maybe just the "first" name, but the full name is probably better anyway. Any other use in comments is still full user name. If it's used in chat, and there is a conversation involving more than two users, and none have a username that is similar, then the "first" name is enough to type. Otherwise, again, default to the full user name.

Of course, in our chat rooms, tab completion can make using the full user name easier than the partial first name and sends a ping to the user to know they have been mentioned.

Bottom line here, is that in almost all cases the full username is better. In addition, the "name" given can look normal and still be totally fake.

  • For a reason or two I dislike your long username ;)
    – Vylix
    Aug 9, 2017 at 10:29
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    @Vylix I have one or two reasons for liking it :)
    – User 27
    Aug 9, 2017 at 11:54
  • @Vylix If you think that's long, you ain't seen nothin' yet.
    – Pharap
    Aug 9, 2017 at 19:33
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    Agreed. I will often leave off the numbers at the end of someone's ID. For example, Willow12345 I would refer to as Willow in a back-and-forth conversation. Similarly I would not be offended or surprised to be called either Snyper or Bunny as a quick way to address me. Also, Witan, unless I'm trying to tag you I'd call you Witan. and @Vylix, if I wasn't trying to tag you, there is a GOOD chance I'd refer to you as "Vy" because I'm lazy and typing is annoying. Plus, I have habits from video games where typing needs to be quick or else deaths ensue. Aug 9, 2017 at 20:50

Use their account name, unless the community at large knows their real name - at which point, go with the community's name for said person.

For example, on most sites I go by "jordsta95", but on most sites, I will put my first name (Jordan) in a publicly visible place, as I don't mind how people refer to me.

On a few sites I am known site wide, or in specific sections, so when people refer to "Jordan" everyone generally knows they mean "@jordsta95". However, this only works on sites where the person's name is visible for all to see without changing page; for example, underneath a user's username/avatar on a forum.

When it comes to shortening, only do this on sites where everyone does this already. For example, people referring to me as "jord", sure you can do it, but no one will understand you mean "@jordsta95" on 95% of the sites I am a member of.

However, with all this said, unless the user's username is their full name, or the full name is the default/only way to identify a user, I would advise against using a full name, even if it is visible to all.

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