Tuesday, December 19, 2006

What's in a Name.....Only Your Brand

Our German daughter, Steffi, is currently in a quandary about changing her last name when she marries next summer (on 07-07-07). She told me she is just too lazy to go and have all the paperwork done, but I suspect its much more than that – because I was once there. Like Steffi’s fiancé, my husband wanted me to take his name. “If we have kids, it will only confuse them and what name will they take,” etc. I think my mother, who always signed her name as “Mrs. Frank J. Fivecoat,” advocated on my husband’s side. I finally gave in.
Steffi told me her beau is traditional Bavarian and would be “disappointed” if she decided not to take his name. I told her what I told our Australian daughter – “If you have doubts, hyphenate it or keep your maiden name, because you will always have regrets.” Since this is a blog about the writing life, I won’t go off on a soapbox tangent about some women feeling as though they’ve given up their identity when they assume someone else’s name – especially if they don’t feel particularly close to their in-laws whose identity they’ve assumed.
But it does bring me to how I came up with my writing name, which is currently not the same as my legal name. When I had my first piece published, I automatically wrote my name including my maiden name – Fivecoat – because my first piece was an essay about growing up in my blue-collar town of Turner, Kansas. I realized that my writing identity came long before my married name – or even before I met my later-to-be husband at 15.
Besides, I thought Fivecoat-Campbell was kind of cool sounding…and I don’t know how many times people tell me how cool it is. For me, it was a marriage of my life as my parent’s daughter and my life with my husband – the best of both worlds.
It made me wonder how other people came to their writing names. My mother, who briefly wrote features for a community newspaper several years ago, told me to choose one for her (we could probably go into all kinds of psychoanalysis of a woman who didn’t even want her own name used on her byline). I chose Elizabeth Charles for her, it just came to me out of the blue, but I later found out there was an Elizabeth Charles who was an English writer either in the 18th or 19th century. Maybe it was a subconscious thing from high school or college English.
Lisa Waterman Gray, another KC based writer, chose to use her maiden name for the same reason as did I. “During the first couple years that I wrote for pay I used my married name, Lisa Gray or Lisa W. Gray in my byline. But it somehow didn't sit quite right and I finally realized why. I felt the need to include my maiden name as part of my 'writing name' because I actually first loved and dabbled in the printed word long before I met my husband,” Lisa said. Now she is gradually changing it to be her legal name as well.
Thomas Bosch, a writer living in Germany, choose this as his pen name to protect his privacy and that of his significant other and her family. “There's too many nutcases out there who want to argue with something you wrote and I have changed my phone number so many times in my life when I wrote something someone disagreed with. So now all my private details stay private and I have carefully constructed aliases in their place.” As for how he came up with Thomas Bosch: “Well, I like the name Thomas and Bosch comes from a detective character in the Michael Connelly novels,” he said.
Stephen King even used a pen name before he became famous, but his name is a brand now.
For my girls, it’s mostly the mental baggage that has or will come with their decision about their names. For writers, we have the additional anxiety because our names become the brands we are selling.
So, choose wisely.


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