I have many people I interact with on a daily or weekly basis on the web. Sometimes I get to know these people pretty well and, if I travel somewhere or they come to Austin, we decide to meet up. Often in these cases I've spent years mentally calling them peanuts (short for "peanutsfan"), even if I know that their name is "Sarah". I don't think of them as "Sarah". When I talk about them with my husband, even, they're "peanutsfan"... so that adds another layer of confusion.

I spent a lovely lunch with one of these friends and, during that entire meal, we never used each other's names - neither usernames nor real names! Not even when we first greeted each other, despite us both knowing these names as we'd been emailing back and forth about it. I didn't really think about it during the lunch and afterwards, when we were back to chatting online, we both laughed about it. We both joked that we may very well have had lunch with two other people entirely.

Part of what made this so uncomfortable was that we hadn't thought about it ahead of time and asked what name we should use. We were already past the initial hellos by that point and I didn't want to derail the flow of our conversation by asking what to call them.

How do I know which name to use when meeting someone I only know by their username?

Names changed to protect the friends

  • 9
    This seems opinion-based. How about asking them?
    – Taladris
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 4:34
  • 3
    That's certainly a possible solution. Perhaps you can expand on it and explain why that's the best option? Though, I'd appreciate answers that also address people in my specific situation - we forgot to ask in advance.
    – Catija
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 4:35

8 Answers 8


I would definitely suggest just asking, even if it's not in advance.

There are a lot of good guesses you can make, especially if you know the person well enough to pick up on hints, but they'll always just be guesses; there's no one correct answer for everyone. Asking will either confirm your guess, or save you from making a mistake.

Yes, it might feel a bit awkward to get all the way to the point of meeting and then ask, or even to get halfway through your meetup, but it's a lot less awkward than accidentally getting it wrong, or just continuing on not knowing what to call them until it's really embarrassing to ask. Once you do ask, you'll get past the awkwardness very quickly.

One thing that helps is that the other person is probably in the same boat. That even provides you a way to break the ice, if you like: "hey, I realized I should say, you know me by two names, I'd probably prefer my real name - what about you?"

Just starting with your best guess and letting them correct you may work, but it also puts them in the awkward position of having to correct you or go along with something they don't prefer. That wouldn't be an issue for everyone, but some people are nonconfrontational enough that it's better not to put them in that situation.

  • 1
    +1. I don't think there is anything awkward about asking. People have different attitudes towards their "online life": some consider their online life as another persona (some trolls are sweet persons in real life for ex, some use Internet to explore their limits and fantasies, etc) and want to keep both separated, while for others, their online id is just a nickname and are fine whatever you call them. It is similar to the situation where one meets a celebrity with pseudonyme: should I call that girl Stefani Germanotta, or should I use Lady Gaga?
    – Taladris
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 1:13

I've met people through comminities online several times, and I always referred to them as their online name first. If they prefer to be called their real name, they will be sure to tell you "Oh, you can call me Sarah", and I've never had anyone be offended by that. I have on the other hand have seen people get upset by people calling them by their real name when they preferred their online handle.

To this day, I've met up with a particular group dozens of times, and they still call me by my online handle. In that group, everyone goes by their nickname save for two of them who prefer to be called their actual name.

From my experience, it is safest to start off with their online handle, and let them decide what you should call them from there.

If it is a really weird name and you feel uncomfortable calling them in public, you should probably tell them that and ask them ahead of time, or when you first meet, what they prefer to be called though.

