Friday, August 30, 2019

Moonlight Musings

How exciting to see the new ‘interactive’ Moonlight Musings hosted by Magaly get such a great response. There will be more!

Meanwhile this is the regular version, where we invite discussion in the comments but don’t ask you to write any creative pieces on the topic (unless you're overwhelmingly inspired to do so – in which case you might care to share them at a future Poetry Pantry).

Today I am wondering: 

What Name Are You Making?

As a writer, do you use your own name?

Or – in some cases – which of your own names do you use?

Do you write under your real name or a pseudonym?

Does every writer face the decision whether to use their own name or a pen-name? Or does it never occur to some of us to be known as anything but ourselves?

I was still a schoolgirl when I started to speak about choosing ’writer’ (or, even more daringly, ‘poet’) as a profession. Some people asked if I was going to take a pen-name. The question surprised me; I hadn’t thought of such a possibility. When I did, I quickly decided that I wanted to stand behind what I wrote, and that seemed to mean using my own name. I wanted to write so honestly that I could face being called on it. (Whilst understanding that truth and fact are not necessarily the same, and aiming for authenticity in my fictions too.)

But I didn’t like the surname I was born with. Luckily, my writings as Rosemary Robinson appeared only in school magazines. By the time I wanted to go more public, I had a married name: Nissen. 

So I did use my own name, legally mine, just not the one I was born with. (I felt a bit sorry sometimes that schoolteachers and classmates who knew me as Rosemary Robinson would never find out I had fulfilled the writerly promise they once saw in me – but not sorry enough to use the old name.)

That was all right until, many years later, I divorced and remarried.

The complications of changing one's name

In a women writers’ group recently, someone asked about the wisdom of hyphenating her name after a forthcoming marriage – her name as a writer, that is – or sticking to a byline she’s already known by, and using different names in public and private. 

‘Stick with what you’re known as,’ most people advised. It did seem like good advice. I’d received the same myself, after remarrying. 

‘You’ve already got a name,’ my poet friends said, meaning a name as a poet. ‘You’d be mad to change it.’ Not only had I been widely published in magazines and anthologies as Rosemary Nissen, and established the name as a performance poet, I’d had two books published with that authorship.

I considered the distinguished Australian poet Judith Rodriguez. As a young woman she started being published, to some notice, as Judith Green. On marrying she changed her name both privately and professionally to Rodriguez, and went on to great acclaim. When she and her first husband divorced after many years of marriage and she married fellow-poet Thomas Shapcott, she continued to write and publish as Judith Rodriguez. I'm sure it never occurred to her to do anything else. It was a very big name by then, very well established.

On the other hand, the younger poet Liz Hall, who had also made a name for herself (if not quite to the same degree) hyphenated her name on marrying and became Liz Hall-Downs. Similarly, poet and children's author Paty Marshall, well-known by that name, on marrying a second time became Paty Marshall-Stace. It seemed to work for them.

Andrew Wade and I moved interstate soon after marrying, where no-one had heard of me as a poet, and everyone knew us as Mr and Mrs Wade. Hyphenating seemed the way to go.

It wasn’t the best idea, professionally. Melbourne people still thought of me as Rosemary Nissen and Murwillumbah people knew me as Rosemary Wade. And, having moved from a major city with a thriving poetry scene to a small country town with none, I embraced the online poetry world instead. That didn’t help. 

I almost disappeared! When I sometimes reconnected with people I’d known previously in literary circles (other than close friends) it wasn’t uncommon for them to say, 

‘Oh – Rosemary NISSEN! NOW I get it.’

Gradually I made a name as Rosemary Nissen-Wade, and there are people now who understand that Rosemary Nissen and Rosemary Nissen-Wade are the same. But it’s taken two decades! Meanwhile some editors who knew me back when, and also know I’m now Rosemary Nissen-Wade, have still published me as Rosemary Nissen (without consultation). Others, who didn’t know me before, have put my name in the index under W instead of N, though I thought the hyphen would have ensured otherwise (so again I disappear).

Perhaps I should have expected it. My husband Andrew was christened Ewart Wade, by which name he was known as a film editor and as a writer and publisher for the Australian film industry. He told me he'd hated his first name and got sick of people spelling it Uitt or pronouncing it ee-wart, so he changed it legally to Andrew (because he had a girlfriend at the time whose children said he looked like an Andrew) – and promptly disappeared for many people. Later, as Andrew E Wade, he was a journalist and a children's author. Because of the name change, it was as if there were not only two different careers but two different people having them.

