...a.k.a nom de plume
“...What is your name?”
The child hesitated for a moment.
“Will you please call me Cordelia?” she said eagerly.
“Call you Cordelia! Is that you name?”
“No-o-o, it’s not exactly my name. But I would love to be called Cordelia. It’s such a perfectly elegant name.”
From ANNE OF GREEN GABLES by L. M. Montgomery ©1908
Ever since I read these lines, way back in the wee days of self-conscious awakening of middle childhood, I knew I had a bosom buddy in Anne Shirley who so desperately wanted to be called Cordelia.
I’d already named myself many times. I have a prescription my mother saved from when I was two, and told the doctor my name was Skippy. What two-year-old would want to be called Mirka if she could be Skippy?
For authors, the pen name (or pseudonym) is an old and venerable tradition. The French idiom for it, nom de plume, literally means "name of feather," which harks back to the quill pen, a writing implement used since 600 AD. The nom de plume used to be a way to hide identity if the writing was too racy, too politically sensitive, or just plain not the sort of writing one wanted to be known for.
Nowadays, most of the above reasons don’t hold for long. It’s too easy for an interested party to trace the true identity of a writer, and we don’t worry about casual interest. Only the truly interested could pose a potential problem down the line.
Most authors who opt for a nom de plume do so for reasons of branding. They may want to publish under different names for different genres of writing, or re-invent themselves after a less than brilliantly successful debut. Or, like Anne-with-an-E, they may find their legal name uninspiring.
"Oh, I'm not ashamed of it," explained Anne, "only I like Cordelia better. I've always imagined that my name was Cordelia—at least, I always have of late years. When I was young I used to imagine it was Geraldine, but I like Cordelia better now. But if you call me Anne please call me Anne spelled with an E."
"What difference does it make how it's spelled?" asked Marilla with another rusty smile as she picked up the teapot.
"Oh, it makes SUCH a difference. It LOOKS so much nicer. When you hear a name pronounced can't you always see it in your mind, just as if it was printed out? I can; and A-n-n looks dreadful, but A-n-n-e looks so much more distinguished. If you'll only call me Anne spelled with an E I shall try to reconcile myself to not being called Cordelia."
I have come a full circle from my days as Skippy. I have made peace with my legal name, and branding is something I still can’t wrap my head around. I seek authenticity in what I read and what I write.
But every now and then, I wonder.
D. D. Durk?
Ah, the possibilities.
Who would you be?