I've read that HN is used as an abbreviation (略) of "Handle Name". Why was Handle Name abbreviated in Japanese instead of the much more common, at least in English, "User Name" or even the good old "Screen Name"? Or does this abbreviation predate the internet era?

  • 2
    和製英語 like OL, I'd guess.
    – jogloran
    Commented Oct 14, 2015 at 21:02
  • UN is the United Nations, and UN/UM is "yup" in japanese so maybe that has something to do with it
    – sova
    Commented Oct 15, 2015 at 23:17

3 Answers 3


Thanks to jogloran's suggestion, I did some research on if "Handle Name" is a 和製英語 word. To summarize from these sources:

  1. ["Handle Name"]{ハンドルネーム} is thought by many Japanese to be derived from ["Handle"]{ハンドル}. However, since the word "Handle" is so commonly used in Japan to refer to the steering wheel of a vehicle, the word "Name" was also attached to prevent confusion. This confusion doesn't really exist in English.

  2. Many people think that ハンドルネーム is a 和製英語 word. But there is some evidence of the word being utilized the same way in English.

  3. Handle was once used to refer to one's titles in English. Wikipedia gives as an 1870 example:

I would rather be called "Big-Foot Wallace" than "Lying Wallace," or "Thieving Wallace." Such handles to my name would not be agreeable 1890

  1. From that meaning, handle transitioned in English to being used as slang to describe the nicknames of amateur radio operators (CB Radio). To quote from Yahoo answers:

A CB Radio is a Ciitizen Band like a walkie talkie that goes for miles, truckers used them to communicate between each other, and then people in cars used it.... People would talk LIKE Breaker breaker good buddy over and out------stuff like that people had their own Handle name Not Screen Name Or E-Mail address but similar.

  1. At some point, this terminology transferred over to the early Japanese Internet.

  2. It's possible that AOL first coined the word "screen name", which only appeared in the mid-1990s (source). I'm not sure as to how popular they were in Japan, but apparently the term "screen name" didn't quite catch on.

  3. User name is probably more popular than HN, but I think maybe UN would be too similar to an actual japanese word and possibly cause confusion with the abbreviation.


I remember in the 90s, at least in casual usage, we most often called them simply ハンドル, and not ハンドルネーム. Though ハンドルネーム was used too, it was more for contexts where ハンドル on its own would be misunderstood. (This is similar to how salsa is sometimes called サルサソース, for people who are not yet familiar with what salsa is, let alone know that salsa means sauce!)

In those days, it was not uncommon for English speakers to refer to their online names as handles too.

The strongest reason why the abbreviation “HN” exists is probably as a variation of the already established “PN”, or pen name. In Japan, listeners/viewers/readers write in to radio shows, TV shows, and magazines with pseudonyms, which are often called ペンネーム and abbreviated “P.N.” or “PN”.

Similar to ハンドルネーム, these ペンネーム are often very silly and not name-like at all (in the sense that Mark Twain is name-like). Some famous ペンネーム include メルヘンうんこ, 竜王は生きていた, and シュラ種種種.


Simple really. Handle name is older than User name. Handle name was used extensively in the pre-internet BBS era, as well as the early internet and among HAM radio operators.

This is likely a case of an early English moving over to Japanese and then sticking. There was no reason to change it, since the foreign word maps to a concept anyhow.

I remember when it was important to have a good handle. Memories.

  • Was "handle name" really used extensively? See what you said... "to have a good handle" not "to have a good handle name."
    – macraf
    Commented Oct 16, 2015 at 10:15
  • Of course, it became abbreviated... like lots of other things on the web. Typing ( on typewriters ) was still a skill taught in schools in the 90s and was not ubiquitous. But you'd see things like "choose a handle name" What I find interesting, is that the usual pattern for MOST abbreviations in Japan is not using the letters, but syllables. リモコン (remote control not RC or Remote )、スタバ (Starbucks)、マクド (McDonald's not McDs)、テリマヨ (Teriyaki Mayo)、ソフトクリーム soft-serve ice cream、テレビ Television ( not TV ) )It seems like this bucked that trend, possibly because ハネーム、ハネーム、ハンドネーム don't make much sense Commented Oct 16, 2015 at 19:02
  • I am not so sure about "of course". The point is not that the word "handle" is an abbreviation, but that "handle name" is clearly a tautology. According to etymonline it was used in 1833 in a form "add a handle to a name", not "add a handle name to a name". Regardless of rare and improper use in English, ハンドルネーム is clearly a Japanese-coined word as Ringil's answer describes in detail, not a "good old phrase" borrowed from English.
    – macraf
    Commented Oct 16, 2015 at 20:34

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