In some ways, I feel like I’ve been struggling with my name since I started this blog, and probably beforehand. I posted about that in 2015, and almost five years later, I still feel completely stuck on the name thing.
What I’ve come to admit, pretty soon after writing that post, is that I just don’t like this pen name I’ve chosen. I liked Emilia Jordan as a whole but I never stopped to ask myself if I liked Emilia alone, if I could get used to being called that, and the answer ended up being no, I don’t and I couldn’t. It was a bit rash at the time – I so badly wanted to launch my site and get things off the ground that I didn’t let the name sit. If I had, I think even for a week, I would’ve gone with something else. I had almost immediate Pen Name Chooser’s Regret over not going with April as the first name.
So, it has left me stuck now, for years. Do I go with my real name? Do I forge ahead with Emilia Jordan even though I don’t really like it? Do I pick something new with April as the first name? I’m still mulling it over, and still feel like I can’t submit any writing until I decide, coalesce everything into one name.
The main reason I’m writing this post is to sort out my own thoughts on what to do. I want to consider all the options.
Quandary One – to pen name or not to pen name?
This one has some obvious pluses and minuses, and it’s sometimes hard for me to sort them out.
Pluses: I like my real name, or the version of it I go by. I think I’ve mentioned on here before that I have synesthesia where I see letters and numbers as colors, and the name I go by is very aesthetically pleasing to me in my synesthetic brain. Its numerology is auspicious. I like the way it looks. I’m obviously comfortable with it, and it would be the simplest to use, even in things like getting mail. I’ve had certain things addressed to Emilia Jordan get returned to sender, and it once became an issue in a contract-related thing. Using my real name would avoid that hassle. Also, anything I’ve ever published, or won any writing award for, is under my real name. And I just like it. And sometimes it feels like to be truly “artistically pure” I would have to use my real name.
Minuses: There are a whole bunch of other serious hassles that come with using my real name, especially in the age of Google and social media. Several years back, a job interview went haywire because back then I was blogging under my real name and the job interviewers had learned of my disability from my blog and thought it was okay and appropriate to talk to me like I was five. They also had clearly decided not to hire me before I even got there, and had all kinds of “we can’t say we won’t hire you because of disability but we’re not hiring you because of disability” excuses all lined up before I even sat down. I don’t usually disclose disability in job applications. I wish we lived in a world where I could and it wouldn’t be a big deal, but I used to, and as soon as I took any disclosure off my job materials, I got so many more interviews, callbacks, etc, so I know from experience that people being able to find this out about me ahead of time has real-life repercussions. I don’t want to repeat that experience. I want my competence to speak for itself, instead of situations where it’s already decided before I arrive.
I also want to be able to write freely, and that sometimes, maybe often, means writing things that wouldn’t be so job-appropriate, but you know, I also want to work. I’m not the quit your day job to write type–been there, done that, didn’t like it one bit–so the hirability piece of things is really important, but so is artistic freedom. It seems a safer bet to keep these things separate, to not leave all these treasures for potential employers to find at first blush of Google search, and if I got more writing published under my real name, then obviously it would leave exactly such treasures.
The other thing, and this is a big sticking point for me, is that I write about real life and I’m very conscious that I’m choosing that, to write about my life, taking that risk of making some of my stories public, but that other people connected to me didn’t make that choice. I will always change everyone’s names–some people find that disingenuous but I don’t care, it’s not changing the heart of anything to use a simple search and replace, and I always go back to the fact that I’m choosing to be written about and other people aren’t–but there are concerns that go beyond that. Obviously, people will recognize themselves in my writing. If I say something about a friend who lived in a blue house who I became friends with in fifth grade, with all kinds of details about what we did together, that friend will know it’s her no matter what name I use. Same goes for family members, teachers, coworkers, ex-lovers, and so on. But that’s more between me and them. If I use my real name, I worry about people facing real life questions. I know this is thinking too far down the line, to things that may not ever happen, but let’s say something I wrote, and I mostly write memoir and personal essay, got a good amount of circulation at some point, and then people who are associated with me, especially people who share a last name, might face questions about things, let’s say from a neighbor or coworker or other rando who totally wouldn’t associate that person with me if I were using a pen name.
