Is there a way to determine all the names used in the past by various longstanding users?

I find it annoying having to remember that @Richard is @Valorum and @Gilles is @user56 and @WhiteWidow is @SachinSekar is @SS-3.14... etc.

And in particular for newer users it could be quite confusing when trying to follow old comment threads where some entries are substituted because they are actual @references and others aren't.

Is there a way to look this up?

Is there a list?

Should there be a canonical list, perhaps a Community answer to this question?

  • you could always go dig thru old comments tho. – user91895 Mar 14 '18 at 15:43
  • @EricDraven, that's kind of not the point (doesn't benefit others); it's not easy to do; and it's not at all clear it would turn up the requested information unless you can find a nearby comment where someone mentioned them by name without @. – ThePopMachine Mar 14 '18 at 15:46
  • Old @ references in comments don't get changed when names do. – JohnP Mar 14 '18 at 15:59
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    Why would you even care? This isn't a social networking site and if you're particularly close with specific users, you're likely on top of their most recent names already anyway. What would be the point of this other than for me not to downvote something just because Gilles has written it? – TARS says Reinstate Monica Mar 14 '18 at 16:00
  • @TARS: I said it quite specifically above. I will go bold it. – ThePopMachine Mar 14 '18 at 16:04
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    There's already this question for anyone who wants to share that info himself. Regarding others going on a detective game, you can certainly do that (and it's not particularly difficult or secret), but as much as I know doing that on a broad scale in public is actually discouraged. – TARS says Reinstate Monica Mar 14 '18 at 16:12
  • @TARS: I know about that (I linked it below) but that's not the same. That is about people explaining the origin of their name. And it relies on a user to care enough to do it and to still be active. – ThePopMachine Mar 14 '18 at 16:24
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    Sure, but you being able to deduce some past username because the system is imperfect doesn't mean you should run around shouting that into everyone's face. The comment thing is annoying, I agree with that, but you're approaching it the wrong way really. – TARS says Reinstate Monica Mar 14 '18 at 16:30
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    @ThePopMachine - Relevant Meta question – JohnP Mar 14 '18 at 16:46
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    This sounds like a terrible idea. – Valorum Mar 14 '18 at 17:45
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    @Valorum: What exactly is the justification for calling this a terrible idea? How could anyone object to something that is opt-in, Richard? – ThePopMachine Mar 14 '18 at 18:32
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    ThePopMachine: I feel like you're being intentionally obtuse about this and bordering on being 'not-nice' by using @Valorum's previous name specifically to prove a point. Also, what exactly is your point? – Möoz Mar 16 '18 at 1:50
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    Also, wanting to follow 'who' posted 'what' is not important, rather you should be focusing on what the actual points are: if you agree, then upvote, if not, leave it or post your own comment. It's not important to know who has posted something. – Möoz Mar 16 '18 at 2:02
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    You've said that it's about following comment threads, yet you've shown no example of this being an issue; yet you've specifically pointed out seemingly contentious name changes. Sounds like you're just trying to keep tabs on who's who. – Möoz Mar 16 '18 at 8:35
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    Comment threads are not permanent anyway. Any one user removing comments (self removed, flag/mod removed, or thread moved to chat) might make a thread hard to follow. – Skooba Mar 16 '18 at 11:58

Is there a way to look this up?

Not really. Past usernames aren't recorded on (the publicly visible parts of) a user's account. You might possibly be able to get some of this info using Data.SE, or by trawling through old comments addressed to the user and hoping to get lucky - but it would be frowned upon (see below).

Is there a list?

No. And this is by design - again, see below.

Should there be a canonical list, perhaps a Community answer to this question?

Please no. There are a number of reasons why people's usernames might have changed, some of which you should really respect and not try to associate them with their old names:

  • Desire for anonymity. Some people used their real names on SE at first, before switching to something more less personally identifying. The internet is full of bad people; I know of a few SE users who've been harassed offsite for things they've done here. If they want to make it less easy for internet trolls to find them IRL, we shouldn't hinder that.

  • Fear of stalking. Some users have creepy enemies who follow their activity on the internet, even on places like Stack Exchange. They might change their username in an attempt to avoid such attention. By making a community-maintained list of everyone's past usernames, you'd be making stalkers' jobs easier.

  • Account deletion. One of the examples you mention in the OP is a user who deleted their account and is now associated just with an ID number rather than a name. Reasons for account deletion are many and varied, but they might include stalkers (see above) or simply not wanting their name associated with the site any more. Once again, it'd be rude to keep recording their name in a place where they don't want it recorded.

Sure, some people might change their usernames just for sh*ts and giggles, and wouldn't care if you kept track of their name changes. But please don't make a publicly curated list of username changes - it could cause a lot of unnecessary grief and worry.

