Vol. 68 No. 3 (2020)

WeChat Usernames: An Exploratory Study of Users’ Selection Practices

Published 2020-07-02


  • product names,
  • soap,
  • plant names,
  • phytonymy, Asia


As one of the most popular social networking applications in China, WeChat has recently attracted scholarly attention. To date, these studies have tended to concentrate on how it has been used as a social networking and emerging business model. However, little is known about the practices users follow when selecting usernames on WeChat. Using an onomastic lens, this study addresses this gap by examining 501 WeChat usernames. With data collected through an online survey, this study first investigates categories emerging from the name corpus and explores the reasons behind each of these categories. It then analyzes the sociocultural ramifications embedded within this use of names. As one of the first of its kind, the article provides key insight into how the interplay of online discourse, acquaintance networks, and Chinese culture contribute to the development of this important onomastic phenomenon.


  1. Akinnaso, F. Niyi. 1983. “Yoruba Traditional Names and the Transmission of Cultural Knowledge.” Names 31, no. 3: 139–158.
  2. Aleksiejuk, Katarzyna. 2014. “Internet Names as an Anthroponomastic Category.” Names in Daily Life: Proceedings of the XXIV International Congress of Onomastic Sciences, 243–255. Barcelona.
  3. Bazarova, Natalya, and Yoon Hyung Choi. 2014. “Self-Disclosure in Social Media: Extending the Functional Approach to Disclosure Motivations and Characteristics on Social Network Sites.” Journal of Communication 64, no. 4: 635–657.
  4. Bechar-Israeli, Haya. 1995. “From ‘Bonehead’ to ‘cLoNehEAd’: Nicknames, Play and Identity on Internet Relay Chat.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 1, no. 2. Accessed 10 January 2019. https://academic.oup.com/jcmc/article/1/2/JCMC127/4584330Chen
  5. Cornetto, Karen, and Kristine Nowak. 2006. “Utilizing Usernames for Sex Categorization in Computer-Mediated Communication: Examining Perceptions and Accuracy.” CyberPsychology & Behavior 9, no. 4: 377–387.
  6. Diao, Wenhao. 2014. “Between Ethnic and English Names: Name Choice for Transnational Chinese Students in a US Academic Community.” Journal of International Students 4, no. 3: 205–222.
  7. Etikan, Ilker. 2016. “Comparison of Convenience Sampling and Purposive Sampling.” American Journal of Theoretical and Applied Statistics 5, no. 1: 1–4.
  8. Fu, Jun. 2018. “Chinese Youth Performing Identities and Navigating Belonging Online.” Journal of Youth Studies 21, no. 2: 129–143.
  9. Gatson, Sarah N. 2011. “Self-Naming Practices on the Internet: Identity, Authenticity, and Community.” Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies 11, no. 3: 224–235.
  10. Guo, Martin. 2017. “Kantar China Social Media Impact Report 2017.” Kantar China. Accessed January 10, 2019. https://cn-en.kantar.com/media/social/2017/kantar-china-social-media-impact-report-2017/
  11. Harwit, Eric. 2017. “WeChat: Social and Political Development of China’s Dominant Messaging App.” Chinese Journal of Communication 10, no. 3: 312–327.
  12. Hassa, Samira. 2012. “Projecting, Exposing, Revealing Self in the Digital World: Usernames as a Social Practice in a Moroccan Chatroom.” Names 60, no. 4: 201–209.
  13. Henry, Eric S. 2012. “When Dragon Met Jasmine: Domesticating English Names in Chinese Social Interaction.” Canadian Anthropology Society 54, no. 1: 107–117.
  14. Huang, Chiu-Yen, and I-Chung Ke. 2016. “Parents’ Perspectives on Adopting English Names in Taiwan.” Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 37, no. 8: 849–861.
  15. Huang, Hanyun, and Xiwen Zhang. 2017. “The Adoption and Use of WeChat among Middle-Aged Residents in Urban China.” Chinese Journal of Communication 10, no. 2: 134–156.
  16. Jacobson, David. 1996. “Contexts and Cues in Cyberspace: The Pragmatics of Naming in Text-Based Virtual Realities.” Journal of Anthropological Research 52, no. 4: 461–479.
  17. Jönsjö, Jan. 1979. Studies on Middle English Nicknames. Lund, Sweden: LiberLäromedel.
  18. Jourard, Sidney M. 1971. Self-Disclosure: An Experimental Analysis of the Transparent Self. Oxford, England: John Wiley.
  19. Lee, Marvin, and C. Melanie Schuele. 2010. “Demographics.” In Encyclopedia of Research Design, edited by Neil J. Salkind, 346–347. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.
  20. Leslie, Paul L., and James K. Skipper. 1990. “Toward a Theory of Nicknames: A Case for Socio-Onomastics.” Names 38, no. 4: 273–282.
  21. Lin, Chenglong, Wei Fang, and Jianbin Jin. 2017. “You Are What You Post in ‘Circle of Friends’ of WeChat: Self-Presentation and Identity Production from a Personality Perspective.” Global Media and China 2, no. 2: 138–152.
  22. Olivier, Jako. 2014. “Twitter Usernames: Exploring the Nature of Online South African Nicknames.” Nomina Africana 28, no. 2: 51–74.
  23. Scheidt, Lois A. 2001. “Avatars and Nicknames in Adolescent Chat Spaces.” Accessed December 24, 2019. http://www.academia.edu/2958619/Avatar_and_nicknames_in_adolescent_chat_space.
  24. Sercombe, Peter, Tony Young, Ming Dong, and Lin Lin. 2014. “The Adoption of Non-Heritage Names among Chinese Mainlanders.” Names 62, no. 2: 65–75.
  25. Statista. 2019. “Number of Monthly Active WeChat Users from 2nd Quarter 2012 to 2nd Quarter 2019 (in millions) (in millions).”. Accessed September 7, 2019. https://www.statista.com/statistics/255778/number-of-active-wechat-messenger-accounts/
  26. Stommel, Wyke. 2007. “Mein Nick Bin Ich! Nicknames in a German Forum on Eating Disorders.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 13, no. 1: 141–162.
  27. van Langendonck, Willy. 2007. Theory and Typology of Proper Names. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.