Back in my high school days, I was in the habit of choosing online handles like The Earl of Cornwall, The Duke of Cornwall, and The Bard of Cornwall. Obviously, these were tongue-in-cheek labels, though they did at least indicate my hometown of Cornwall, Ontario, Canada (not far from the US border or from our nation’s capital, Ottawa). When using a service like ICQ, MySpace, MSNmessenger, or later FaceBook and YouTube, I would change these names every once in a while for variety and security.
So, that’s how it happened when in 2007 I created an account on YouTube, never intending for my music channel to be more than an experiment. But, as the channel gained momentum and viewers from around the world, I started to take it more seriously both as an artistic outlet and as a means to promote my in-person music performances. Eventually I decided to start using my real name on YouTube, in order to ‘stand behind’ the work more openly, and to make it easier to coordinate with prospective booking agents.
Since I had chosen the name Bard of Cornwall ironically—there are actual Bards of Cornwall, in Cornwall, England—I tried to remove that name from my YouTube channel, but the name had stuck with many of my listeners, and I couldn’t change the URL name in either FaceBook or YouTube. So, rather than create an entirely new channel, I opted to leave the Bard of Cornwall name here and there, for instance in the tags on each video.
I’m aware that a person can’t self-identify as his community’s bard, as that’s a position chosen communally, and the title is a matter of honour. Bards were important carriers of communal memories in the age before universal literacy, and they usually would have been full-time musicians. So, again, I chose the title ironically. Nevertheless, I think that there is some overlap in my mission to preserve traditional folk music and the role of traditional bards. And indeed the job is easier now—a 17th-century bard could play before a handful of nobles at a banquet, but ‘cyber bards’ can play before literally millions of people at once.
And that’s the story of how Jesse Ferguson, a folkie from Canada, came to be known as The Bard of Cornwall on YouTube.