  • 4
    My concern with this is your assertion that they will actually correct me. Lots of people on the internet are pretty reserved and I'm afraid they will just go along with it rather than correcting me. Can you address this?
    – Catija
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 13:57
  • 5
    @Catija: IMO, that's just how life works. It's (hopefully) not like you ask all people their preferred pronouns before you refer to them with one. Unless you really aren't sure, you just make an assumption and hope that if it was undesirable, someone will correct you. Same thing here.
    – user541686
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 20:00
  • 6
    @Catija: You mean you consider referring to someone with a pronoun that you haven't verified with them to be rude? I feel the same way about this. Not everything in the world that is undesirable is rude. I don't know if this is a good litmus test, but see if you can imagine this person going up to a friend of his and being like: "Wow, this guy I met from online was so RUDE! You know what he did? He referred to me by REAL NAME!! Gosh, how can people be so rude. I'm never talking to him again."
    – user541686
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 20:07
  • 2
    @Mehrdad I wouldn't get too sidetracked on whether or not it fits our individual definitions of "rude". Catija's point is that she thinks she could do better, and I agree. People routinely go along with things that are less than ideal for fear of creating drama by speaking up. There's even evidence of this in the question: Catija and her friend both seem to have avoided using names altogether to sidestep the issue.
    – Cascabel
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 20:29
  • 2
    @Vality: Really? So if your manager's manager asks you what your manager told you about your deadline, you reply with "They said I need to get this done by tomorrow" (unless your manager has already told you "my preferred pronoun is he/she")?
    – user541686
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 20:58

Ask them which they'd prefer.

That seems the best way to make sure you're calling them by a name they're comfortable with. If you don't know what they'd prefer to be called, asking them is surely the best way to find out. (This even works in different contexts too, not involving internet friends: I knew a guy IRL whom I'd heard called both Jim and James, so I asked him outright if he had any preference.)

That said, a rough rule of thumb to gauge which name might be most appropriate - or at least convenient - is to consider what social context you're meeting them in.

  • If you're meeting them personally, and also meeting their real-life friends or family, then everyone else will be calling them by their real name, so it's probably easiest if you do so too, and also introduce yourself to these people by your real name.
  • If you're meeting them and a whole bunch of other internet friends, then everyone in the group will know each other by internet names, so it might make sense to call them by their internet name, because that's more likely to be something everyone is comfortable/familiar with.

Personal experience: I was in this situation myself, going to visit an internet friend IRL. We talked beforehand about what names to use for each other, and agreed to use our real names, because it would be weird for me to introduce myself as "Rand" to his friends or to call him by his internet name in front of his parents.

  • Simple and very clear answer @Rand al'Thor. In addition to your advice for 'if you're meeting them and a whole bunch of other internet friends', is there any situation where both parties understand without needing to discuss, that real names should not be used? Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 13:07

By how they introduce themselves to you.

I used to be a fairly active member of the Mudcat Cafe folk/roots/blues music forum, back in the days when most people didn't have an online presence. I attended a number of meet-ups in the UK, and also met some people from the site on business trips to Detroit. This was back in the early 2000s.

In the States, members overwhelmingly introduced themselves by their username. There seemed to be more of a tradition of using your "handle" over there, possibly inheriting from CB radio. I had no problem with this - I've been online since before Netscape Navigator existed and I first used that username on a MUD, so I identified with it better than an internet newbie would.

In the UK though, I found people overwhelmingly introduced themselves by their actual name, and then said what their username was. The UK never really had the CB radio thing, so it probably was not so natural here. I've noticed at radio ham events in the UK though that they will generally identify themselves as their callsign.

That's a historical view anyway. These days though, we've got a generation everywhere who've grown up with usernames. So someone 15-20 years younger than me can tell us how it is now! :)

