What do you call it when... someone's visual identity is unknown?

This query has been emailed into The Engine Room:

Is there a word which means that a person's visual identity is unknown? For example, the West End Whingers are often referred to as "anonymous" as people don't know what they look like. However, they are not anonymous as they really are called Phil and Andrew [the names given on the WEW website]. Is there a word for use in these circumstances?

Well, 'anonymous' comes from the Greek for 'nameless', whereas Phil and Andrew, I suppose, are faceless rather than nameless. However the OED defines faceless as "remote and impersonal", which isn't really what we're driving at. And whether it's true of the West End Whingers I wouldn't like to say!

Lots of other 'in-' or 'un-' words also spring to mind, such as 'incognito' or 'undisclosed', but none of them seem quite right. I imagine we're looking for another 'a-' word.

Any suggestions?

6 comments:

garic said...

Aprosopous would do the job. Not exactly transparent to the average English speaker though.

Andrew Orange said...

From Aprosopia? "The congenital absence of part or all of the face, usually associated with other malformations"

Vincent said...

Without other evidence of identity we cannot know whether Phil and Andrew are their real names. They may therefore be pseudonymous. But they are certainly anonymous. Mere etymology has never dictated the current meaning of a word.

JD (The Engine Room) said...

Vincent - yes, I agree that etymology doesn't dictate a word's current meaning. However the OED defines anonymous as "not identified by name; of unknown identity". By this definition Phil and Andrew are both anonymous, and not anonymous. Hence the search, I think, for another word.

To be fair to the original questioner, he did also mention the word 'pseudonymous' but I only quoted part of his email.

Lorna, NZ said...

OK, let's borrow a bit from the French: how about avisage? From, of course visage - face; and the prefix a - not. As in asymmetric or asexual.

Jeff Shapiro said...

I would suggest "faceless."