I just keep going back to choice, that I’m choosing to put aspects of my life out there, that other people aren’t, and want to be as fair as possible about that. Wanting to be fair and also valuing honesty in creative work. There are things that have had huge impacts on my life that I can’t write about without writing about other people, but those other people might not want those things known. And who knows, probably my work will never be that widely distributed for it to be an issue (I still dream of seeing my name, real or fake, on a book someday but who knows if that’ll happen, or if it’d have much traction if it did) but still I think about this. And in this social media age, writing pieces seem to get around much more easily, and it’s hard to predict. I’ve come to realize in recent years that fairness is probably my corest of core values, not that I always live up to it but I strive to it and it courses through my blood as a guiding principle.
Overall, I’m leaning towards not using it. In some cases, I would, like screenplays. I don’t think people really use pen names for screenplays and even if loosely based on real things (pretty much all my screenplays have visually-impaired characters), they’re not directly autobiographical so it doesn’t feel like it carries the same risks as prose writing, for me or for others.
And also, when I think of the hurtles of having a pen name – the mail thing, etc – these are hurtles that so many writers have already dealt with. It’s not like I’d be forging into the great unknown with no roadmap. People have been figuring this out for centuries.
Quandary Two – keep this pen name or start fresh?
Each option here also has pluses and minuses. I’m heavily leaning towards starting new. I really don’t love Emilia Jordan. That, and I realize that it was pretty dumb to pick a name that no one can pronounce or spell. Kinda seems like pen name 101 – it should be easy to say, easy to spell, easy to look up, and so forth. So many people were never able to find me. Even when I did spell it out, it just never seemed to click. It was like my name actually discouraged people finding me, connecting with me online, and so forth. And I just don’t like Emilia as a first name. It’s not so great on its own, aesthetically, synesthetically. I think I’ve grown to dislike it more over time. To be totally honest, I picked it at the height of my Breaking Bad obsession, and I wanted a name that could in some way be an allusion to Breaking Bad (EmiliO is the character who gets killed off in the first episode, and though that is admittedly a weird allusion to make, I liked it) and that is something that no longer feels important to me. Also, I could be wrong about this but I think Emilia is an Italian name and I am not in any way Italian (I’m Irish) so something about that felt disingenuous to me too. It just never felt right as a name and I felt like once I started, I tried so hard to make it work, thought if I stuck with it long enough it would, but it hasn’t.
I want the first name April. I wanted the first name April the first time around when I was choosing and didn’t choose it for reasons like someone I used to know who I had a falling out with like a decade ago at that point had that name, someone I knew was in love with someone with that name, I had been using June as my fake name for my sister in my writing and it would be weird to have us both named after months, and on and on. But that’s the name I wanted if I couldn’t use my own. The fact that I still feel that way, almost eight years later (I launched this site in early June 2012) tells me it would probably stick as a name I like.
I know the last name I’d use too, but not going to reveal that just yet. When I first started revisiting the idea of re-naming my writing self, I decided kinda early on that I wanted a female first name as my pseudonym last name. There are so many male first names that are also last names and I wanted to do something like that with a female one. Also, April’s a common name, so put April with just about any last name and there’s already some well-known people with that name, domain taken, etc, so putting it with something that is not a typical last name avoids that, while still being a common name people are familiar with and can spell and say. There is someone on Twitter with my desired handle (with like one tweet a million years ago) but I can always add a number or whatever.
I’ve sat on the new name since November, so for almost six months now, and though I’ve considered others, I always come back to it and it’s been steady. What holds me back is mostly two things. One is the fear that I’m not “artistically pure enough” if I don’t use my real name, and afraid I’m “supposed” to use my real name and if I don’t I get punished with rejection letters.
The other is fear over my own technological ineptness – I don’t know how to migrate this site over to a new name. I don’t even post that much here, clearly, but I’d still like to have the site. I don’t know if that would mean combing through every post that links to other posts within the site and changing the url in the internal links? Would trying to change domains be a shit show? Would I be able to change my Emilia Jordan writer FB page over to a new name with a new URL? My Twitter (I think yes on this one? I read somewhere people can now change handles)? Get a new email address at my new domain and figure out how to set that all up (I did it once but Idk that I could do it again)? I’m so daunted by it that I haven’t done it and have wanted to, to varying degrees, for years now. And I’ve held back on doing anything with my writing for so long because I feel stuck by this (and other things but this is a huge one).
It occurs to me as I write this and it never occurred to me earlier, which is maybe the whole point to write things like this, like thinking out loud, that I could probably hire someone to do a lot of the technical side of things. I could probably find someone who’s familiar enough with wordpress to know or figure out more easily than I could whatall needs to be done and what would or wouldn’t work or if I need to build a new site from scratch (I reeeeeally hope not).
Lots to think about.