Pseudonyms and Masculinity

A trend on various web sites is to use pseudonyms.  It is a literary custom with a considerable pedigree:  In the eighteenth century, for example, British and American newspaper essayists believed that they needed to use evocative pseudonyms drawn from classical antiquity, such as Cato or Publius, to shield themselves from political and legal recrimination.  Those verbally masked writers were challenging encroachments of royal authority and arguing for a controversial new constitution.

Today, anyone in the English-speaking world may choose to write a letter to the editor or put something on a web site without fear of ending up in the Tower of London or being put in the stocks, such as one sees in Colonial Williamsburg.  However, danger of unemployment seems to lie in an unguarded e-mail or Facebook post.  There is a cartoon image of a miserable-looking man, and the caption says, “And then I hit ‘Reply All’.”

Still, even without such repercussions, there could be awkward or inconvenient results, whether at work or within one’s social circle.  Sometimes after a voluntary public statement, a worse fate than unemployment is ostracism.  Until that blog post where you came out as a conservative Catholic, everyone in your wife’s weekly latte-klatch thought you were a normal guy.

All the same, some web sites where pseudonyms seem to be in vogue put an emphasis not only on reclaiming what it means to be Catholic, but also on what it means to be a man.  That manly emphasis is what makes hiding behind a pseudonym at best paradoxical.  If one wants to fight the good fight, if one wants men to be men, to be meat and potatoes masculine role models maybe even ready for martyrdom, one ought to have the, shall we say, masculine attributes to put one’s own name to a few hundred well-chosen words.  After all, what would the Maccabees say?

Daniel J. Heisey
Daniel J. Heisey, O. S. B, is a Benedictine monk of Saint Vincent Archabbey, Latrobe, Pennsylvania, where he is known as Brother Bruno. He teaches Church History at Saint Vincent Seminary.

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