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What is a Screen Name?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 17, 2024
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A screen name is a type of identifier that a person chooses or is assigned for use with some type of computer system. This may be the same as a username that he or she uses for a system, though someone could also have a separate username used to access the system. A screen name typically differs from a username in that it is how the user will appear to other users on a system and how he or she can be identified by others within the system. Such screen names are typically password protected and should be fairly unique from the names of other users.

While sometimes used synonymously with “username,” a screen name is not necessarily the same thing, and some systems may require two separate entries for these fields. In general, a screen name is chosen or assigned to a user on a computer system at the time the user creates an account or otherwise becomes associated with the system. These systems can be internal networks utilized by a business or organization, public or private forums created to allow various users to post messages and interact, chat rooms in which people discuss a variety of topics, and even interactive software such as computer games.

What generally differentiates a screen name from a username is that screen names are seen by other people and are how users identify themselves, while usernames may not be publicly known by others. They can be the same name, however, and someone may enter a username to gain access to a system and others on the system may identify that user by the username. This can, however, give potential hackers and other unauthorized users information that may allow them to access the system. Most systems require that a user enter a username and password to gain access to the system, and if others can easily see a person’s username then a hacker only would need his or her password to access his or her account on the system.

For this reason, a person’s screen name will often be different from his or her username, so that others are able to identify the user but not know any information that could be used to access the system. Depending on the nature of the system being accessed, screen names may be assigned to users or they may be chosen by new members as they first access the system. When people have the option to do so, a screen name is typically chosen that somehow reflects the user’s personality. Such names can include references to popular culture, parts of a person’s real name, words or phrases that are important to a person, or just about anything else with which he or she identifies.

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