Embracing the Invention

My friend Helen Patrice (fiction writer, non-fiction writer and poet) published as Helen Sargeant when she was young and single. It was her name, but she didn’t like the surname much. She didn’t particularly care for her married surname either, and it’s lucky she never used it for her writing because that marriage ended early. During the longish period before marrying a second time, she decided to select her own surname. She chose Patrice because (a) many women were choosing women’s names as surnames at the time, and (b) she fell in love with the name after seeing a newsreader whose first name was Patrice. She says she ‘test drove it’ for a couple of years, then adopted it legally.

I asked her what were the ramifications. She said:

‘Basically, having to start over. People not connecting the two identities despite it being no secret. Having someone tell me that I wrote like Helen Sargeant, who suddenly stopped writing, probably died.’ 

Like me, she has now forged her writing identity under the new name – and it’s on the covers of her published books – but it took a while.

Prominent spoken-word poet Tug Dumbly must have taken that name early in his career. In his recent book Son Songs, he describes that name as ‘the pseudonym that swallowed the man formerly – and in some parts still – known as Geoffrey Robert Forrester (which is a better literary name)'. Is there a tinge of regret inside those brackets? Tug Dumbly must have seemed like a great name for a performance poet when he adopted it, and he probably didn’t realise how respected a poet he would become. But he’s earned the acclaim and it’d be crazy to change such a well-known name now.

Blogging names

What of those who use pseudonyms on their blogs? Many who do so still let it be known who they really are. Others have always been more firmly anonymous, or at least pseudonymous, not revealing any personal details. 

I have the impression that most use their real names when they publish a book. I can think of several from this community who have done so.

In conclusion

Yes, I suppose it all comes down to what we intend to do with our writings, both in the short and long term. Yet how can we know from the beginning where this path will take us? 

If we want our work to be remembered, does it even matter what name it is remembered by? It’s Alice in Wonderland we love, whether it’s by Lewis Carol or the Rev Charles Dodgson. We don’t need to know the full name of Dr Seuss to be able to quote from his books. Would John Le Carré’s or George Orwell’s works chill us any more or any less under their authors' real names? There are many such examples. Pablo Neruda, Stendahl, Voltaire, Henry Handel Richardson, Mark Twain, James Herriot, Bob Dylan….

Meanwhile, a new performance venue in my little country town is flourishing. As a regular, I am becoming known simply as Rosemary. People who know me only from that context greet me by name in the street. Rosemary the poet. I love it!

And you?

What name are you making for yourself? What if your writing should achieve lasting fame – who would you want to be remembered as?

Note: I use myself and people I know here because I am familiar with those particular details. (Except for Paty Marshall-Stace, they have all previously been featured at Poets United.)


  1. I go by a reconfiguration of my government name. Not only because my name would be butchered if anyone dared to pronounce it but because my creative and artistic side is only a portion of me and my personality.

    In therapy I have learned of these internal family systems that we set up within ourselves for safety, protection, and expressions of our unique personalities. Some are parental and conscience bound. Some are childlike and vulnerable with a sense of wonder and excitement. Another might be cynical or prone to anger. But most writers have one that is creative and expressive, telling the story of the other parts. To give him a name he did not choose for himself seemed wrong. He would be hidden again behind me as he had been my whole life and it was time for him to be seen as the individual that he is. And that happens to be Shawn Renee.

    1. An approach at once fascinating and very valid. Thanks for sharing.

      Hard to butcher my name – except that people always have to be told, 'It's not NissAn as in car but NissEn'. (I used to say, 'NissEn as in hut' but these days no-one remembers what a Nissen hut even was.)

  2. An interesting topic, Rosemary. The name i was known by as a young writer was my maiden name. After my divorce, i wanted neither my married ormaidenname. But lugged my married name around because of my kids, and so became known by it for a time. When i began writing online i took my grandma's name, Marr, and now am well known by that name, online and in Tofino. I am changing it legally to Marr at this late date because it gets confusing having a legal name and a writing name. Should have done it decades ago but life gets busy, lol.

