Why do some people travel under noms de voyages?
November 28, 2009 1:48 PM   Subscribe

Why do some people use false names when travelling? Is this legal? I'm interested in the history of people using noms de voyages, people who do it now, attitudes towards them, and what practical difficulties there are and were.
posted by westerly to Society & Culture (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I do but it's my maiden name that I travel under so don't know if it counts.
posted by saradarlin at 1:57 PM on November 28, 2009

When hiking the Appalachian Trail some will adopt "trail names." One explanation is that when you are on the AT you are disconnected from your normal, day-to-day life so why not separate a little more by taking on a new name. I personally find it silly.
posted by nestor_makhno at 2:14 PM on November 28, 2009

I can't answer the "why", but as to the legality, I noticed when traveling in NJ a few weeks ago that, in the usual legalese posted on the back of the door, was a state statute mandating that hoteliers record the real name of each guest in their ledger, and that all guests use their real name. (The definition of real name was defined, but I don't recall exactly what it was.)

I thought this was a bit odd, but then I got down to the penalty — it was about a $30 fine.

So apparently there is a legal requirement to give your real name, at least in some places, but the penalties if you get caught are pretty trivial. However, these days I suspect a bigger barrier to using a false name would be the requirement that you give a credit card impression before checking in. Very few hotels will let you into a room without giving them a credit card first, in case you skip out. (Perhaps you could offer to pay cash in advance? I've never tried.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:32 PM on November 28, 2009

One obvious reason is if the parties want privacy - to be uncontactable by work or whoever. And in celebrities' cases, gawkers.
posted by cmgonzalez at 2:45 PM on November 28, 2009

Is your name really westerly?

I suspect the reason is much the same as the reason people online use noms de cyber.
posted by HuronBob at 2:56 PM on November 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

The main time I've seen this adopted is when people know illegal activity will happen in the room.
posted by Monday at 3:03 PM on November 28, 2009

For a lot of people, travel is a chance to reinvent themselves and/or be somebody else for a bit. I know people who have spent time on the road during which they dallied with a new name/social background/nationality/accent/sexual orientation.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:23 PM on November 28, 2009

I use false names all the time. Hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, the line at the coffee shop, anywhere where I think it doesn't matter: where I gain nothing from using my real name, and it's only there as a reservation-holding passphrase.

Why? I don't know about everyone else, but in my case, three reasons:

(1) First, some habitual privacy-seeking: I had to deal with a couple of stalkers, years ago. I haven't dealt with any of those lately, but the habit is still there. My 'real' name isn't usually my real name anywhere, and I use fake credit card names (with a real number) all the time online. (Heck, I'm pretty sure I used fake names for all my MeFi accounts over the years, but Matt didn't mind, right? So no harm there.)

(2) Second unrelated reason: A different kind of privacy. I used to travel under a false name for work reasons (see profile). Again, no real need today, since hotels and restaurants no longer care who I am (sniff, poor me), but it's still a bit of a habit.

(3) My own juvenile sense of amusement. If you see a table reserved for Joe Farnarkle, that's probably me. I've signed into tech conferences as "S. Jobs" often. In either case, sorry I'm late.

Of course, I haven't tried actually flying under a fake name since 9/11. I assume the hassle today would far outweigh any amusement I may experience. (Unlike richochet biscuit's travelers, I'm quite sure I'm not a fan of rubber-gloved amusement: no need to experiment.)

So while I'm afraid to try that these days, in all other matters and time periods, I've had no problems doing this. The hotel only cares that the credit card works, in my experience, not whose name is on it. People use the credit card of their spouse/partner/employer often enough, I think, that there's little point in prying.

Meandering answer. I sound evasive. Better bring me in for questioning.
posted by rokusan at 5:32 AM on November 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

As far as I can tell, using a false name, in almost all situations, is perfectly legal. As long as it's not under oath in court, or to anyone in the TSA, or for the furtherance of any crime.
posted by TravellingDen at 6:18 AM on November 29, 2009

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