Psedonymous Camp Counselors

My younger two kids have attended a summer camp for a couple of weeks. The camp is affiliated with the university and the counselors are students.

What I find really disturbing is that the counselors don’t go by their names, but rather by pseudonyms. For instance, assume that all counselors have the names of green vegetables, so one would go by Kale, another by Broccoli, a third would be Spinach, etc.

So my kids come back home with stories like, “Today, Kale did this and then Spinach said that.”

I leave my kids there all day. How are the kids supposed to trust these counselors if they can’t know the counselors’ names?

Yesterday, I asked the two counselors who were there at checkout time about the pseudonym weirdness, and they said it’s for their (the counselors’) protection, so the kids wouldn’t be able to find them on social media.

What?

According to the counselor, many camps do it (?!). There are camps with teen campers, who then find the counselors on social media and then… I don’t know what. Send friend requests? Annoy counselors? I don’t know what exactly happens, but the counselors feel it’s inappropriate that the kids are able to contact them on social media, so they all have pseudonyms. The “green vegetable” theme (not really, but there is a common theme) was suggested by the camp director, who’s not a student counselor but an adult staff member of the university.

Let me get this straight. You are using a pseudonym in real life in order to protect your real name for the purpose of safely using the real name in social media? How is that not twisted and totally backwards? Shouldn’t the real name be protected for safe use in real life? Since when is partaking in social media mandatory?

And since when are adults (young adults, but adults nonetheless) supposed to be afraid of and protected from the children — children!!! — in their care?

This is fucked up.

13 comments

  1. In our area (Northern Virginia) a lot of the camps, pools, and other recreational venues hire Europeans for these summer jobs – due to a lack of US kids willing to work for low wages. These employees are typically hired through the temporary worker visa program (B-1? B-2? Something like that…), which is used and abused by many employers for summer help. Teenagers and 20-somethings from Eastern Europeans countries are common workers in these summer jobs.

    Not sure if this is the real reason, but summer camp counselors might be given pseudonyms because their actual names are considered too difficult for US-ian kids. Or, a concern that the employees might try to contact the kids after summer camp, to angle for a better job in the US. Just some thoughts I had reading your post!

  2. Some of my fellow professors use pseudonyms on social media because they are terrified that their students will find them on and maybe even (oh, the horror) attempt to follow or friend them. They think there should be an absolute wall in social interactions between faculty and students.

    Of course, “Sydney Phlox” and “Gob of Goo” are pseudonyms, so, what’s really the difference? If it’s acceptable to be writing a blog under a pseudonym, why not for being a camp counselor under a pseudonym?

  3. My kids’ camp does this too. I think it is a thing. I’ve never really cared much, since my kids love camp and the supervision appears good, so I didn’t ask why they do it. I guess I figured it was some sort of weird nickname thing. The counselors are mostly university students pulled from the local area, and we’ve seen some around at stores and stuff.

  4. I used to work at camps when I was a teen. We used the pseudonyms too, and that was way before social media made it so easy for kids to find/follow their counselor online. So don’t think it’s only about protecting them from possible social media issues.

    And I absolutely believe camp counselors and teachers have reasons to be wary of kids finding them online. I had a colleague who taught 8th grade Science and realized a student was searching for her personal information online when he slipped in places she had visited during her honeymoon and things she’d asked for on her wedding registry into answers to open-ended questions on tests. I have deactivated all my social media accounts to avoid a similar scenario. We like to think that everyone, even younger kids, have good intentions or know how to behave appropriately online, but that is not always the case.

  5. I think this is an ages-old camp thing – my daughter went to Girl Scout camp this summer and not only did the counselors have pseudonyms, but the girls all came up with “camp names”, too. I was under the impression that this was something that had been done at girl scout camp for years. I don’t know how it originated, but have never thought of it as sinister. When I attended girls camp years ago it was always fun to try and figure out the counselors’ names before they revealed them to us on the last day of camp.

  6. Yea, Girl Scout camps have been doing this since at least the early 1980’s, long before the social media issue.

    At that point, it was an easy way to get around the question of whether the kids should be using the counselors first or last names. Where I grew up, it was absolutely taboo at the time for a kid to call any adult by their first name. The counselors were generally college students, but it still was a no-no. At the same time, camp is supposed to be a very casual setting, so Mrs. Counselor seemed way to formal. Camp names worked really well.

    As previous poster said, it also can be a fun thing. Something silly to do.

    When I became a teenager I started working at the camp I went to as a kid. To this day I call the friends I’m still in contact with by their camp names.

  7. Yup, I can also corroborate that Girl Scout camps have done this since at least the 1990s when I was a camper — long before social media existed! Camp was a special, weird world, and camp names were just one special, weird part of it. There was also sort of a goofy game around trying to figure out their real names, and there was a tradition that they’d tell you their real names (first names, anyway) on the last night of camp. I still remember when I did a tennis program at Girl Scout camp, and Kiwi was trying to demonstrate a serve and kept screwing it up, and then blurted (at herself), “Come on, Erin!” and it was the talk of the camp for like the whole week. Similarly, I felt SO smart when I guessed the first night that Gator’s real name was Allie (short for Alison). I still remember these moments two decades later — and fondly. I’d totally google-stalk my favorite camp counselor of all time, Yogi, if I could remember her real name — I’d be curious to know what she’s up to these days. We were all completely fascinated by her, because she’d done a tour of duty in the military and had all of these just completely bonkers military stories — no idea how she wound up being a head counselor at a Girl Scout camp.

