How An Alias Works

Someone who has an alias has a name that differs from someone's current legal name, such as a name before marriage or a legal name without their middle initial. It is an additional name someone uses to conceal their true identity or can be their maiden name. As an adverb, the word alias means in other circumstances, at another time, otherwise, or in another place. For example, Jasmine alias Jennifer means Jasmine, otherwise known as Jennifer.

Businesses often use aliases that differ from the registered name of the corporation or the partners' name, especially if they have a franchise with bad publicity. Some states in the U.S. require businesses to file for a business alias by registering a "Doing Business As" application. An alias can also be a name given to someone by others, such as the press naming an unknown superhero like Spiderman or Batman. In computing, alias refers to abbreviations replacing a string of commands, allowing programmers to reduce typing for routine actions or tasks.

Committing a crime with aliases is illegal and using an alias for most legal situations, such as signing a contract, is illegal. For example, you cannot give an alias for a loan to avoid the bank discovering your bad credit history. While aliases are commonly associated with criminals and used for illegal activities, someone can also have an alias to protect their identity. It is also legal to use an alias in informal circumstances such as meeting someone or having an online user name.

Real-World Example Of An Alias

Criminals often use aliases to commit crimes. Frank William Abagnale Jr., whose life story is depicted in the film Catch Me if You Can, assumed at least eight identities as a con man and imposter when he was 15 to 21 years old. He used the alias Frank Williams to impersonate a chief resident pediatrician at a Georgia hospital. He also acted as a Pan Am First Officer and posed as a lawyer using the alias Robert Black.

As the Pan Am pilot, Abagnale was able to take free flights by deadheading and used his professional credentials for free hotel stays. He billed all his room and food expenses to the airline company. After serving his sentence, Abagnale now consults for the FBI and runs a financial fraud consultancy company.

News entities like CNN have also published stories on prominent people like politicians or reverends using aliases for inappropriate acts. For example, former politician Anthony Weiner used the online alias Carlos Danger to send an explicit photo to a woman. Former president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Reverand Ted Haggard, used the name Art to get drugs and a massage from a male escort.

Significance of Aliases

There are multiple instances someone would use an alias legally to protect themselves or their privacy. For example, a person going into the Witness Protection Program will assume a new identity and use an alias name to stay unfound. Sometimes celebrities use an alias to check into hotels to maintain privacy. Salma Hayek has told Entertainment Weekly she used the name Sammy Davis Jr., and Brad Pitt is known to use Bryce Pilaf at check-in.

Whistle-blowers will also use an alias to protect their identity. W. Mark Felt, the associate FBI director, who leaked information about the Watergate break-in to reporters of the Washington Post, used the alias "Deep Throat." His identity remained hidden for over 30 years. Some research papers will also use aliases for their subjects to protect identities in a process called de-identification.

For the protective reasons above, a legal alias can be crucial. Some people also prefer to keep their true identities anonymous when meeting someone informally online or in-person at a bar.

History Of The Word Alias

The adverb alias indicating an additional name was first known to be used in the 15th century. It is Middle English and borrowed from the Medieval Latin word aliās. It is short for aliās dictus, which means "at other times called."

Alias vs. AKA

AKA is the abbreviation of "also known as." Generally, it means the same thing as an alias, and you can use the two words interchangeably. However, when registering a business alias legally, it can be referred to as Doing Business As (DBA). A DBA is not a fictitious name but is a business' trade name registered with the state.

Alias vs. Nickname

While an alias is another name someone assumes or is given by others, a nickname is specifically a name given by others. You can consider a nickname an alias, but not all aliases are nicknames. In some cultures like Thailand, children are given nicknames with fewer syllables by their parents to use instead of their longer first names.

The press or their peers also give criminals or serial killers nicknames to describe the crimes they commit. Rodney Alcala received the nickname "The Dating Game Killer" because he was a contestant on the T.V. show The Dating Game during his killing spree. Al Capone's gang dubbed him "Scarface" after a bar fight where someone hit him with a broken bottle.

Alias vs. Pseudonym

As nouns, alias refers to another name, whereas pseudonym is specifically a fictitious name. Aliases can be additional legal names or refer to name changes but can also be fictitious.

An alias can be a type of pseudonym. Pseudonyms also include:

  • Pen names writers use
  • User names and gamer identifications
  • Celebrity stage names
  • Superhero or villain identities like Batman
  • Nicknames
  • Ring names
  • Renal names of emperors, popes, and other monarchs

Examples of famous stage names used by celebrities are Snoop Dogg whose real name is Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr., and Demi Moore, whose real name is Demetria Gene Guynes.