I'll also quote Community Manager Shog9 here, as he's been involved in a conversation about something similar with regard to SFF before:

just beware that some folks might see this [associating usernames with deleted users] as... Rude. IOW, if you're gonna make more work for the mod team by motivating departed people to come back and beg for the deletion of any comment that mentions them, you should wait until there are more mods.

  • OK, this is all understood. But if this is to be the case, then shouldn't either the dev team or the mod team be willing to comb old comments that mention old usernames and adjust them? Otherwise you are claiming a reason as important enough not to do something, but not actually addressing the problem that you use as justification. The mere reason I was able to list the examples in the OQ is because I keep encountering threads with multiple names. – ThePopMachine Mar 14 '18 at 16:32
  • @ThePopMachine - I think that's addressed by his last highlighted box. – JohnP Mar 14 '18 at 16:37
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    @ThePopMachine There are 367,000+ extant comments on SFF. How many person-hours do you think it would take to find every comment pinging a user who's since changed their name, and edit them? We're a mod team of five, not five thousand. And there's better things we could be spending our time on, with bigger gains than just making old comment threads easier to follow. – Rand al'Thor Mar 14 '18 at 16:42
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    @ThePopMachine That said, though, if you want to propose a new SE feature where @-pings in comments automatically change when a username changes (e.g. they link to the user page), then I could get behind that. On Meta Stack Exchange, not SFF meta. – Rand al'Thor Mar 14 '18 at 16:43
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    @ThePopMachine Actually, turns out there's already a feature request for that on main meta, declined eight years ago. – Rand al'Thor Mar 14 '18 at 16:50
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    tl;dr: Username changes are the prerogative of the user, non'ya business if they've changed it and for what reason. – Möoz Mar 16 '18 at 1:58


As shown by this meta question, it is an available feature to moderators and developers only. (And even then, not for life but a limited time).

  • So.... in light of this, should there be a meta with a list for the most active past users with name changes?? – ThePopMachine Mar 14 '18 at 15:46
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    @ThePopMachine - Why should there be? Seems...stalkerish. – JohnP Mar 14 '18 at 15:58
  • Stalkerish? If people want to make a clean break, they should close their account and start a new one. The display username is just an affection that is automatically replaced by the server when you view anything the user did in the past.... except for when someone mentions them in a comment, without an @, which happens because in some cases you're not allowed to because it's redundant and in other cases people wished to name more than one person. – ThePopMachine Mar 14 '18 at 16:02
  • And the problem is that you then have comment threads where people are referred to by two names, which is confusing. There is no expectation of privacy regarding display names since the problem that arises is specifically the case where both are used in the same comment thread. – ThePopMachine Mar 14 '18 at 16:03
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    @ThePopMachine - Start a new account? So a 20k user (Such as yourself for example) should start a new account if you simply want to be "popmachine" instead of "thepopmachine"? I mean really, who cares if someone changed their name, or that a comment thread (That could probably be pruned anyway) is a little confusing? – JohnP Mar 14 '18 at 16:05
  • No, there shouldn't. The point I'm making is that there's nothing secret about a username. If someone really cared then that's what they would have to do. Old usernames are littered around the site for the reasons I gave above anyhow. If that weren't the case, then I would wholeheartedly agree with your POV. – ThePopMachine Mar 14 '18 at 16:07
  • TLDR: If the site actually replaced all mentions properly then I would prefer that. But it doesn't and can't. – ThePopMachine Mar 14 '18 at 16:08
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    @ThePopMachine This is just a discussion, not a FR... and such a FR would belong on MSE, not on SFF.meta.SE, anyway. The answer answers your question. If you want to request a feature, go ask one? – Catija Mar 14 '18 at 16:11
  • @Catija: I don't know about that because if the agreed upon way to support this was to list the most active users from the past who have changed names, that would be done in SFF.meta. This is not really *that different from the many usernames of SFF (not the same, but not that different) – ThePopMachine Mar 14 '18 at 16:18
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    @ThePopMachine They're not going to only change this for SFF... if they implemented it, it'd be network wide, hence, it affects the entire network. – Catija Mar 14 '18 at 16:19
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    @Catija Part of the proposal in the OP is to have a community-maintained, not system-built-in, list of username changes. That'd be an SFF-specific decision. (I'm writing up an answer right now, btw.) – Rand al'Thor Mar 14 '18 at 16:21

A year+ ago a site user (I'm thinking Phantom but not sure) created a list of deleted user maps as a service to the community.

To the best of my recollection, Community Managers stepped in and said this Should Not Be Done.

So... No.

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    You recall correctly. – phantom42 Mar 20 '18 at 1:44

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