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Every once in a while we see sentences like this in blog posts and other stories that are being shared with us:
The person, we’ll call him Chris to protect his identify,…. (and then the story is told from there).
And that tactic does protect people’s identity. Sometimes it’s needed due to a serious threat to them, sometimes it’s simply a preference, and other times we think somebody might judge us and we don’t want to be judged. (Of course, we all judge each other all the time anyway.)
But what if I tell you that it actually hurts a story if we don’t use real names?
Knowing the identify of the people involved adds to the credibility of the story.
Why would anyone question the credibility of a story? Just trust me. Trust me. Seriously, you can trust me.
Can I trust you?
Maybe the writer is trustworthy, but actually knowing the identify of the person involved adds another level of trust.
As a former newspaper reporter and community news supervisor for a media company there were lots of discussions of when somebody even suggested not using somebody’s name. The reasons had to be very convincing for the newspaper to print a story without naming the person involved or changing the person’s name to something else.
So, what’s the point of using a fake name anyway?
We might think that it makes the person more personable. We can’t picture the person’s outstanding story unless we keep getting reminded of his fake name throughout the story.
It doesn’t even shorten the story – if somebody might think that that’s a reason.
“John’s …” is actually longer than saying “His…”
People who blog about their own stories anonymously is a whole different story. You’ve probably seen those stories. When they are just a touch unbelievable – and unbelievable does make good stories – their validity is called into question.
I share stories that happen in my life all the time. Sometimes I quote people or offer them the opportunity to share a story. Other times, I’m more general:
Once, I ran into this situation….
Then I share that situation’s summary without sharing all the people’s names or making up fake names. The point still comes across and readers aren’t wondering about the name.
A big piece of authentic storytelling is to be transparent and part of the story. It helps when we stand by our stories publicly. They will be that much stronger.