Originally, Playa Names came about as a unique way to recognize Black Rock City Rangers and other volunteers over their 2-way radios, but over time they have gained broader popularity and for some, Playa Names can signify a rite of passage of deeper significance. Playa names are traditionally given to a person, rather than taken on, but similar to Cos Play at a comic book convention, going to the Burn offers Burners an opportunity to playfully create a new identity.
Some Playa Names are given following a special or funny moment in camp that creates a memorable story. Some Playa Names describe a personal characteristic that can brand a person for life in the minds of others. While others choose a Playa Name to express the excitement of freedom and discovery that comes with being Playaside for the first time. For what ever reason, a Playa Name creates an intimate connection from Burner to Burner like knowing a secret language. It creates a separate identity that allows a person to tap into a part of themselves that is unknown to the default world and where it may even be completely unappreciated.
The collected census data from the 2013 Cargo Cult experience revealed that 53% of the citizens of Black Rock City had a Playa Name. For almost two thirds of them, that name was given. Overall, 34% of Burners had a Playa Name that had been given to them, and 19% of Burners had a Playa Name and had chosen it for themselves. 29% of Burners had no Playa Names but were hoping to get one, and 18% had no Playa Name, period.
Some Playa Names whether they are taken or given take a while to get used to, and some forget to or refuse to use their Playa Names all together and introduce themselves by their default name on the Playa. Last year, 29% of Burners that had a Playa Name used their default world’s name most of the time while 21% used their Playa Names most of the time. And another 40% used their Playa Names sometimes with 37% using their default name. Then again 23% of Burners with a Playa Name chose to only use their Playa Names, while 15% of Burners with a Playa Name stuck with their default names only. And lastly, 16% chose to never to reveal their Playa Name while 19% chose to never reveal their default name.
Once back home in the default world, some people continue to seek opportunities to use their Playa Names while others like to keep it secret.
Of Burners with a Playa Name, 44% never told it to a non-Burner family members, 38% told their Playa Names to some non-Burner family members and 18% chose to tell most of them. While 33% did not reveal their Playa Name to non-Burner friends, 48% chose to tell their Playa Names to some non-Burner friends and 19% told most of them. Most Burners (61%) chose to keep their dusty secret names from non-Burner colleagues, while 28% told some of their non-Burner constituents at work or school with 11% choosing to share their new names with most of them.
Only a minority of Burners with a Playa Name have used their Playa Name once or more in the public space, such as to write in the media or on a website. Only 7% of Burners with a Playa Name reported having used it once, and 21% more than once. 72% never used their Playa Name in the public space.
Whatever the persona you create for yourself at Burning Man, there is always going to be someone who sees it slightly differently and will offer to put a spin on things. Some names are earned, some names given, but the best names are those that provide a sense of empowerment. The conundrum of the Playa Name remains, whether given or self-assigned, whether used, how and when to use it, whether integrated into your default life or Playa-secret. Either way, go out there Burners! Enjoy explore and love.
Written by: Crow
Edited by: Eulophia