    Anyway, camp names are a thing, and have been in the US for a very long time, and are basically harmless (I mean, if your kid comes home with a story about what Broccoli did to him at camp today, nothing is preventing you from bringing the issue to the camp director — Broccoli’s ass is still on the line).

  8. Hmm I went to camp as a kid and do not remember anyone having pseudonyms? So I tend to agree it feels weird and unlike other commenters. did not know it was A Thing.

    The “online privacy” reason in particular is weird. I mean, teachers don’t get to go by pseudonyms – we have to deal with the fact that people we serve might google (or otherwise) stalk us all the time. Same for student teachers, so age isn’t the issue.

  9. What OceanSoupy said. I went to the same GS camp for eight years in the late 70s / early 80s — the camp director and all the counselors had pseudonyms so we could be informal with them. This meant I could call the camp director “Annie B” when in normal circumstances I’d have had to call her “Mrs. Bishop.”

  10. So it looks like Girl Scout camps used to do this? Were these sleep-away camps as opposed to day camps? How old were the campers?

    My kids have always been able to call every daycare teacher and daycamp counselor by their first name. School teachers go by Mr/Ms Lastname. I don’t mind the formality at all; it’s important that the names have always been real.

    To me, the weirdness comes from the power imbalance. It’s probably fun if both attendees and counselors have pseudonyms and attendees are teens or perhaps even preteens. But counselors here have non-human pseudonyms while the kids go by their real names. Some of the kids in this daycamp are as young as 4 or 5, and are being cared for by people they don’t know and who go by what even little kids know are not real names.

    How would you feel if you were really ill and in a hospital, and the persons in charge of your comfort, tending to you in your hour of vulnerability and need, wouldn’t let you know even their names and instead went by definitely-not-their-names produce pseudonyms? How comfortable would you be around caretakers such as Dr. Broccoli or Nurse Zucchini? Would you really be relaxed around them and trust them?

    To answer Gob of Goo, I have a pseudonym online in order to be able to write candidly about academia while protecting my real-life identity. I am offering content online, which people can take or leave; I am not in charge of anyone’s well-being or have power over anyone with my Internet persona. In real life, I have my own children to care for and work with hundreds of students (who are also someone’s children) every year; as jojo said, I can’t stop anyone from googling anything under my real name, but that doesn’t mean I should not be relating to my students under my real name. I am not on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/whatever. I am easy to find professionally and my real-life online presence is quite boring, as it should be.

    I don’t understand what the counselor said that the pseudonyms are there to protect the counselors’ social media presence from the kids. This seems exactly backwards to me. The quality of real-life interactions is what needs to be protected, rather than the ability to post drunken or naked photos without repercussions. First of all, maybe people who have weird $hit in their online presence shouldn’t work with kids. Second, people really need to learn to use the privacy settings in their social media if they absolutely must use said media. Third, I don’t see what’s wrong with telling preteens or teens that the counselors are not their friends, they are like other teachers; therefore, the counselor private lives, including online presence, are off-limits, so the kids should have no expectations of being Facebook friends and whatnot.

  11. I only made the link after the other commenters did, but yes – I also recognise this from when I was a girl scout way back when (and this was in Europe long before the internet). Every grown up (to me at least, maybe they were really teenagers – hard to tell when you are 7) had a nonsense/fantasy name. I still remember them (names and people) fondly and I never thought anything weird of it. But I think my parents may have known their real names – not sure actually. Of course these were people that we saw every weekend, so you built a relationship (different from a random teenager you see for just a week).
    I think it is just a funny custom that adds to the fantasy/adventure atmosphere (aka play): all scouting activities also took place in a make believe land and we were all in different groups named after the fake make believe towns. It was all good fun and totally innocent and harmless. I wouldn’t be too conspicuous (an perhaps the person who gave you the social media reply may just not realize that this is a longstanding camp tradition stolen from scouting and they may have come up with this protection answer because the real origin is lost/unknown to them?).

  12. I was also a counselor at a girl scout camp in the 90s and we used the camp names. The camp where I worked had girls ranging from kindergarten/first grade, who spent most of the week as day campers and had one overnight, up to sixth grade, with most girls camping for the whole week. I could give you lots of reasons for the camp name thing, but I don’t know that any of them are really the true ones. For one thing, each counselor was definitely the only person with their camp name, which did reduce confusion. Most of the counselors had fairly common real first names, and it was nice to have a one-to-one correspondence between camp name and person. But maybe that’s just a side benefit. Having camp names also put a bit of social distance between counselors who were mostly in high school and campers who were 5-10 years younger. That was nice for reinforcing authority in some situations, and I suspect this is why they did it. In other words, it was a tool for maintaining a necessary power imbalance.

    I don’t recall the camp name being a particular issue for any of the campers. If it was an issue for the parents, they would certainly have been able to learn the real names of any of the counselors if they asked. I don’t think we even told the kids our real names at the end of the session, partly because a bunch of them would inevitably be coming back the next week.

    Perhaps the counselor at your son’s camp just picked social media privacy as their Just So reason for something that’s a long camp tradition. The tradition does stem from a time when the use of first names for teachers was much less common, so it might not be necessary now. But lots of people do find it fun.

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