I found two active users with identical user names, but distinct accounts.

I was over at math.SE and saw an interesting meta-quesiton. I read it through and I thought I recognized the username of the OP. I have answered a question of an OP with the same name here in CV. Then in a comment the OP states "I am homeschooled and doing math on my own". I say "no, this can't be, the OP whose answer I answered is a biologist taking a stats class". I check the math.SE profile of the user -and it does have a CV account. "Ha!" I think "The guy is playing us" -for some reason of his own (I assume it is a he). Then I check his profile on CV... and the question I have answered to is nowhere to be found. I go to my profile, find the question that I have answered, open it, hit on the OP username... and I end up in a different CV account, with the same username.

Retrospectivly, it sounds fun - but only because I thought I do the above checks before going at the OP in a suspicious tone.

It is rather puzzling (policy-wise) that the system permits the same user name for two different accounts. Obviously the system gets to differentiate the users by the account number, but permitting identical user names can create confusion and misunderstandings for users that see the same user name in answers and comments, which come from different people.

Any info on that?

  • $\begingroup$ How is this different than, say, two statisticians with the same name that publish in an archival journal? Or, worse yet, the same family name but simply sharing the first initial? (Some journals still regularly don't print the full first name of authors and that almost never happens in bibliographies/references.) $\endgroup$ – cardinal Oct 15 '13 at 20:14
  • $\begingroup$ It's different because it's easy to stop :-). Your name is hard to change, but making people use, say Michael2 instead of Michael wouldn't be hard. $\endgroup$ – Peter Flom Oct 15 '13 at 20:16
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    $\begingroup$ @Peter: In that case, I will wait for StasK to chime in with the suggestion that we all be forced to bear our user12345 identifier. (Problem solved?) ;-) $\endgroup$ – cardinal Oct 15 '13 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ @cardinal It is not -but you are referring to non-electronic data bases. My puzzlement comes from the fact that in any and all _electronic data base systems I have come in contact so far in my life, such a possibility was not allowed. And it is potentially problematic (as is to have publications of different people under same names) -so, is there an upside to that? (since, technically speaking, it can certainly be changed). $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Oct 15 '13 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ @cardinal :-). It seems to me relatively simple to not allow two people to have the same user name here. I don't see any disadvantage. It needn't be user12345. $\endgroup$ – Peter Flom Oct 15 '13 at 20:23
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    $\begingroup$ It is possible for 2 different users can have accounts w/ the same username, I assume, b/c the username isn't (an analog of) a primary key in SE's software. If you were hoping to change that policy, you would need to raise it on the SE-system-wide meta (ie meta.SO), not here. $\endgroup$ – gung - Reinstate Monica Oct 16 '13 at 0:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Gung has a key point. Presumably this was discussed long ago as a SE policy point and it was decided that insisting on different names was not needed, if not undesirable. Chance of reversing that: zero, I imagine. I found 29 "John" or "john" on CV alone, which is not nearly as big on some other sites. So, system-wide insisting on different names would mean either everyone becoming user<something> (very unpopular) or insisting on thousands of changes (very unpopular) or arbitrarily adding prefixes, suffixes whatever (unpopular). $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Oct 16 '13 at 1:23
  • $\begingroup$ @ gung @ Nick Cox Nah, my initial tag was "bug" but I think Cardinal kindly changed it to "feature-request". But my primary goal was to gather info and of course, opinions. I still consider it a possible source of useless misunderstandings, but from my experience, changing such a thing in a system as .SE is not even an event with probability zero -it's even less. So we'll get by, I guess, remembering to double-check profiles. $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Oct 16 '13 at 1:29
  • $\begingroup$ @Nick: I like your pun. (+1) $\endgroup$ – cardinal Oct 16 '13 at 16:58
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not sure I see much of an issue. When I see two users called 'Tim' (and I have), not only do they have different identicons, but when I hover over their name I see their id number, also unique. The initial confusion was brief. If I am still not 100% sure who's who, I can look at the user's home page. If they were say Tim6 and Tim9 instead, ... I'm not sure I'd be better off. $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Oct 18 '13 at 5:48
  • $\begingroup$ Incidentally, when I first joined SO, I wish I had realized this; I chose Glen_b because there was already a Glen and I figured it was 'taken'. It was probably a couple of years before I figured out that I could have had Glen. In retrospect I don't mind that I did (here on stats.SE there are several 'Glen's but only one Glen_b, so it's more obvious who is to blame). $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Apr 15 '14 at 6:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Glen_b I fully agree, there is only one Glen_b here! $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Apr 15 '14 at 7:40

There are no restrictions at all on the uniqueness of user names, you're free to chose whatever name you wish. This is an intentional design decision. I personally find this rather nice, unlike many other sites an inactive user can't block your preferred user name.

There is a potential for confusion if two active users use the same name, but that is rather rare. There is the avatar to help distinguish users, and users can change their names in cases of true confusion.

The situation is not unlike the real world. Many people share the same name, but occasions where this gets problematic are still rather rare, and someone people tend to find an easy way to deal with it.

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    $\begingroup$ Aside: I suppose one could also surreptitiously "steal" a doppleganger's avatar, if they were feeling particularly devious. (Please don't consider that a suggestion!) $\endgroup$ – cardinal Oct 15 '13 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ I tend to disagree. When people share the same name and operate in the same environment, then I can assure you, the environment will force on them to accept being called or addressed a bit differently. Say there are two Alexander Papadopoulos in the same company. Then one will be called Alex the other Alecos , and they will have to write their name in this manner in any written communication and in their e-mail signatures. $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Oct 15 '13 at 20:24
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    $\begingroup$ @cardinal Intentionally impersonating another user is against the rules, and the moderators will usually change the impersonator's profile. This happens very rarely, though. $\endgroup$ – user12068 Oct 15 '13 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ @AlecosPapadopoulos And exactly the same thing happens on SE sites if two users with the same user name are active in the same area. It is especially obvious in chat (where you get the pings for the other user if you share the name), but I've seen a few cases on other SE sites where users changed their names to avoid the confusion $\endgroup$ – user12068 Oct 15 '13 at 20:27
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, this was the spirit of my flippant remark: There are multiple means of disambiguation visible to all users, so even someone acting devious can be quickly unmasked by anyone - not just moderators. This greatly mitigates the concerns expressed by the OP, at least in my view. (+1) $\endgroup$ – cardinal Oct 15 '13 at 20:30
  • $\begingroup$ To Mad Scientist I didn't see it happening here (both Michaels are active in CV)-and (to @Cardinal) my worry is not so much about devious behavior but useless misunderstanding -although it can seem rather amusing afterwards! (I added in the question how I came about finding this two). $\endgroup$ – Alecos Papadopoulos Oct 15 '13 at 20:40

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