    1. Now that Andrew is no longer with us, I am thinking of becoming 'Nissen-Wade' legally. I'm told that if you use a name and are widely known by it, it has legal status – but it's still confusing if there are two. And since I use Nissen-Wade online, as well as professionally off-line, there are now many people who assume that is the legal and only name.

  3. My writing / spoken name is: [Ron. Lavalette]. Note the period. My name is Ronald Lavalette. I’ve never liked Ronald. No one ever calls me Ronald; at least they don’t do so more than once. Ron., please.

    My family, when I was young, all called me Ronnie. Ick. I dislike that even more than Ronald. As soon as I realized I was old enough to tell people what to call me, I told them to call me Ron. Period.

    My writing name has always been [Ron.]. When I’m notified by an editor/publisher that my work has been accepted for publication, I always send a “thank you” and call their attention to my Bio, pointing out the period (just in case they missed it), and asking them (nicely) to ensure that my writing name appears correctly in the Contributors Notes.

    I’m fully aware that to some folks this seems like a trivial & vain affectation, but it’s been my trivial and vain affectation for my entire writing lifetime, and it matters to me. After all, if lower case unpunctuated initials were good enough for e e cummings and an abbreviated first name was good enough for Geo. Washington, why shouldn’t I, too, be afforded the same allowance, eh?

    1. You definitely have the right to the name of your choice!

      When I was young, most people abbreviated my first name to Rose or Rosie. It never occurred to me I could stop them. When Bill Nissen entered my life, he said, 'You have a beautiful name. You should use it.' (My mother, who gave it to me because she thought it a beautiful name, was delighted.) Now, if anyone attempts to abbreviate it – which I know they mean as friendly – I smile sweetly and say, 'My friends call me Rosemary'. That does the trick.

  4. I have two pseudonyms, one that I've used for a looong time is also a reconfiguration of my name, the other is one I've picked up when I starting writing blogs, "Jimmiehov".

    I have two blogs active now, ones I started with in 2005. One more I post when I feel like posting which has been about three times a year or less, a tongue-in-cheek Q&A blog in 2096--"Ask Dr. Jim (blog)".

    I have nine other blogs, some are stagnant, one tends to be seasonal and on which I will sometimes post for a specific readership, i.e. family, etc. Another is my private writing blog of which I am the only invited reader.

    I blog for fun and to satisfy a personal urge to write. 801 "poems" are labeled "poem", 557 are "Toads" or "Real Toads", and 300 or so with variations of "OSI".

    1. Ha ha, I have a number of blogs too, including some which are now archival and a personal journal 'of which I am the only invited reader'. The archival ones include three which were Andrew's when he was alive, for which I have taken over responsibility. (I had the password, with his full knowledge and consent.)

  5. You've picked an interesting topic Rosemary. When I left my career back in 2017, I was known as Linda Lyberg (my married name), and my nickname sometimes was "Double L." Those close to me knew my initials were actually LLL- Linda Lee Lyberg. When I decided to establish myself as a writer, I didn't want to be associated with my work career, which although lucrative, was not the 'real 'me, merely a facet. I wanted to be true to myself, and in doing so, I went with my whole name as a writer. What's amazing is I have had people from my work life who are still friends say to me- Wow, I knew you could write (my inspiring emails to my team were always impeccable), but I didn't know you could write like this! Many people didn't know the real me. When you are a senior executive, you keep your distance. Now, I'm out there, exposed to the world, and I love it!

    1. It's a very distinctive name, which is good for a writer, and the alliteration is attractive and memorable. And if you Google it, you will probably find you are the only Linda Lee Lyberg in the world (just as I am the only Rosemary Nissen-Wade, though there are other Rosemary Wades and even Rosemary Nissens).

  6. I always enjoy your musings, and thank you for keeping this regular version as well.

    I really enjoyed reading about how your “writer” name came about. And also the names of the writers and poets you talk about.

    You also pose a very interesting question, “What Name Are You Making?” Honestly, it’s something I never thought much about. I guess because I started writing late, and just went with my married surname.

    But I can relate with 'almost disappearing', I used to have a personal/expat blog under a pseudonym. When I discontinued it, I lost contact with many bloggers I had made an acquaintance with. WordPress is a big world; it's not always easy to reconnect.

