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How do I get an arbitrary email address?

How do I get an email address that is anything@anything.anything,
and be able to send emails?

This is actually a fairly common question, but unfortunately it
indicates a slight lack of understanding of exactly how email addresses
are assigned.

No problem: I’ll walk you through the pieces.

Whether or not you can get what you want depends on …
“anything”.

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First, let’s take your anything@anything.anything and break it down into two separate pieces: email-name@domain.

Domain

A domain would be something like “ask-leo.com”, “microsoft.com”, “gmail.com” or whatnot.

Domains are owned by individuals or companies. So, for example, “microsoft.com” is owned by Microsoft, as you might expect, “gmail.com” is owned by Google, and “ask-leo.com” is owned by me, Leo Notenboom.

You can own a domain too, as long as someone doesn’t already own it. You can use popular domain registrars to search for available domains, and then register it yourself. You can own as many as you like (I own 61 right now), again – as long as they’re not already taken by someone else.

“You can own a domain too, as long as someone doesn’t already own it.”

So, given that you have a specific domain in mind that you would like to have an email address on, you have these options:

  • Register the domain, if it’s available. This is by far the most flexible; once you own a domain, it can be yours forever (for a periodic registration fee, of course), and you can do whatever you want with it.

  • Ask the existing owner for an email address on it.

Now, that last one is actually facetious, because unless the domain is already specifically set up for public email addresses, it’s extremely unlikely that the domain owner is going to just hand out email addresses to anyone who asks. For example, if you desperately wanted an email address on “ask-leo.com”, I’m not even going to bother to reply to the request; it’s just not going to happen. Ditto for wanting a “microsoft.com” address – Microsoft is using that domain for its employee and business email, they’re not going to hand out email addresses to random people without a clear business reason for doing so.

I’d claim that the vast majority of owned domains fall into that bucket: you’re simply not going to get an email address on an arbitrary domain that’s owned by someone else.

Email Name

The first thing to realize is that every email name is owned by and controlled by whomever owns the domain it’s associated with. So, for example, I control every email name that could be used on “ask-leo.com”, Microsoft controls every email name on “microsoft.com”, Google controls every email name that could be used with “gmail.com”, and so on.

You can’t get an email name without the cooperation of the owner of the domain. And as I mentioned above, you’re not likely to get an email name on a domain that’s not set up for public or arbitrary email services; it’s likely not worth even asking.

But what about email services like “gmail.com”, or “hotmail.com” or so many of the others?

It’s simple: you can get anything you want …

… unless someone else has already taken it.

And there’s the problem: for most popular email services, all the popular names are already taken. Heck, even most of the unpopular names are taken Smile. That’s why you see email names like “leo123” or the like – you can guess that plain old “leo” was taken long ago by the first Leo to come along (it wasn’t me!), and thereafter all the people wanting to have the “leo” email name were forced to choose something else.

The bottom line in all this is that it’s actually nearly impossible to get a completely arbitrary email address anything@anything.anything. What you can chose from are:

  • any email name on an available domain name that you purchase yourself

  • any available email name on the domain owned by an email service provider

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8 comments on “How do I get an arbitrary email address?”

  1. A comment about most the popular (and unpopular) names being taken.
    Sometimes a little creativity is all it takes to make an easy to remember but unpopular name.

    Bill@anything.anything is going to be popular but unless your last name is smith or gates, Bill.lastname@anything.anything has a chance. My primary gmail account is set up that way.

    Another alternative is to add a descriptive (as long as it is reasonable for the purpose of your email account (BeerBill@… would be a lousy one on your resume) but SkaterBill might be good for less formal uses (I know a person that uses his nickname BrewBoy on one account.)

    Reply
  2. Hi Leo,

    First off, I look forward to your newsletter every week…great work! Secondly, it might be worth mentioning email spoofing. I own a very popoular chat/message board software company and we have run into many problems with this hack. I’ve also had an instance when someone spoofed my hotmail address (didn’t take over my account) for the purposes of sending out spam.

    Reply
  3. Good article Very informative, I’ve always wondered how email address were assigned.
    When I first applied for an email address at Earthlink I used a nickname, it was already taken so I used some numerals with it and got it.
    Ask-Leo is a great sit for getting information without paying an arm and a leg for tech. help. It’s hard to be free advice. Thank you.

    Reply
  4. One caveat; don’t bother trying to get a domain name that’s a company name that’s not your own. It might be tempting to grab DunkinDonuts.abc (or any of a hundred other .names), but that company can force you to release it. This used to work, but not any more.

    Reply
  5. If you own a server and you determine you have a unique name why does an annual fee have to be paid for a domain? Who gets the money? Who controls the domain names and why?

    The domain registrar gets the money. Essentially there is, indeed, ongoing overhead / maintenance in maintaining your registration for you (databases that must be maintained, DNS queries and must be answered, etc.). You can argue that the cost of those items is much less than the cost of renewals, which is why there’s no reason not to find a reliable and cheap domain registrar. I happen to use SimpleURL.

    – Leo
    18-Feb-2009
    Reply
  6. With free email accounts, don’t try to get a really nifty one, chances are if it isn’t taken, its because it was shut down due to excess spam which will still be rolling in.
    And spammers guess all the simpler ones, so make it a reasonable length, and hard to guess. All your friends can put it in an address book and it doesn’t matter how hard it is to remember.

    Reply
  7. To keep spam to a minimum, use numeral(s) after the name whether you have to or not. I have three emails + the 1 w/the numeral is rarely spammed. The 2 without get much junk daily.

    Reply

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