Of Names

I’ve always liked my name. Tim Moore: it’s short, easy to spell and not often mispronounced. Even when expanded to its formal entirety — Timothy Marcus Moore — it’s hard to get it wrong.

What my name has going for it in simplicity, however, it lacks in uniqueness. Although my Googleability has risen quickly in the last year and a half or so, if you search for “Tim Moore” you’ll tend to come across Amos ’n’ Andy actor Tim Moore, ’70s AM radio soft pop singer Tim Moore, Michigan Republican Representative Tim Moore, or British travel writer Tim Moore before you find any mention of yours truly. The Wikipedia disambiguation page for my name doesn’t even mention me among the nine “people called Tim Moore.”

Besides the pseudo-famous Tim Moores of the world, I run into other like-named individuals pretty regularly. On two separate occasions during childhood I went to schools with other students named Tim Moore. Once I met a Tim Moore in a bar in DC. It’s gotten worse in the internet era. I’ve been mistaken on IRC for Common Lisp luminary Tim Moore. Even working at Atlassian, I was surprised to discover some posts on our forums that I didn’t remember writing, only to realize that I have a customer namesake there as well.

This is the reason, I suppose, that most people with common names — especially if they’re as geeky as I am — invent some kind of internet handle early on in their online lives. I’ve never been able to commit to one; it always seems too cheesy to me. My one past attempt feels regrettable now, and it looks like it’s been hijacked now by some other guy in Brisbane anyway.

So when I decided to buy my first personal domain name in 2002, I couldn’t think of anything to register other than my own name. Most variations of tmoore.com, timmoore.com, timothymoore.com, etc. were unavailable, but a new .name top-level domain had recently become available, and it seemed like exactly what I wanted. The way .name domains worked at the time, you couldn’t buy a second-level domain. Instead, second-level domains were reserved for surnames, and were shared between all registrants that have that name. Your first name was registered to you as a third-level domain, and an email alias was set up so firstname@lastname.name forwards to another address of your choosing. Unfortunately, tim.moore.name was already taken, so I registered timothy.moore.name and began to use timothy at moore.name as my preferred email address.

It’s been a great convenience using a forwarding alias for my primary email address. I’ve moved between several email providers in the last six years, and most of the people who send me email have been none the wiser. I haven’t had to update the dozens of web site accounts and mailing list subscriptions that are sending to my .name address, and for the most part, it’s pretty easy for people to remember.

I say “for the most part” because it hasn’t been without the occasional headache. For one thing, most people aren’t aware of .name domains; they haven’t exactly been a raging success. And for people who think all domain names have to end in .com, .net or .org — trust me, there are more than you’d think — sometimes it can be hard to convince them that, yes, that’s actually my email address. Even worse are the poorly implemented form validation schemes used by an unfortunate number of websites. In that case, no amount of convincing will help, and I’m forced to give out another, more conventional address.

Mostly I could live with these drawbacks, directing my frustrations towards the ignorant people that failed to understand how domain names work, rather than my own choice of an unusual email address. In any case, it was easier to work around the occasional misunderstanding than to change the address I had been using for so long. But a few months ago I decided to finally transfer all of my domains off of the tacky godaddy.com registrar and discovered that things were worse than I realized.

The .name top-level domain experiment has mostly been a failure for the Global Name Registry — the company that administers these domains. There are few registrars that support them at all, and even fewer that support inbound transfers. The scheme was so unpopular that they decided years ago to abandon the restriction on registering second-level names — the “moore” in “timothy.moore.name” — and allow unused ones to be bought and sold freely. In fact, most of the .name domains that have been sold since 2004 are of the second-level type, and of the small number of registrars that accept incoming .name transfers, an even smaller portion of them can handle the third-level domain transfer that I needed.

I found one, Gandi.net, that looked nice enough, so I started the transfer from Go Daddy. Once the transfer completed, I decided to change my email alias — it pointed to a Gmail account that I’m trying to move off of, and I figured that while I was in the middle of making changes, I might as well go through with that one too. The only problem was that I couldn’t find the place in the Gandi admin UI where the forwarding address is set. To my dismay, their tech support confirmed that there isn’t one. It turns out that the registration and transfer of the third-level .name domain email aliases is a completely separate process from the domain itself, supported by an even tinier fraction of .name registrars, not including Gandi. Even worse, the Global Name Registry’s confusing table of registrar capabilities incorrectly listed Gandi as supporting the email aliases, an error that has since been corrected after I alerted Gandi to the problem.

