Ladybuggz, cooldudes and kinkygurls: our embarrassing digital footprints can come back to haunt us – but they’re also a source of nostalgia
Louise is an Oompa Loompa. She has been an Oompa Loompa for more than 15 years. “It’s too much hassle to change it,” Louise tells me. Most of Louise’s internet presence is linked to the Willy Wonka-inspired email address she picked as a teenager.
And she’s not the only one.
Whether it is a Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail address, young minds treat the option to create an email for the first time like they’re facing a bathroom wall with a felt pen.
In the comments for a TikTok I made about teenage email addresses and regret, users rolled up to confess to being ladybuggz, cooldudes and kinkygurls. The number 69 appears with such abandon, I’m amazed there weren’t interventions to prevent its use.
The responses grew and the comments morphed into a support group for people who took their first steps online with pride and an excessive use of underscores, only to facepalm years later.
For the record, when my family had to pick an email address, I lobbied successfully for Nugget Man: inspired by my high school nickname.
These choices prove there was a simpler time at the dawn of the internet, where we didn’t fully comprehend the role it would play in our lives. Yes, one day Sk8ter_boi_for_life would need to apply for a job via email.
Natalie went with Nattie_Kewlolz when she was in year eight.
“Basically, you had to have a Hotmail account to use MSN [the messenger service] so I think that’s where the … idea came from – it’d be an easy email to give people at school, in case they wanted to add me to chat.”
But Natalie ran into problems when people asked questions about her email.
“My mum thought it had something to do with me liking the soccer player Harry Kewell … as I got into my late teens and was applying to universities and better jobs, I realised I needed something a little more professional.”
Many “clever” email addresses perish in the adult world. Setting up a first name dot last name address, so you can start fresh like a cowboy in a new town, has become a rite of passage.
Lots of people in the comments on TikTok told me their parents could foresee the potential of the internet, and forced them to select sensible addresses. They’re probably world leaders and the CEOs of banks now.
Of course, computer experts will preach the virtues of mail forwarding protocols that can re-route emails to a more sensible address; or the ability to create a new alias if you originally chose something like Kissandtell97.
But the process of switching is always a hassle – no matter how easy they make it – and a lot is tied up in these email addresses. Pippa – who retained the handle PippagirlyyXO – says her teenage inbox “is full of documents and digital memories. I even have emails from dead friends in that inbox. It’s a time capsule, and deeply personal.”
Initially, persevering with the address was fine; it just lived unseen in the backend of websites she logged into. It’s not until you have to say your email address out loud, over the phone, that the full weight of your choice crushes you with embarrassment. Pippa learned this while buying a house.
“I remember the lawyer – who was younger than me – raised her eyebrow when she saw my email address,” she recalls.
Now PippagirlyyXO sat next to life-altering contractual agreements. “I felt like an idiot from a bygone era,” says Pippa. “But I stuck by it.”
People get sentimental about their first email addresses because they are like a ripped ticket stub to the online world. They are a way to hold on to memories, and also trace how you’ve changed.
Recently, I retired a Hotmail address I’d had since I was a teenager and it felt momentous. Like I had just pushed it out to sea and shot a flaming arrow at it; on to email-halla, mighty friend. The progression from one email address to another might be a sign of personal growth, but they’ll always find a way to humble us in the end.
Shortly after enjoying my new email address (and my new life), I had to email my dad. I asked him for his email address and he replied: Nugget Man. I was stunned. Nugget Man lived on.
Email aliases have been slightly altered, and only first names used for digital privacy
Did you select an embarrassing first email address, and have you kept it? Tell us in the comments