CA tutorial: Anonymising data (2)

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Anonymising data

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Ten guidelines for changing names in transcripts

(See the previous page on why pseudonyms are important.)

Tip: Before you start changing your transcript, I'd advise that you go through it all and make a record of every instance of a personal name and its contractions. That will help prevent muddles and difficulties later (for example, discovering half-way through that a speaker called Joseph is referred to by someone as Jo-Jo - while you've given him the pseudonym "Henry", from which an equivalent nickname can't happily be derived).

Item to change

Rule of thumb


All names:

1. Preserve syllable length and stress pattern
(e.g. "Dominic" for Jonathan; "Leila" for Marta; "Muggleton Chess Group" for Loughborough Bridge Club)

will help maintain intonation and emphasis patterns, and allow for more accurate overlap marking

Personal names:

2. Maintain gender

change can cause confusion if gender-related terms come up, e.g pronouns

3. Make sure contractions are possible
(e.g. replace Caroline with "Jennifer" and not "Monica" so that Carrie can become "Jenny" ("Monnie" is unusual; but see below for unusual real names)

if a full name is later contracted to a nickname, or vice versa, your pseudonyms will have to follow suit. You'll find it a great help to read through the whole transcript first, before fixing on pseudonyms

4. Preserve ethnicity, when appropriate
Farida becomes "Halima", Vincenzo becomes "Guglielmo", Dr Williams becomes "Dr Hawkins" and so on, unless doing so might identify them

beware stereotyping: only maintain ethnicity if there is evidence in the transcript, or the framework of your analysis, that the ethnicity signalled by the name is relevant; otherwise use names from the pool of names in the community

5. Use replacements of similar commonness or rarity
(e.g. "Sarah" for Hannah, and "Dr Smith" for Dr Jones; "Adolfo" for Sabino, and "Mrs Armiston" for Mrs Collingby)

preserves whatever colouring a common vs. unusual name may have

6. Preserve probable conventions of age, class and locality

again, avoid sterotyping; use this guideline flexibly. Not all older people have 'older' names like "Mavis" or "Arnold", for example. But few British men are nicknamed "Skip" or "Scooter".

Place names:

7. Country names can be left

.. unless they may help identify the speaker, e.g. I come from Turkey but I am Kurdish by birth would need to become "I come from [country 1] but I am [ethnicity 2] by birth". Of course, sometimes these details are wanted in the analysis. Use carefully.

8. Cities become [Citynames]
...when leaving the original city name might identify the speaker, or when a pseudonym loses something important (see right)

a reference to the pseudonym (say) "Calencia" in the transcript will probably not register as the name of a big city in the reader's mind, and if the place is really Los Angeles, then possibly important big-city implications will be lost

9. Change town and village names to comparable fictitious names
... unless they are in something quite distinct from speakers' own lives, e.g a narrated story about a distant third party

preserve the general style: e.g. the English village Silverdale might become "Medderton" while the Brisbane suburb Toowong might become "Mureen"

Institutional names:

10. Change the name
...unless the institution is so large there is no danger to anonymity.
I like to eat at McDonalds1 can be left as is, but I teach at Loughborough University becomes "I teach at [Cityname] University"; my child goes to Happikids Nursery becomes "my child goes to Merrytots Nursery"

If the speaker claims some identifiable relation with a company or an institution, even if it's a huge one, it will probably be safer to change its name

Puns, rhymes and other complications:

11. (I know I said there were only 10)
Use a footnote

some things that can be done with a given name can't be easily done - or done at all - with its replacement. The only safe option is to use a footnote to try and explain that the speaker here was making a pun on the real name, or rhyming it with another word in the sentence, and so on

Gail Jefferson, who started it all, would often metaphorically throw her hands up in despair. Her footnotes always made entertaining reading, now sadly missed.

1 a falsehood