Anthropologist Underground

Anthropologist Underground
October 13
I'm Terrie Torgersen Peterson. I hold a BA in Anthropology from the University of Wyoming. I've done archeological field work at Haluzta in Israel, San Juan River cliff dwellings in the American Southwest, and in the Big Horn Canyon in Wyoming. I'm currently a writer and stay-home mom to two gorgeous, laughing children. I enjoy exploring the intersection of science and culture and my own life as ethnography. I also write for and You can email me: anthropologistunderground [at] gmail [dot] com.


JANUARY 2, 2011 10:59AM

Pareidolia and Pseudonyms

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My article is up at Does This Make Sense! This is my first public piece published under my real name. Please go take a look! People actually reading it might help me get invited back again.

When Nikki Stern asked if I would like to submit an article for DTMS, one of the requirements was that I write under my real name.  The timing dovetailed with research I’m planning for a follow-up article to my Extinction piece. I want to formally interview a few experts, and I was thinking that if people are willing to talk to me, I should publish under my name--even if they want to remain anonymous.  All of which forced me to revisit the reasons I write under a pseudonym.  

When I first started writing in pubic, I had a different pseudonym. The main reason for choosing to write under a pseudonym was that I was terrified.  I imagined random, total strangers reading my work, disagreeing, and causing problems for me IRL.  My hope was that the Internet, my pseudonym, and obscuring the specifics would provide a buffer to safely step back and explore a variety of topics related to parenting in a specific type of subculture.  The entire effort failed miserably, and I abandoned it.  

I then took what I had learned and became Anthropologist Underground nearly two years ago.  I’m much more careful about personal narrative now, and I’ve shifted the focus onto broader issues.  I think I’ve also become more sensitive to ethical conundrums.  I’m still terrible at predicting which pieces will resonate with readers and generate interesting and challenging discussions.  Stellaa has a great piece about the personal challenges of writing in front of people.

I find the subversive nature of my pseudonym very appealing. Writing as Anthropologist Underground helps me to take a step back and view my own experiences through the lens of anthropology.  It also reminds me to be vigilant in keeping my own biases from getting in the way of facts.  Sometimes I get it wrong, but I do make an honest and good-faith effort to find credible, objective sources and to apply logic and reason.  I also alter my paradigms as credible evidence challenges my assumptions.

Still, every single time I click “publish” or submit a piece to another site, it feels like jumping off a cliff. It’s both thrilling and terrifying. More so under my real name. Over time the voice of Anthropologist Underground and my own voice have become increasingly indistinguishable, and this is why I’m gathering the courage to publish occasional pieces here on OS and elsewhere under my real name.  Wish me luck!

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Gotta love and hate jumping off the cliff!! I get that feeling everytime as well, with any name!!!

As someone who writes under a pseudonym as well, mostly to separate my online persona from my professional self, I completely relate to this...and I congratulate you for unveiling yourself and contributing to DTMS - a great site.

I've also considered unveiling recently, but I'm not quite ready yet... ;)
Forgive me--I'm old, but I do not understand the idea of writing under a pseudonym, let alone being nervous about subsequently returning to one's real name? Why are people afraid to use their names? Now it is true that I have a screen name here (it seems required), but my name is Janet Camp and I live in Milwaukee, for goodness sake! I enjoyed your article and encourage you to keep publishing under your real name.
P.S. I know you explained your reasons, it just makes no sense to me.
Thanks everyone!

Aliquot: I don't have a professional self, so no career to jeopardize.

Knotfreak: Well, sadly, sometimes people in real life make trouble for writers and bloggers. Orac of Respectful Insolence is a cancer surgeon at a teaching hospital, and anti-vaccine proponents who disagreed with him tried to have him fired. I think PZ Myers of Pharyngula, a Biology professor, gets hassled all the time.

I agree with you that the ideals of free speech should protect everyone, but it gets more complicated when people's jobs and relationships can be in jeopardy.