For a while now, I’ve been waiting to rename my Microsoft Account.  The email address was feeling dated and I wanted my account to use the new name. I delayed, expecting this to require erasing my Windows Phone, but this is not actually the case. Sort of. Let’s back up. First, why would you want to rename your account?  It’s almost purely an aesthetic choice. You can create extra aliases — extra email addresses you can send/receive mail from — as part of your Microsoft Account and use those other aliases to login to any Microsoft service, website, or product (including Xbox, Windows Phone, and Windows).  Changing your primary alias by renaming your account really just changes the address you’ll see on these products and services – such as the title bar of the Outlook website or on your Windows login screen.

If you have Xbox, Windows Phone,Messenger, or  Hotmail/Live/MSN/Outlook email, you already have a Microsoft Account.
If you have Xbox, Windows Phone, Messenger, or Hotmail/Live/MSN/Outlook email, you already have a Microsoft Account.

I had mistakenly believed that changing my account name would require me to wipe my Windows Phone to continue receiving email and syncing my contacts, as you cannot change your login on the phone without resetting it to factory defaults.  It turns out that is not strictly true, but you do lose some other functionality, I received the opportunity to try this out this week thanks to a replacement phone (dropped the old one in a puddle).  It still worked except for the headset jack, so I actually had two phones to play with.

Without changing anything in my Microsoft Account (leaving the live address as the primary alias), I logged into my new phone using the Outlook email address. It appeared to work exactly as I expected: emails and contacts synced over, my settings and apps from the old phone automatically imported down from the cloud, and all was well. Except — the messages app would not connect to chat (Windows Messenger and Facebook).

Curious, I connected the old phone to my wifi network and noticed that the messenger app on it was still working. Clearly the services were online.  At this point I had already reconfigured all my apps on the new phone and logged into various services — work I did not want to repeat by wiping it and logging in with the old live name. And of course, I didn’t want to use that name anyway.

Before I could rename my primary account to @outlook, I actually had to remove the outlook alias from my account altogether.  This worried me, but there was no mention of any waiting period before re-claiming the name again. So I quickly removed it, then went to the Rename Account page and claimed it again as my primary alias.

After a reboot, the new phone’s messenger app sprang to life while the old phone’s messages app no longer connected.

Moral of the story: the messenger app on Windows Phone will only work if you login to the phone with your primary account alias.  If you want to rename your account, be prepared to wipe your phone and login with the new alias, or lose the messenger app.