UniMAC-IJ research uncovers intriguing insights into online naming practices among youth


In an innovative study conducted at the University of Media, Arts, and Communication-Institute of Journalism (UniMAC-IJ), Dr. Paul Anzah Ackah Herzuah delves into the intricate world of online naming practices among students, shedding light on how these digital monikers serve as windows into the complex tapestry of their emotions and relationships.

The research, themed “Address Terms Preferences Among Students in a Digitally-Mediated Communication Environment,” not only explores the various ways students label their online contacts but also provides crucial insights into the impact of these labels on their lives.

Unmasking the Power of Names

Names have always held a special place in human communication, serving as symbols of identity and cultural heritage. Dr. Herzuah’s research posits that names, in the context of digitally mediated communication, play various roles. They reveal information about the person bearing the name, offer glimpses into cultural backgrounds, and can even hint at the intentions behind the bestower of the name.

One of the central questions of the study revolved around how social media users label individuals they hold dear in their online contact lists. Astonishingly, the research found that a staggering 88% of saved contacts were categorized under various forms of ‘loved’ relationships. These encompass intimate and romantic connections, familial love, best friends, and other special bonds. Some of the intriguing labels for intimate/romantic contacts included ‘Husbee’ – signifying an unbreakable bond, ‘Locked 4 life’ – symbolizing eternal commitment, and ‘Cuddle Cake’ – indicating unique affection.

a screenshot of saved contact from one of the respondents signifying a positive relationship

On the flip side, Dr. Herzuah’s study also delved into the underside of online naming practices, uncovering the ways in which individuals label those they dislike or consider toxic on their contact list. The research identified two primary categories for these contacts: outright insults and descriptions of bitter or unpleasant experiences. These labels ranged from ‘Goat’ and ‘Dickhead’ to ‘Cheater’ and ‘Big Liar,’ offering a vivid snapshot of the animosities and heartaches students face in their digital interactions.

2 screenshot of a contact saved by another respondent indicating a negative relationship

To understand the psychological underpinnings of these naming practices, Dr. Herzuah who is a faculty member at the institute’s School of Journalism and Media Studies employed the Impression Management theory. This framework helps recognize how individuals use these labels to convey emotions and intentions, ranging from ingratiation to intimidation.

Implications for Social Interactions

The implications of this research are far-reaching. It shows that students’ online naming practices are not just casual labels but mirror their real-life experiences, emphasizing the depth of their emotional connections and tensions. Moreover, these labels can significantly influence the direction of conversations on social media, as they set the tone for interactions.

Recommendations for the Future

Dr. Herzuah’s study calls for students to prioritize their academic pursuits over relationships on campus, as overindulgence in intimate relationships could potentially impact their academic performance. The research advocates for educational institutions to provide counseling services to students caught in toxic relationships and encourages parents to play a more active role in the well-being of their wards in high schools and universities.

In essence, this research offers an interesting glimpse into the complex world of digital relationships, where names aren’t just labels but powerful symbols of love, hate, and everything in between. It underscores the need for individuals, especially the youth, to navigate this complex terrain with care and mindfulness.

By Job Kwabena Laboja


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