So I found one of the few registrars that does support the email aliases and once again transfered the domain. The only problem is that somewhere in the switch from Go Daddy to Gandi to 123 Registration, the email registration got lost. None of the sites seems to be aware that I own it; Go Daddy no longer shows me the option to transfer it out, and 123 doesn’t seem to have received it during the inbound transfer. The mail is still being forwarded to my Gmail address correctly for the time being, but I have no way to change the address that it forwards to.

It’s possible that I could get this sorted out if I go through negotiations between Go Daddy, 123 Registration and the Global Name Registry, but at this point, I give up. Dot Name is a failure and a giant hassle. I’m still registered until 2010, but I’m phasing the address out. Luckily, I’ve got this incrementalism.net domain running here at DreamHost. It’s been working out pretty well for me, so I’m officially changing all of my personal email over to tmoore at this domain. If you ever send me email, update your address books now, because timothy at moore.name will be going away once the domain expires. I’ve been slowly switching over all of my online accounts to use the new address, and it really is a big headache, so I hope I don’t ever have to do this again.

You may be wondering, “why incrementalism?” Well, I’ve had a long interest in incremental processes, in software development, project planning, public policy, self-improvement, music, biology, economics, cosmology… the list goes on. In many ways, it seems that it’s the key to reliable improvement in the world, and on a personal level I find that incremental thinking is the only way I can ever get anything accomplished. Which is not to say that it’s the most natural way for me to think. On the contrary, I all too easily get wrapped up in ambitious, overreaching ideas and endless preparation for projects that I rarely start, much less finish. So I chose the name not to describe myself, but to remind myself of what I want to become, and that it’s OK to make only small, slow progress towards my goals for now, as long as I can start again later and keep going.

Quoting artist Chuck Close, via Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders:

What I found that one of the nice things [about] working incrementally is that I don’t have to reinvent the wheel every single day. Today I did what I did. You can pick it up and put it down. I don’t have to wait for inspiration. There are no good days or bad days. Every day essentially builds positively on what I did the day before

3 comments

  1. Matthew

    My main problem is having come up with a nickname early on, but no longer wanting it. It represents a significantly earlier time in my life and is somewhat unprofessional (spiritgod21 is the nick), but it’s everywhere and migrating from that nick seems almost impossible. I’ve got a lot invested in it between email, Slashdot, WordPress, et. al.

    And, unlike email addresses, you can’t usually just change nicks; you have to shut down the account and open a new one :-\

    Aside from all that, I really like the idea of incrementalism. It’s something I’ve been considering a lot in regards to writing (novels and/or longer works); focusing on scenes rather than books or chapters, and allowing yourself to skip between different books/projects as you feel inspired to. Otherwise, you end up locking yourself into a project and, while you might have a great idea for another one, you end up losing it because you want to continue on what you have in progress (even though you’ve hit a wall).

  2. James Roper

    The reason why you could never come up with a good nickname for yourself is that you forgot the first law of nicknames, you can’t come up with a good nickname for yourself. A nickname has to be given by other people, otherwise it will just be lame. Self titled nicknames are either too try hard, or too ambiguous that no one understands it.

    If you want a good nickname, the easiest way (but not the only way) to get one is to do something really stupid in front of a lot of people. That’s bound to land you a nickname, it won’t sound try hard because it will be at least slightly insulting, and when people ask you how you got it, you’ll have a good story to tell them.

  3. Greg Moore

    Greg Moore was a famous Nascar driver who died when I was about 14 in a horrible, horrible accident now viewable on YouTube. The next day a classmate looked me in the face and said pure deadpan, “You died yesterday.”

    “Oh.”

    Also, when I was a freshman in college, our government professor was handing back tests and struggling with just about every single name since 90% of GMU students have names like Kierdekisvadikegaggen and Achbarmed Hussainilini. When he got to my name, I was thinking, “At last the guy gets a break, easy name like Greg Moore.”

    But he was like “Greg…is it ‘MORE’ or ‘MOO (like the cow sound) rr’?”

    I was flabbergasted. I wasn’t even sure which was the right answer.

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