More Than a Tradition

An analysis of Stuyvesant’s senior name tradition and its implications during the pandemic.

Reading Time: 6 minutes

The start of the final school year is a time of eager anticipation for many seniors, but for some, it can provoke feelings of dread. The resumption of a fierce workload and the pressures of college applications can cause some intimidated students to lament the school year before it has even begun. Yet despite the stress of beginning the fall semester, one Stuyvesant tradition provides a fun and creative social bonding activity: senior names.

After the Senior Caucus announced the start of the yearly tradition, students rushed to change their Facebook names to various puns reflecting anything from common phrases to pop culture references. One of many senior traditions, “senior names” has been a custom among many high schools. Rising seniors change their Facebook names to puns that use their names, usually accompanied by related profile pictures and captions. It is generally agreed that “senior names” were originally a way to stop college admissions offices from searching and finding students’ Facebook accounts. While this method hasn’t been proven to be effective, it has evolved into a way for students to begin their senior year with some positive self-expression

Because of their upperclassmen, many students have known about senior names as early as freshman year. Senior Samantha Siew said, “a few of my homeroom Big Sibs had changed their profile names and pictures.” When asked about their names, her Sibs told her about the senior tradition. Siew goes by “SamanCha Siew” for her senior name, drawing puns from Cantonese culture. “Cha” and “Siew” are reminiscent of cha and char siu, both Cantonese words that mean “tea” and a type of Cantonese barbecue pork, respectively. Using Photoshop, she made a profile picture by superimposing her face onto Uncle Iroh from “Avatar: The Last Airbender” as the character makes a pot of tea.

When asked what she thought about the senior tradition, Siew answered, “it's a fun way for the seniors to express themselves, especially during this time of disconnection.” Likewise, her friends have followed up with similar senior name themes, drawing on other characters from Avatar. Such organized efforts add an extra layer of fun and challenge to the tradition, which, unlike many other senior traditions, is largely unaffected by social distancing.

Many other students have found senior names to be a nice outlet for their culture in the same way Siew has. Going by “Abiryani Tehari,” senior Abir Taheer reflects on some of his favorite South Asian dishes, biryani and tahari. After running the name along with his friends, he proceeded to pop a picture of his head onto biryani in Photoshop. Of the myriad of senior names, Taheer finds senior Jiahe Wang’s (JiaHee Hee) the funniest. “I loved the fact that it was a play on Michael Jackson lyrics,” he added. Like Siew, Taheer utilized some of his favorite cultural subjects to represent his background in his senior name, yet the names that most impress him take a different direction: “the best senior names I've seen are usually ones that are a play on pop culture references.”

Taheer’s sentiments are shared by many others in the senior class. In fact, many students draw inspiration from pop culture, using what they see in movies and songs and notice from celebrities. For instance, senior Palak Srivastava chose to play on the immensely popular superhero movie franchise, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She named herself “Plack Widow” after Black Widow after struggling to think of something entertaining and understandable. “I like the tradition. I think it’s a really cute way to start senior year,” she said.

Students consider senior names a diversion that helps counteract the fact that New York is still battling COVID-19. The custom seems to have helped create more interactions among friends and combat the loneliness of pandemic life. Though New York has recently loosened lockdown restrictions, many people are still reluctant to meet in person, resulting in continued social isolation. The advent of senior names, however, has provided new opportunities for enjoyable collaborations.

For instance, when senior Russell Low created his pun name, he relied on the help of others. He credits his childhood friend for using his photo editing skills to help make his new profile picture. Low learned about the tradition in his sophomore year from seniors in his gymnastics team. Now a senior, Low goes by “ShortyGot Low,” since his “last name had been countlessly used as a pun referring to ‘Low’ by Flo Rida,” he said. His friend also made a profile picture out of “a huge collection of pictures… a picture of [him] dancing… [and] funny easter eggs.” The collaboration ultimately resulted in a funny, entertaining profile picture that Low feels best represents his personality.

To Low, many of the senior names are wholesome and creative, especially with the recurring themes he saw from “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” as done by Siew and her friends. His favorite name belongs to senior and fellow gymnast Tiffany Cai. Posing as “Cai Fieri,” she references the celebrity chef in a hilarious way that appeals to Low’s love for Flavortown. However, when asked about other senior names, Low said, “[they are a] bit confusing to decipher.” He also sees them as successful creations of anonymity. To future seniors, he only suggests, “[don’t] make it [too] convoluted. A funny pun [related] to your name will inevitably come.”

These collaborations are a theme prevalent among many other seniors, as seen with senior Nikkie Lin (“Nikkie Minaj”). Lin was attracted to rapper Nicki Minaj’s popularity and eccentricity but also loved how close their two names were, allowing his pun to be relatively easy yet authentic. Guided by friend and fellow senior Carrie Lin, Lin was able to find the ideal camera angle and lighting for his photo, created with Snapchat’s picture editor. Lin, however, is more proud of the pun itself, joking, “[Carrie Lin’s] senior name is Carriemel Macchiato, and I strongly believe my senior name is superior to hers.”

Just like Low, Lin learned about the senior tradition in his sophomore year, when he started interacting more with seniors. When asked about his thoughts on senior names, he said, “I love the tradition because everyone gets to be creative; there can't be a bad senior name, and I don't see any problems with it so far. Everybody seems happy with it.”

Lin’s positivity seems to summarize the senior class’s views: during turbulent times like these, senior traditions like the “Facebook names” have pulled through to unite Stuyvesant students and create a sense of stability and normalcy. However, the tradition’s popularity might only stop here at Stuyvesant. When asked if they had heard of any other schools that have senior names, students usually could not think of any. One plausible theory is that “nobody else uses Facebook,” as suggested by senior Leo Xiao (GlassOf Leomonade). Similar to many other seniors, he received help from two of his friends, Patrick Ren (PatRick Roll) and Neil Sarkar (Löch Neilss Mönster), with producing the name.

While Facebook’s lack of popularity could be to blame, it is just as plausible that the tradition has simply not caught on in New York City. Senior Dario Cipani (Dario Queen) mentioned that a few of his friends in other schools like Brooklyn Tech have also partaken in the tradition, but they seem to be outliers. Like many others, Cipani made a pun with food, mimicking Dairy Queen, a famous ice cream chain, with help from his friend Sunny Bok (SunnyNut Cheerios). One of his favorite names is senior Alan Guo’s “Fa MuAlan,” saying “there are a lot of great names to choose from, but as I scrolled through my Facebook friends, I thought Fa MuAlan was creative and new.”

While senior names may not be too big around New York City, articles from other New York areas show participation in the tradition from places as close as Jericho (Nassau County) and Huntington Station (Suffolk County) and as distant as Connecticut, Maryland, and England.

Still, for many students, the tradition’s social benefits—not its popularity—is what’s important. Quarantine has been extremely lonely, and students have had to resort to all kinds of entertainment to escape the boredom of being home-bound. “Senior names” have seemingly generated a renewed feeling of joy and hopefulness, elevating the tradition to an essential socioemotional diversion.