Pseudonyms, used on the Island since the mid-1800s

Pseudonyms are commonly used online, but Diana at the Ryde Heritage Centre reveals they are nothing new.

Earlier in the year, when intern Charlotte Stockdale was with us, we asked her to look into the culture of Pseudonyms. She came back with some interesting local history. Ed

Pseudonyms are used a lot online, especially on sites like On The Wight, but they are nothing new.

Diana from the Ryde Heritage Centre explains that pseudonyms have been used on the Isle of Wight since the mid-1800s.

The Island was quite late getting newspapers, but in 1852 The Observer started publishing.

Platform for opinions
It became a platform for disgruntled Islanders to voice their opinions, but, Diana says, they used pseudonyms more often than their real names.

As yet she has not read any letters to the paper complaining about people using a false name.

Attempt to uncover identities
One story, however, caught her eye; the spider and the fly is a series of letters to the Observer dated 1878.

It is the story of a woman complaining about a shop owner, only for him to recognise himself in her letters and name her.

This spawned poems which can be read, along with the letters on the Ryde Heritage Centre website.

One particularly interesting letter from AN INHABITANT OF RYDE complains about a woman ‘of no moderate bulk’ taking up the pavement with her bath chair. You can read the full letter here.

Dates back to Ancient Greece
It is thought that the use of pseudonyms dates back to Ancient Greece, as it comes from the Greek word pseudṓnymon.

We believe it is important that our readers should be allowed to comment, whether that is using their real name or a pseudonym and it’s a subject which readers have previously debated at length.

What do you think?

Image: exfordy under CC BY 2.0

Saturday, 1st December, 2012 10:17am



Filed under: Community, Island-wide, Online, Print, Site admin

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Any views or opinions presented in the comments below are solely those of the author and do not represent those of OnTheWight.


  1. Island Monkey

    1.Dec.2012 5:10pm

    The number of posters on VB seems to have declined since registration was required.

    Either some of us had multiple personalities (not me, or me) or more likely, the simple registration process puts people off spontaneity.

  2. Don Smith

    1.Dec.2012 6:17pm

    I do not like the new format (Sorry Sal) and very few Tories write or read comments in VB.

    They know that to keep in power, the Tory Party just need to keep quiet.

    Express your views in the CP; that way you just may reach a larger audience.

    I note that the CP are at this time being very critical of our MP; I do feel that the [CP] know more than we do.

    How Andrew Turner is allowed to rip off the tax payer…Well it is within the RULES.

    Note: he [Our MP] very, very seldom replies to criticism.

    • steephilljack

      1.Dec.2012 8:29pm

      Ah, well now Don… if CP are critical of our MP that might just mean that they want to support our Conservative County Council instead, and Mr.Pugh in particular.
      They’re all in it together IMO.

  3. downwind resident

    1.Dec.2012 6:53pm

    moi , je prefere nom de plume

    • Oui, oui, moi aussi, vraiment! The tag names can be entertaining in themselves, but mainly, I just wouldn’t want to post here if I had to give my own name. On the Island especially (as it is small) it would mean that my personal views & my work life would overlap, which would be very difficult.

  4. Since the launch of the new format, many of the old contributor pseudonyms have disappeared. You only have to re-read the Christmas music thread from last year to see all the familliar names which are not seen now.

    I suspect many have changed their name for the new format and some have changed because their previous name was banned for unacceptable comments.

    Additionally, the venom of some comments which was a feature of Ventnor Blog appears to have subsided and everyone, in the main, posts measured, non-derogatory comments. Some might be described as “slightly heated” or “controversial” but not downright nasty as we had previously.

    Who knows, the total contributors on this esteemed site might become so measured and deep-thinking, we form an “On the Wight” school of philosophical studies!

    • Simon Perry

      3.Dec.2012 12:43pm

      I don’t recognise your painting of readers’ comments as venomous or downright nasty as a feature of VB. There have been a few unfortunate occassions where this has occurred – and when it was pointed out to us, we acted, removing them.

      You highlighted one of the few stories this did happened on – Christmas music in Ryde. It was a topic of polar opposite opinions in the town and this was reflected in the unusual intensity of the comments on the story, as the 271 comments left shows. As happens IRL, such strongly-held views can lead to bad-tempered comments. When they were pointed out to us, we acted. To demonstrate how infrequently this happens, it’s of note that this is one of the very few stories that we had to close to public comment, when it looked like it was going to flare up again.

      We’ve been told many times that for a long time the high quality of comments that are left here, On The Wight (and VB before that), are the envy of many other media publications around the South coast and even further afield, because of their quality.

      We have never believed that the story ends with its publication. It’s the insightful, deeply-knowledgeable comments often left by readers that add far more to the general understanding of the story than we could ever provide.

  5. I do not believe it

    2.Dec.2012 9:02am

    Plus ca change!
    Having read the 1853 letter I wonder if the “ton of flesh” referred to is aware, from her heavenly bath-chair, that her decendants “of no moderate flesh” are still blundering along the streets of Ryde and elsewhere on the island?
    Incidentally, where exactly was the location of Macdonalds in 1853?

  6. Mark L Francis

    3.Dec.2012 1:15am

    Actually this is my real name.

    I have a particular obsession with 17th century history when the art of the pseudonym was frankly total rubbish.
    Guy Fawkes used the pseudonym “John Johnson” which was the contemporary equivalent of “Joe Bloggs.”
    The man who arrested Charles I was John Joyce, who according to William Lilly (Cromwell’s astrologer) also chopped his head off. Later he fled to Holland but returned to live as a woman called “Jane Joyce” – with the result that he was assassinated by a troupe of strolling players.
    When Colonel John Scott was fleeing from arrest as a suspect in the murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, he booked into a tavern using the pseudonym “Edmund Berry Godfrey”.

    King Charles I in his letters from Carisbrooke was called “J”
    One assumes that we are all much more sophisticated these days and I shall henceforth be known (at the weekends)as “Sue De O’Nim”.

    • I can understand why you didn’t risk a pseudonym after all these precedents, but mainly I didn’t want you to think that mention of 17th century history had brought this thread to an untimely close…….

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