Alias Use among Prison Inmates

By MacLin, Otto H.; MacLin, M. Kimberly et al. | Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Alias Use among Prison Inmates


MacLin, Otto H., MacLin, M. Kimberly, Garcia, Daniel, Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services


Although aliases are not always for the purpose of deception or criminal behaviour, it is likely that the dominant stereotype is that of a criminal alias and, as such, much of the research on alias use has focused on prison inmates. The current study builds upon the work of Harry (1986) who developed a taxonomy of aliases by reviewing records of 207 male inmates. This paper reviewed and updated Harry's taxonomy using a larger number of inmate records (n = 13,652; including females) obtained electronically from the Arkansas Department of Corrections. Additional factors such as sentence length, race, sex, and age of offender were also examined in relation to alias use. Results indicate that a little under one fifth of the sample used one or more aliases of varying types including nicknames. By expanding Harry's taxonomy to include nicknames and hyphenations, and by developing a computer program to code the aliases, we found it a useful taxonomy for understanding alias construction and the link between aliases and other variables. Suggestions for additional research are included.

An alias may seem exotic, mysterious, criminal, useful, or simply a curiosity. An alias may also bring to mind a common criminal (MacLin & MacLin, in press), even though many non-criminals use or create aliases. Often email addresses, login names for chat rooms, and other ways of identifying ourselves on the Internet are not our given names and, in effect, serve as aliases. In addition, people drop portions of their names, and modify their names for a variety of personal and social reasons. Aliases and alias use have been studied from the perspectives of categorization systems of aliases, use of aliases by criminals, and relationships between criminologic variables and aliases. The use of an assumed name or alias is often thought of as a criminal technique to avoid law enforcement by hiding one's identity. This, however, is not always the case. There are in fact many types of aliases, not all of which are meant to deceive.

ALIAS TYPES

Pseudo-Alias

The pseudo-alias results from clerical errors consisting of the misspelling of foreign names, changing letter combinations, and clerical or database errors. Other pseudo-aliases result from a conscious effort to make a difficult name "easier" in terms of pronunciation or to fit in socially. For example, the actor Andy Garcia's given name is Andres Arturo Garcia Menendez.

White-Collar Pseudonymity

Another type of alias is termed white-collar pseudonymity (Hartman, 1951) and includes those who travel incognito, use a nom de plume or create a stage name. This type of alias may be used to dissociate oneself from a less masculine name. For example, Marion Morrison changed his name to John Wayne and later became an icon of masculinity in his roles. On the other hand, the goal may be to make a name more memorable as exemplified by the musical artist "Prince" changing his name to a symbol or the cumbersome phrase that resulted from the inability to pronounce the symbol ("The Artist Formerly Known as Prince"). Interestingly, Prince was born Prince Rogers Nelson, and had a childhood nickname of Skipper. Dropping portions of a name or otherwise modifying it to create a stage name are also examples of white-collar pseudonymity, like Madonna (given name Madonna Louise Ciccone), Bono (given name Paul Hewson), and Cher (given name Cherilyn Sarkasian LaPier). While the overarching goal of this type of alias is not to hide (to the contrary the goal is to create a name and corresponding persona that will attract people to their work), modifying or creating a new name for stage purposes is in some cases to direct attention to certain aspects of their original name, but also may be used to hide aspects of their identity (ethnicity, social class) that they feel are inherent in their name and for whatever reason, undesirable in their profession. Fame and popularity may lead these very same people to travel incognito. …

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