On one of the on-line groups I belong to someone asked: imagine you need a pen-name. What would yours be and why? I use the name I was given at birth and I guess I am lucky to have an unusual name but one easy to pronounce (although in fact some people struggle with Lois – I’ve had the usual Louise, Lewis, Lucy, but also Lowes, Loys, Lorris, Louse and even Loess – that windblown dust geography teachers seemed to go about to the amusement of my classmates) I was reminded that I’d written a couple of blogs about nom-de-plumes and feather names (see below) but I did have a little ponder on what name I might choose if I wasn’t me. People in the group had some interesting comments – some had pen-names already, chosen at random, or chosen specifically to match the genre they were writing in, or to make them sound more interesting and memorable if they had a very common name. Some writers didn’t like their actual given name and chose something more interesting, unusual or to their own taste. Some writers chose names from their family history, either they liked the name, it was unusual, or they loved or admired the person they named themselves after. There were also people who wanted to conceal their gender so used initials or a name like Alex or Sandy. So feather names:
I came across a lovely phrase today in my Gaelic class, ainm cleite; ainm (pronounced anum/anim) means name, and cleite which means feather… feather name which translates as pen name, and like the French ‘nom de plume’ it derives from the use of a quill to write with.
I’ve never been tempted to use a pen name… and I suppose I haven’t needed to, unlike the Brontë who had to disguised their gender, Charlotte, Anne and Emily with male names Currer, Acton and Ellis Bell, or the two Georges, Elliot, and Sand who were really Mary Ann Evans and Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin. I haven’t had to hide my identity for political or religious reasons, or for personal safety and security. Some writers conceal their true identity because they think they will have more success with a name from a different culture, or of a different gender, or maybe they don’t like their own given name, or maybe it has associations with something distracting from their work as writers.
But supposing I did have to find another name for myself… what would I choose and how? How about using a pin and either a telephone directory or an atlas? OK, here goes… well, directory didn’t work, I don’t think the name Gamestation Weston-super-Mare will draw many readers, or the sort of readers interested in my work! Second go… Hulse, not bad, now another name to go with it… E.M., E.M. Hulse. Well, maybe but I’ll try again… I’ll do it twice for a first name and a second name… Bradley Robert… Not very inspiring, try again… Gillham Vanlaun, no I don’t think so, it really does sound made up, even if I changed it slightly to Guillaume van Laun.
Not brilliant, so let’s try the atlas… oh I’ve landed in the sea, oops in the sea again… Shelsley Walsh (that is an actual place) Ellenbrook Withersfield, two places…. maybe should just stick to Ellen Brook. One last go with a pin twice in the atlas, first name and second name… Walland Erines – Wally E. Rines? … I give up, I think my own imagination is probably much better… and actually my own name is probably even better than that!
I’ve imagined trying to create a feather name and came up with some pretty silly ideas using the pin in the directory and pin in the map method. However, when I thought about it later, I, and many of you have other names we use. I use my actual name on my blog, but if I was to write a second one, I would want a different name. Maybe I would choose – Loco, a nickname from childhood, or maybe I would choose a new blog name to go with the content of my blog which is quite sensible as it gives a clue what I would be writing about.
If I decided to write a completely different type of novel, or poems, or a non-fiction book, maybe I would want a different name which would become associated with this other work and not my fiction. I’m a woman but should I choose a male name, just for a change, or because I like the name… I like the name Rohan for example, and Louis, which is quite like my name anyway. Should I choose a name from a different culture? I think Mandikini is such a pretty name but it seems to go with a petite, elegant, whirlwind of a little person… and I’m certainly not that! Or should I just adopt initials, like J.K. Rowling did.
Maybe I should pick a person from my family history Thamar Blanden, Christian Colbron, Maria Rippington Carey? Daniel Atton? Annetta Beddington – or her relation Roxy Beddington? Jana Chary? There are so many wonderful names! Montague Handyside or his brother Ronald Elphinstone Handyside? How about Temperance Potter? Yes, really. Jesse James Taulbut…
New Agers choose (or are given) ‘natural’ names so maybe I should think of natural things which are meaningful to me… willow, crow, jackdaw, primrose, fish… nothing suggests itself here… Jack Daw Riverwater? I think not.
I have been a little frivolous here, but I think it is worth considering what I might use as another name if I did start writing differently.