by John Suler, Ph.D.

There's a lot more to e-mail message in addition to the body of the message. Actually, there are at least 5 other components: (1) the sender's name as indicated in your incoming mailbox, (2) the subject line, as indicated in your incoming mailbox, (3) the greeting that introduces the body of the message, (4) the sign-off line and name, and, (5) the signature block. The body of the message is what most people consider the actual "message" itself. Surely, it is the most lengthy, complex, and changing aspect of the exchange between e-mail partners. However, the other components of the message also can be tiny gems of communication. They're icing on the e-mail cake. Much meaning can be packed into those little nuggets. How those deceptively simple components of the message change over time may signal important changes in the relationship.

I. The Sender's Name

Most people set their e-mail username in their e-mail program and leave it that way. It reflects the ongoing identity that one wishes to present online. The name chosen usually is one's real name, a pseudonym, or a combined name (e.g., Bill and Martha Smith). Using one's real name indicates a wish to simply be oneself. It's a straightforward, "honest" presentation. Pseudonyms are more mysterious, playful approaches. "Can you guess who I am?" They express some hidden aspect of the person's self-concept. They reveal unconscious motivating fantasies and wishes (or fears) about one's identity. A combined name is a "letting it be known" that you have a partner -- that the two of you are sharing the e-mail program and may BOTH be reading all the mail (which may significantly affect how others respond). When people change the username setting in their e-mail program, it reflects an important change in how they wish to present their ongoing, online identity. Moving from a pseudonym to one's real name expresses the wish to drop the "mask" (albeit a meaningful mask). Changing the combined name to a single name is a move towards separation and individuation that invites more private, one-on-one dialogue.

To Part II


John Suler, PhD, is Professor of Psychology at Rider University and a practicing clinical psychologist. He has published on psychotherapy, mental imagery, and eastern philosophy. He currently maintains several web sites.


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