ἀνωνυμία, anonymia, meaning “without a name” or “namelessness”.
I rarely think of anonymity as a state of being without a name. As The Historian knows, I immediately conceive of anonymity as a state in which one’s name is obscured — that is, a conscious decision not to use one’s name. Part of that is because I meandered into the Wide World of Anonymity via the defamation and cyberSLAPP legal universe, where chatter about anonymous speech revolves around whether we should be revealing the identities of commenters who would probably rather not be unmasked.
And so I tend to think of anonymity as deeply related to traceability — a desire to remain anonymous, in my mind, is often associated with willful choices to conceal tracks that circle back to the Named You. But this logic lends itself so easily to the public damnation of Anonymity = Bad. It tracks the anti-privacy logic: if you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to hide. And that’s simply just not the case. As Terry Eagleton writes in the London Review of Books:
A work may come unsigned because who wrote it is not thought to be all that important. Some medieval art is a case in point. What does it matter who is praising God, as long as he gets praised? The oldest form of literary anonymity is divine inspiration. There is only one author, and which mundane mouthpiece he selects to reveal his glory is neither here nor there.
It’s so easy to infer purpose from anonymity. What’s terrifying is that our assumptions of why one would desire anonymity dictates so much of how we receive and frame policy choices around that form of speech. The truth is that there really are a thousand reasons not to sign your name on something you create — laziness, experimentation, privacy, safety concerns, reputation, forgetfulness, or even a desire to hide. Who knows?