Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Pen by Any Other Name…

I answer to a whole lot of names. Yes, it’s true. I have not one, but two, pen names. Pseudonyms. Noms de plume. Whatever they’re called, I’ve got a couple of them. So far.

People comment upon this. Frequently. And right underneath the comments I often sense a tiny little bit of annoyance.

Well, I’ve got news for those folks who are already confused by my multiple monikers, and seem to want to take me to task for it. I’ve got plans for more. I’ve discovered I like fake names. It’s like having multiple personas. I’m at the point where if I weren’t an author, I might have to have a couple of aliases anyway, just for fun.

I’m not the only one. I know for a fact that a lot of folks make things up when asked what name to put on their coffee drinks. The other day I saw a Xena and a Maverick at the Peet’s counter. Please. And just how many girls at the bar do you think are really named Chloe and Zoey and Dakota? Scalawags, all. I love it. Go on with your bad selves, be wild with those coffee names!In Spanish, rather than saying “my name is Juliet,” you say, “Me llamo Juliet,” which means, literally, “I call myself Juliet.” I like the idea that you “call yourself” something. It makes it seem like one’s moniker is something temporal, active, alive. As though chosen on purpose rather than simply put upon you when you were a defenseless infant.

In fact, it's common in Mexico for people to go by not one, but several, nicknames depending on their situation and their whim. Partly, of course, this is because a great many people have the same first names (Jose and Maria are biggies) so a little improvisation helps simplify matters. I once knew a family of five girls, and each of them was named Maria. In the United States this was a bureaucratic nightmare –try telling the front desk clerk at the health clinic that there are five Maria Garays in the waiting room-- but amongst family and friends there was no confusion at all. Maria de las Flores called herself Flor or Flora or Flo; Maria de la Gracia called herself Estrella-- not sure why; Maria de los Angeles went by Angelica or Angelita, depending on her mood…etc.

The point is, they called themselves whatever it was they had decided upon.

So I think it’s a little small minded to insist we all stick to one name, specifically the one granted to us by our parents at what one can only imagine was a rather stressful time: a moment of raging hormones and sleeplessness in which we are most likely to be unduly influenced by sappy AT&T commercials or melodramatic 19th century novels. So far I’ve had two official pseudonyms (I’m not going to get started on my bar names, much less coffee names, I promise). Hailey Lind was the first; it’s an old family name I use when I write with my sister. I do believe t took my sister and me more time to decide upon a name than it did to write our first book.

The second name was easier, because I chose it myself. I wanted something toward the beginning of the alphabet. I figured that for an author, color names are good because they’re easy to remember, and even easier to spell. Black seemed a natural for something to do with witchcraft, but it was too plain. Blackwell struck me as just about perfect. As for the first name, I needed something that I had a reasonable shot at remembering whilst downing cocktails –because it there’s one thing we know about mystery writers, it’s that they’re most often found in the bar. (Again with the bar references...looks like someone needs a drink.)

Of course, I should have consulted with Sophie Littlefield. Then I would have been Andromeda Petrovic or Wildcat McGee. Something really exciting.

And my “real” name? Complicated, of course. When I was in college I decided it was rather patriarchal to keep only my father’s last name. And boring, too. So I took my mother’s as well, and hyphenated them. Flash forward twenty-five years…to problems with the DMV, the doctor’s office, every piece of junk mail in the world. It’s not a legal problem – in fact, one of the interesting things I learned was that you can call yourself any damned name you want, so long as it’s not for purposes of fraud. Jesus Christ? You go, girl. Minnie Mouse? Why not? Paris Hilton? Sure…just don’t try to convince people you’re the famous blonde who forgets her underwear. No, changing my name was fine, but computers hate hyphens, and people on the other end of the line don’t much like them either.

Anyway…I suppose I might well use my lifelong name for the next novel I’m writing, which isn’t a mystery. Why not? Julie Goodson-Lawes might as well step out into the limelight. On the other hand, now that I look at it, I'm rather partial to Wildcat McGee....


AJ Larrieu said...

Wildcat McGee is awesome. You should start a new series just to use it. Witchcraft in the wild west? Viva Pen Names!

Daisy said...

In my family we have a long tradition of naming the kids one thing and calling them another: My real name in Marjorie (after an aunt and a great-aunt), and I go by Daisy, except at work and for writing. My brother is Jay Zachary James III-- we call him Zach, everyone else calls him Jay. (My father, JZJ Jr, is known to his family as Jay-Z, which has been the source of some amusement.) And on my mother's side it gets really complicated, with the men being named Robert with a middle name that starts with an "E," and everyone past the first one going by the middle name. My cousin, having been saddled with "Earnest," decided to opt out of the scheme, except with the family, who continue to call him Ernie because that's what we do.

Not sure why I felt the need to share all this. Perhaps as an example of what not to include in your book when you're explaining how a character got her name?

Hard Boiled Mysti said...

Wildcat McGee!! Wildcat McGee!!!

Goodson-Lawes sounds like an adorable English writer with mad skills and a hollow leg. Or a television production company. "I'm Julie Goodson-Lawes, of Goodson-Lawes Productions."

I always just call myself Mysti, my honest to god given name. It gave my brothers' wives fits when I encouraged their kids to call me Mysti, not Aunt Mysti, which sounded so distant. Egalitarianism and all that. I avoided my maiden name because it was Rubert and people just never heard it right. I was always the only Mysti in the room, except for gorgeous and much-liked Misty Chadwick in 3rd grade. grgl

People seem compelled to nicknaminize me. Partial list:

Mysti Anne
Mysti Lou
Ms. T
Mysti Kisty Fiddledeedisty

I love them all. Less fond of Christy, Mitzi, and "oh I had a dog named that," but they can't all be winners :)

I love the idea of naming yourself.

Jeanne B. said...

I can totally identify with this. My given name is Jean Renee. I wasn't fond of "I dream of", so I tried going by my middle name for awhile. Conflicted with my niece, also named Renee. Back to Jean... When I found out in junior high that "Jean" is the male version of the name, I immediately added "ne" to the name ("Jeanne") so people know I'm female Jeen, not male Jahnn.

Of course nobody pronounces it jean as in blue jeans. I've gotten Jee-Anne, Jenine, Jeannie, JeanAnne, and the worst: Jeh-NAYN (rhymes with "insane"). (Can't you people read?) On the upside, it makes it easy to weed out telemarketers when they can't pronounce it.

When my career as a rock singer officially took off in the chauvinistic 80s, I had trouble getting auditions (that gender thing). So I nicknamed myself "J. Tyler Berry". That became "Tyler Berry". Berry wasn't cool ("any relation to Chuck? Giggle, snort") and it WAS the 80s... so I became J. Tyler Bewayre. (Yes. I know.)

That became J.T. Bewayre. Then the 80s ended. "Bewayre" was no longer cool, so I adopted my Grandma's elegant maiden name. Minton. Then I decided I hate initial names...

So I'm Jaytee Minton when I'm onstage (and Jeanne Berry IRL).

For now. ;-)

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