Twitter Username Taken? Underscores, Numbers & Branding Ideas

by Brett Borders on March 9, 2009

If you’re using Twitter for professional networking, most experts recommend that your username should contain both your first and last “real” names. Why? Because the social web is so bustling that most new acquaintances can scarcely remember your first name – let alone tie a random Twitter nickname together with an icon + your “real” credentials.

However: short & descriptive “hybrid” nicknames can sometimes work better than a long, difficult real name.

But using your first and last name isn’t always possible every situation. What if your first and last name are too long? Or what if someone else has already taken your exact match Twitter name?

Don’t fret and sweat over it too much! Twitter allows underscore (“_”) characters and numbers in your username if you need them. There’s also plenty of possible good twitter names with strictly alphabetic characters that are easy to type and remember. Just browse through Twitterholic’s Top 1000 Twitter users and you can many find people who have built a hugely successful presence using some kind of variation on their real name on Twitter.

Twitter Username Ideas

1. Your First and Last Name, Separated by an Underscore

2. Your Full Name + A Middle Initial

3. Your First Initial + Your Last Name

4. Your First Name + Last Initial (or phonetic syllable)

5. Your Name + A Number

6. Your Name + A Description of Your Career or Specialty

7. A Nickname Based on a Derivative of Your Real Last Name

Jeremy Shoemaker = @Shoemoney – Michael Gray = @graywolf – Robert Scoble = @scobleizer

8. Add a Modifier Implying Authenticity

9. Add a Title

10. A Pun or Rhyme Based on Your Real Name

11. A self-identifying block ( “I” or “I am”) or Question + Your Name

12. Your Name with a Underscore Preceding or Appending It.

(Be careful with this last one – as Twitter spammers sometimes add _underscores_ to imitate the identity of popular users. Some people may see this name as less credible.)

As you can see, some of the most famous rockstars and celebrities use modifications of their real name. A good Twitter username can help your brand — but ultimately, the quality of your content + your charisma + the consistency of your social media presence matter most of all!


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  • Andrea Hill (afhill)

    I’m not a big fan on underscores myself – they can be hard to read, and they also make it more difficult to say.

    One tip is that I’d recommend saying your desired screen name a few times, to make sure it’s easy to share with others. I’ve used “afhill” as my online moniker since 1996 so I’m not willing to change it, but the “F” is sometimes heard as an “S”. These are things we may not think about when first coming up with an SN, but in the long run it’s definitely worthy of consideration

  • Brett Borders


    I’m not a big fan of underscores, either, but some people choose them to keep their whole name clear and visually legible. It might be a small handicap, but many people have used them and gotten over 20k followers and been very active.

    Great point on considering how easy your username and initials are to “say” – not just how they look! I have heard this described as the “radio test” – you see how easy a domain name / username is to “say on the radio” before you pick it.

  • Andrea Hill (afhill)

    I suppose the next question about brand is whether you are selecting a twitter SN to support an existing brand, or to really launch a new one. As for the top twitterati, did they already have a strong enough brand that they were “discoverable” regardless of this?

  • Brett Borders

    Yeah, it’s OPTIMAL have something that is easy to remember / say and spell – but it’s not the end of the world for an account if it doesn’t.

    I think that if a social media user has enough presence and charisma, they can be popular no matter what they’re called. I just don’t want people to have a cow if their first choice of user name is taken – you can adapt and survive. Aside from the top Twitteratti, who may or may not have been famous before chosing some of the names on this list, many people use these names with successful results.

    Case in point, #15 Digg user p9s50W5k4GUD2c6 has had over 700 stories hit the home page and he/she/it has built up a strong following on the site – with a name that is IMPOSSIBLE to say, spell, or remember.

  • paul sanchez

    ha thanks for posting my twitter name :) i almost went with paultravels but thought it sounded to much like i was selling something about travel. hugpaul was another one but just seemed to cheesy. I agree with Andrea I’m not a big fan of underscores. I just really wanted a name that would make people think so that is why I went with wherespaul. Even know it sounded like wherethehellismatt and also found after i picked the name I still decided to go with it. Figured its not always about being original its more about how well you do something. Thanks again.

  • Brett Borders


    You have a great Twittername. The naming process is long and winding, but I just wanted to show there’s lots of different possibilites that work well.

    I think the key is in this “Aha!” moment when you type it out and it just feels right. you clearly had this.

  • Jon Jon

    I got into the some months ago, hahahaha

  • Erica

    Great tips! When I registered for Twitter I was newly engaged and felt as though registering my full name would be silly as it will be changing soon anyway (next week!). I worked with the blog identity I’ve developed with my sisters on our group blog – I’m @ericablonde. My sisters followed suit as @micblonde, @kateblonde, @leahblonde, and @laurenblonde, maintaining our blog presence on twitter and ensuring we are thought of as a group (despite the fact that we live many hundreds of kilometres apart!).
    Branding-wise it has worked out amazingly. At a recent tweetup I was greeted many times as “the Blonde girl!” That’s when I knew that I will not be changing it when I change my name.

    I also manage the twitter account for my employer, When I registered our account, @Voices was already taken (sadly it’s a dormant account – never used). I ended up adding “DotCom” to the end – @VoicesDotCom.

  • Brett Borders

    Awesome name…. I think it works great for you and fits your blog

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