There is a new kind of fortnight for freedom on Facebook campaign. For the last couple of weeks one of the most pressing issues facing the church has not been, according to my newsfeed: the martyrs created by ISIS, the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, the plight of immigrants and refugees, or the staggering disparity between multibillionaires and the billions in poverty. Rather, we must raise up arms about a new (or newly enforced) policy on Facebook that people ought to be using their real names. Petitions are being signed, editorials written, and, naturally, Facebook pages have been created.
Shocking, I know.
The thing is, though, there are already two solutions in place. Here is a radical idea: Before starting a virtual religious freedom riot, why not see if you can get what you want by using the tools already at hand?
The first options is the Public Figure Page. This is intended for people with a following. Celebrities and theologians and whatnot. Here I use the well-known Father Robert Barron as an example. He has two facebook pages:
- His personal page is Robert Barron. He has 84 friends. (Somehow, I still know he’s a priest).
- His public figure page is Father Robert Barron, with over 411,000 likes.
You can use titles for public figures, no problem.
The second option is the “Name with Title” option.
- Go to your profile’s “About” tab,
- click on “Details about you”
- under “Other Names” click on “add nickname, birthname,…”
- on the drop down menu for name type select “Name with Title”
- Type in whatever you want: Deacon Tom, Father Dick, Bishop Harry, Pope Sixtus VI….
- Click “Save Changes”.
Now, as a Catholic Christian, I have no problem with this “real names” rule. Online integrity is part of “though shalt not lie” as far as we are concerned. No need for aliases, pseudonyms, or the “anonymous” setting behind which we can sling mud. No, all trolling must be done in our own name, as our online presence is an extension of ourselves. Recent remarks by both Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI, usually on World Communications Day, have underscored this idea.
However, some in the flock are not satisfied that they cannot present their title or style of address as if it is part of their name. This has primarily been a concern of priests and seminarians, some deacons and sisters. It is apparently some kind of anti-Catholic conspiracy, despite the fact that the policy applies to rabbis and imams and wiccan priestesses and pretty much everybody else as well.
Some clergy have taken to creating neologisms for their names, as Father Ralph becomes FrRalph and Deacon Bob becomes DeaconBob. Others have changes their profile pictures in protest (samples inserted).
As a child of the digital age, a postmodern son of the Church (at least by generation), I am not inclined to agree. (And, as far as I can tell, Catholic doctors, judges, and professors have not expressed similar outrage.)
If I see your occupation is physician, I know it is polite to address you as “Doctor”; if you teach at university, I know your style is “Professor”; if I see you are a priest or deacon, I know that “Father” is a customary style of address, and will likely choose to address you that way.
It is not your name, however. Your name is your name, and that should be sufficient. Your name was good enough for your Christian Initiation, it is certainly good enough for your ordination, to say nothing of your Facebook page.
It would be similarly pretentious, and inaccurate, to introduce yourself by saying “Hello, my name is Father Smith” or “My name is Doctor Jones”. NO: your name is Bob Smith or Tom Jones. Father, or Doctor, is not part of your name.
You could say, “Call me Father Smith” or “Call me Ishmael” if you want me to call you something other than just your name, but your name is your name. Be proud of it, and do not confuse it with your title.