If you meet me online, like on IRC or skype or any of a number of instant messaging services, then you’re likely to see me use the moniker “ringmaster”. Why is this?

(cue flashback effects)

Back in the day, I was a frequent user of bulletin board systems, the kind where you use your modem to dial directly to someone else’s computer. (Yes, you can do that, no, you don’t need the internet.) Each person had an account with a username, and nobody every used their own name (ok, very rarely). We all called these names “handles”, like you might use a handle on Citizen’s Band (CB) radio.

I would leave messages on the BBS that, depending on the BBS and how early in the BBS timeline we’re talking, would travel very slowly from one side of the country to the other using a network called FidoNet. FidoNet worked, as simply as it sounds, by one BBS calling another BBS and so on, sending messages onward toward their destination.

I guess that’s not really germaine to the story, but it does provide an idea of how a handle can get around and become familiar with more people than you might have imagined.

Anyway, I wasn’t known as ringmaster back then. I was known by a couple other names that I won’t publicize for various reasons. To protect the not-so-innocent, we’ll say.

The inclination to have a handle came from those times, and I think the idea that this handle is an identity is something that differentiates it from people who call themselves “puffybear” or whatever on one service and “sexxxxtina” on another. I try to use “ringmaster” everywhere. When new services start up, I’ll sometimes sign up an account with “ringmaster” just to reserve the space, even if the service doesn’t seem like something I would be interested in at first glance.

The name “ringmaster” itself came from my post-college RPG days. I was very into White Wolf games. I even did some work for them. My name (the real one) appears in the credits of one of their books.

There was a book they released called “The Midnight Circus” which is a supplement for their World of Dakness setting. Basically, the game involves pretending to be one of several types of supernatural creatures (Vampire, Werewolf, Fairie, etc.) and having some involvement with this travelling circus - something straight out of Something Wicked This Way Comes. But moreso.

I created a website back then called midnightcircus.com, which was a kind of web portal for that game. It never really took off, even though we had some neat ideas. I eventually moved the stuff visitors liked over to the RPGWire.com domain, and eventually my interest in that died out, too.

In any case, midnightcircus.com became my primary domain. I received email there. If I was going to have a handle, which as I explained above was an idea something I was interested in, it seemed obvious what it should be: ringmaster.

And that was around 1995 or so.

These days, I nearly answer to the name “ringmaster” when spoken. In most cases, I only ever see the name online. But it’s recently been pointed out that I have my IRC nick embroidered onto a baseball cap, and that most people aren’t that dedicated to their handles. I suppose I am.