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MIT student blogger Danny B.D. '15

Don’t Screw Up Your Username by Danny B.D. '15

It's time to put down your AOL screen name.

Tomorrow is, yes, the First of May[?], which means those of you who have decided to join the incoming class have a very crucial choice to make: choosing your MIT username.

You may not appreciate yet how big this decision is: your MIT username (also referred to as your Athena or your Kerberos) will be your login to the computing systems here, it’ll be your first (and likely primary) email address while you’re at MIT, you’ll have the ability to edit files at, and it will likely remain your MIT email address ( after you graduate. In other words, this is for life.

Fear not, though. After consulting with many others (as well as compiling from some earlier blog posts), I’ve prepared the following list of guidelines:

  • Your username must be between 3 and 8 characters.
  • Avoid numbers and underscores. You are technically allowed to use them, but they aren’t needed and add confusion and clunkiness to your username.
  • Say your username out loud a few times to check for clunkiness or awkward pronunciations.
  • It’s usually best to go professional. Your username will appear all over the place: emails, URLs, academic papers, etc. “Choose a username that you won’t be embarrassed sharing with your professors.”—Matt McGann ’00
  • Usernames can often become nicknames of a sort for people, so consider whether you’d be comfortable being referred to by your username. “In some circles on campus, you may become known by your username, so choose wisely.”—Matt again
  • If you want to go invent a nickname as your username—say, [email protected]—then go for it! Just also make sure you’re ready to answer the question “Why is your username flipfrog?” for the rest of your life.
  • Often the best usernames involve your name. Some common (and excellent) username structures for a hypothetical student named Alyssa P. Hacker:
    • alyssa (Every once in a while these are available, so try it!)
    • hacker
    • ahacker
    • alyssah
    • aphacker
    • aph

    Note that if you do throw your middle initial in there, you will receive questions about your middle name.

  • Truncating your name into 8 characters can be annoying sometimes. You might not want richards@ if your last name is Richardson, for instance. Just something to keep in mind.

If you’re still feeling stuck on what to choose, you should know that it’s easy to make alternate email addresses later, so in general it’s better to choose a more standard/professional username for your official MIT account. (To make alternate email addresses later, you can set up mailing lists on whose behalf you can send mail and of which you are the only member, thus making it another email address. This isn’t hard and means you can own email addresses which are much more ridiculous, like dannyfirstnames@ or danny-why-are-you-making-stupid-mailing-lists@.)

Now go forth and think of your username! Just not flipfrog. I already got that one.