  • This is the answer I was going to give. To facilitate this, I'll make it clear during introductions how I wish to be addressed, by either saying "I'm Cronax, my real name is X Y" or "I'm X Y, you know me as Cronax". One of my originally online friends is even referred to using her online handle by her social circle and other people like to be referred to using their given name even online as soon as they've gotten to know you a little. The only way to be sure is to see how they introduce themselves, although that does risk them simply parroting your format regardless of their preference.
    – Cronax
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 14:41
  • 1
    Introduce themselves to me - where? Perhaps it's unclear from my question but in my most recent meet-up, we didn't actually say, "Hi, I'm Sarah". I was chasing a 10 month old around and had identifying clothing on, so we "knew" who we were without actually having to say it. At a meetup where it's a coordinated group meeting and you don't know who all you're going to run into, this is probably a good solution but I'm generally dealing with one-on-one meetings where who you're seeing is pretty obvious.
    – Catija
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 16:31
  • @Catija I wouldn't trust identifying clothing to identify you, unless it's truly unique like turning up dressed as Willy Wonka! I'd still greet the other person with a questioning "Hi Sarah? I'm Graham." or "Hi Peanuts? I'm Grab." I also currently participate in a more adult forum (I'm not going into details on here, for obvious reasons), and that's absolutely how I do it when I meet people, and how everyone else does. Or for a similar spin, I'd also be introducing myself as "Hi Sarah? I'm Graham" if you came to my company for an interview, even if we'd already spoken on the phone.
    – Graham
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 17:53
  • There are only about 500 people on the entire planet with the hat I was wearing and fewer who are female and accompanied by a small child.
    – Catija
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 17:54
  • @Catija Good hat then! :) Even so though, my interview example still kind of applies. I know they've come to our office for an interview, and these days I've usually done the phone interview with them, but I'll still introduce myself when I meet them face-to-face for the first time. The same applies if I meet clients/suppliers face-to-face for the first time, even if I've been having phone meetings with them for the last year. Maybe it's a British thing.
    – Graham
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 10:12

Typically, using the person's online name is more than acceptable and that person will introduce themselves and generally say "call me X" if they prefer something else.

That's been the etiquette since the 1980s.

  • 1
    @Beanluc I'd give you a link, if links existed back then. All I have is decades of experience, sorry.
    – user4548
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 19:14

Good Question! On one hand you could consider peanuts to be a 'nickname' of sorts and would probably be more comfortable using that. Yet on the other hand it could be quite weird for your friend as people in her life would certainly not use her net handle to address her.

If you perhaps did not know them so well then using the net handle first would be expected like in 雰囲気読めない人's answer, and then depending on how they ask you to call them you would form a habit and it would be normal to continue calling them whatever was first asked, even decades later. However, in your case I would say that using their real name would be the better of the two options.

I've spent years mentally calling them peanuts

I travel somewhere or they come to Austin

These comments imply that you are already good friends and have spent years talking personally, and the only reason you had not already met up is the distance. In which case I would say you are past the point in the friendship where it is more polite to use the online name you know them by, and this is instead a great opportunity to make the awkward step forwards and call them by their real name which shows how you have gotten closer as friends.

So, if you know them very well already and can get past the awkward initial moment of calling them something you are not used to; then I would try and call them by their real name.

  • 1
    You could well know someone online for years but not very well -- but think of them fairly frequently if they're an expert or tend to say funny things. Then you could both be going to peanutcon midway between where you live and arrange to meet up even if not close.
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 9:15
  • @ChrisH good point, in which case using their name is OKAY but probably not the best choice
    – Jesse
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 9:42

With the craze of Pokemon Go still rampant in my area I am always called by my username while in public. I reciprocate this to many other players about and they hardly ever tell me to not call them their username. Some will indicate (if we become close enough overtime) "Hey call me X".

Another way to think of it is as such: would someone create a name for their self (their username) if they didn't like being called such?

  • The last question can be turned around on you: Did they try and create an account with their own name, were unable to because it was already taken, and settled for some nickname?
    – JAD
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 10:10
  • To answer your question, there have been many times I tried 5 or 10 times to pick a username which was not already taken places and finally gave up and either picked a combination of things in the room, random words, or let the system pick one for me. I don't really want to be called those things.
    – bluegreen
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 16:09

I'd say, if anyone told you his real name via the internet, you could use it. If he'd be unconfortable with that, he might not told. Despite of that, there are so many user names implying no clear pronunciation that it could be weird to try to pronounce the fantasy nickname. But asking the person is always a good option, at least to start a conversation.

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