First, I posted a note from a Wonderful Reader who is struggling with a tough issue: her family does not like her pen name! In fact, it’s interfering with some of her familial relationships, and it might be affecting her writing:
I have a question. My pen name is my grandmother’s name. It took a long time and a lot of thought to chose that name, but now various members of the family (grandchildren and great-grandchildren of all things — she’s been dead for over 60 years and I never knew her) are offended that I’m publishing, even daring to blog in her name. Should I change to make them all happy? Should I write only “nice” things under that name? I’d love to know how you came to your name and what you think.
Even after reading your comments, I generally felt pretty good about my response. I couldn’t compete with the many personal stories about choosing a pen name or dealing with family. But I think I got the important themes right. In short, my advice was to break down the decision into three options: keep it, drop it, or discuss it with your family so you all are on the same page about what you’re doing and why. The main point I wanted to make was that there are probably larger issues of self-esteem and control – issues that could be due to writing (or even life, really) and might arise no matter what pen name the reader is using. Does the reader feel like her family doesn’t respect her and the things that are important to her? That’s a larger issue that should be considered as part of the resolution.
There’s one thing that bothered me about this. I never really like those advice columnist that boil everything down to two things: 1) seek professional help, or 2) communicate better. Thank you, Captain Obvious! While that may be fine advice, even the BEST advice, it doesn’t really solve every problem. Not everyone wants to head to a professional to deal with each and every problem. (Some no doubt do want to and/or should – I’m not trying to say there aren’t serious problems people have!) And communicating better is often impossible. We deal with people all the time who don’t listen to us! That’s probably the reader’s problem in the first place! There are WHOLE SOCIETIES that are uncomfortable talking through issues. Do we really think the reader is going to solve her problems that way? Maybe. But it might not be practical.
I’m reminded of a story about Bill Murray when he was directing his first movie. He was asked to describe the kind of advice he gave to actors, and he said he tried to be practical. A Method Actor might come up to him and say, “I’m supposed to look like I’m in pain in this scene. What should I be thinking about? What do I need to know in order to get the sense of pain to come across in the scene?” And Bill Murray would shrug and roll his eyes, and then look at one of the crew and say, “Somebody go find a rock to put in this guy’s shoe.”
Practical advice! A few of you pointed out what I thought would be a great option. Not communication, not choosing between two bad options, but another way out. Here it is:
Alter the name slightly.
That’s it! Add an initial. Change the spelling. Change the first name to an initial. Substitute a middle name – maybe your own – for the first name. Or reverse them – lots of last names are even cooler first names.
That strikes me as very good advice. You still get to honor your relative. You don’t have to feel like your family gets to push you around. You’re free to write whatever you want. Your relatives should accept that you’re being reasonable and (hopefully) won’t feel as attached to the modified name. Win win win win win! (Maybe.)
I feel like I missed that one. Crowd sourcing is a good thing, people!
So what happened?
Jacke, Thank you for the thoughtful answer. I think this would make a great front page discussion topic. Call me a wimp. I took down the offending pages and put up something else. I guess I am hurt and at the same time, I think I caused several people anguish–especially my mother. So, I’d rather not revisit the issue, but I do think it would be interesting to learn what other people have said or done under other names. Is there a way to promote your words and restate the question at the beginning “from a fellow blogger” or something? I don’t think any of my family normally blog or follow such pages, but they might now.
I don’t think you’re a wimp! I think you’re thoughtful and kind and what sounds to me like an excellent daughter. Thanks for starting the discussion, and good luck to you with your writing!
Hey, I had a blast on this one. Any other writers out there with a problem? Or do you have a problem about anything else? If I think I can help, I’m glad to try. Just leave a comment or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Ask Jacke” in the title.