Future Tense

Halloween Pun Names on Twitter Refuse to Die

The jokes distract from a truly horrifying news cycle—and not in a good way.

A pumpkin with the Twitter bird logo cut into it.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash.

There comes a time in a writer’s career when she must take a stand—to share an alternative opinion, even though it may garner her enemies and scorn; to criticize an established practice, even one engaged in by writers she reveres. Sometimes you have to take your (professional) life in your hands in order to speak your mind. It’s hard, as a young writer, to question convention, but I can stay silent no longer. I’m talking, of course, about the Halloween pun Twitter names.

As is fitting for a Halloween-themed article, I am frightened to publish this. A quick scroll through my Twitter feed reveals some of my favorites are in on it. In fact, some of the writers that drew me to this very magazine are engaged in the practice: Jamelle G-g-ghoulie, Damned Screamvens (who has since changed her name back to normal), even Marissa Martinelli-Ghost. Writers I admire enough to have approached after panels are doing it (Gremliny Nussboo, Ana Scary Time for Young Men Cox) as well as those I’ve yet to meet (Kristen Arnett of the Living Dead, RepubliKang, In Nicoled Blood, Imani Gandy Corn). But I must speak my truth, no matter how terrifying. And the Halloween monikers do terrify me—with their cheesiness, that is. What’s most scary about this meme is how horrifyingly overdone it is.

Spooky Twitter names, or the practice of tweaking your display name to a Halloween-themed play on your real name, have been going on for several years now—several years too many. Not unlike The Simpsons’ “Treehouse of Horror” credits that many of us grew up with (Bat Groening, anyone?), the puns are intentionally, painfully corny. Simply add a “boo” or “scare” or “hell” wherever you find a stray vowel, and Halloween-ified be thy name.

The graveyard smash appears to have started in October 2013, and it caught on in a flash, with everyone from Choire Sicha to John Herrman doing it. My impression is that the trend has declined in popularity over the last few years—by now, it’s rather old bat—though that hasn’t stopped online outlets from praising it (“Long live spooky Twitter names, the best of all Halloween memes,” the Verge wrote in 2017) or the hardcore from partaking in it. Thus, the meme lives on, in some form, dragging its decomposing body behind it. But it’s time for it to return to the grave. It’s getting tired—let it rest in peace.

I’m not saying the trend was never amusing—I chuckled for the first year or two. But why is this game still going on, five years later? What was once an impromptu pun-off, one of those delightfully spontaneous social media games, has become a predictable running gag—again, not unlike the credits to those Simpsons Halloween specials.

Writers seem particularly invested in beating this dead and mummified horse, perhaps because we’re required to spend so much of our day on Twitter, and because Twitter is such a generally soul-sucking place. When so much of what we read is dark and depressing, puns are a way to derive pleasure from the site, a small outlet for joy. But before you accuse me of being a killjoy, consider this: Is killing joy not far more in keeping with the Halloween spirit?

It’s the fact that Twitter is such a scary place, this year more than ever, that makes the joke extra jarring right now. It’s weird, and not in the good way, to see grave takes on this genuinely horrifying news cycle come from mock horrifying names. I relish Jamelle’s quick political hits, but they lose a little bit of impact when they come from a g-g-ghoulie. It’s hard to take these trick-or-tweeters seriously, even once you’ve figured out who they are—something that might take longer than you’d think. Some of these disguises are ­very deceptive—or at least as concealing as a bedsheet with eyeholes. Personal news feels a little less personal when you can’t tell who the person is.

This October, it’s actually overshadowing a new Twitter name change movement: Monica Chunky Slut Stalker That Woman Lewinsky’s #DefyTheName, which encourages people to reclaim the names used against them by bullies by including them in their Twitter names during October (see: Rachel Weird Looser Who Needs a Bra Bloom). Even though these names are not conventional, at least you can still tell who’s tweeting, unlike with the puntastic puzzles. But with Halloween names monopolizing the month of October, it’s hard for other name-based campaigns to get their messages out.

Which brings us to another issue: that the trend, for those still riding it, has extended to last the whole month. If having a spooky display name is like dress-up for your Twitter, why are you spending the whole month in costume? I’m not one to complain about Christmas starting early, or Easter—honestly, the longer chocolate season lasts, the better. But we don’t need to spend the whole month of October celebrating the day at the end of it. All Hallows’ Eve is a day, not a season, and perhaps this meme would grow old less quickly if we treated it as one.

It’s not as if my name isn’t ripe for a chilling Halloween spin (no, not—as this terrible Halloween pun name generator suggests—Gravechel). My full name—Rachel Rose Withers—is already poetically morbid, a double entendre I could easily make Rachel Rose Withered 🥀 for Halloween. But I don’t need to spend a whole twelfth of the year going by a slightly darker version. Maybe I’ll do it, just for 24 hours, on Oct. 31; maybe I will dress up my actual person as a large dying flower. But I want no part in propping up a dying joke.

Twitter 2018 is no longer the collective dress-up party it used to be. The world is a scary place, but what’s truly frightening is how long this joke has dragged on. Times have changed. This Halloween, it’s time Twitter names stopped doing so.