    But overall, I think writers have a leeway to reinvent themselves and choose whatever names “speak” to them. And as you put it, we can never fully know from the beginning where this path will take us. What speaks of a writer (for me) is their work and as in the examples you’ve given. I love George Orwell’s writings, I don’t know or really care what his really name was.

    Lastly, Rosemary the poet, is so fitting. I read somewhere something to this effect, "when one is so big, they don’t need a last name". Think about that! :)

    As for me? I’m still not sure if I want to be remembered as only a poet or a writer (a title that encompasses other works).

    Wow, thank you for this interesting topic, Rosemary!

    1. Oh, there was never any question of us not keeping this version. Magaly's is a bonus, not a replacement.

      Glad to know you like my Musings. EVERY time, I think 'Oh dear, they won't find this interesting' - but luckily you-all always do. I guess what preoccupies one poet will likely have been on others' minds as well.

  7. This is an interesting topic, and one which I have thought about from time to time.

    The first poetry I wrote was under my maiden name, Kim Sayers, and the first published poems in Germany were under that name. Then I married an Irishman and became Kim Bourke. That marriage didn’t last long, and it was quite a while before I remarried and became Kim Russell.

    My writer’s name includes my middle initial, Kim M. Russell, so as not to be confused with the American journalist of the same name.

    I’ve never considered a pseudonym, but I for a while I wondered about writing under my maiden name again, especially once both of my parents had passed away, in their honour, but, by then, I had already been published in several anthologies and had established my blog/website.

    1. I have sometimes wished I'd followed one early idea, to write under both my given names, as Rosemary Eve (using Eve like a surname) ... but it's too late now.

  8. This is très interesting Rosemary. I am Sumana Roy ('Roy' being my husband's surname) online and that is what I want to remain. I wonder if it can be treated as a officially (all my certificates, passport & other documents) I am Sumona Gangopadhhyay. In Bengal 'Gangopadhyay' is also known as 'Ganguli'. Many know me as Sumona ganguli too. I have kept 'ganguli' in my mail id. Yet In another important govt. document, my voter's ID, I am Sumona Roy, different from my online identity which has an 'a' instead of an 'o' in my first name. Apart from this I have other names too, known to my relatives. Oh! What a mess of alphabet! By the way 'Sumana' has a meaning. 'Su' in Sanskrit and Bengali means 'good' and 'Mana' means mind. I believe "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet" :)

    1. Gosh, Sumana, it sounds really complicated for you. Yet I note you seem to be making it all work, for each aspect of your many-faceted life. I think you have a very good mins (as well as a good heart) and I'm glad that's the one you use for your writing. I think you could say pen-name rather than pseudonym (as the latter might suggest fake) – though perhaps there is no need to say anything. Yes, I agree, it's not the name which makes the rose smell sweet or the poem resonate.

  9. This is really an interesting topic Rosemary. I have disliked my name 'Wendy' from the moment I realized that I wasn't a child, anymore. 'Wendy' does not age well … or at all (lol). I remember, years ago, hearing about a poet who had changed her Wendy-name to Gwendolyn, with the words: who would take anything a Wendy had to say seriously … it's a little girl's name … and not a real little girl, at that. It is from that 50's era of Debbie's, Cindy's, Susie's and Kathy's. Eventually the Debbie's returned to being Deborah's … the Cindy's to Cynthia's … etc. And the poor Wendy's (it seems to me) were left behind in that kiddie time warp. (I gather it is far more common - and probably better liked - in the UK because of the Peter Pan connection. But it is very out-of-fashion in Canada - and is often applied to literary/stage characters to imply a vacuous older child/woman.) Hence, I have yet to meet a Wendy who actually liked her name.

    Amongst family and friends, I have always gone by 'Wend' … and that was my preference for my pen name. As luck would have it, one of the first times I submitted a poem under the name of 'Wend', I was asked if it was a typo. S-o-o-o, reluctantly I went back to 'Wendy'. I do regret that decision and often wish I had just persevered and stuck with what I feel fits me best. But - it's just a name - so I try to be philosophic.

    An awesome post and conversation, Rosemary, and I've enjoyed reading both your essay and the comments it generated. One's name has so many issues and layers and emotions attached to it - more so, I think, when you put it 'out there' with your work. In a way the work and the writer's name become so intertwined.

    I suspect we've just scratched the surface of a very complicated - and fascinating - issue.

    1. Oh, I never thought of Wendy as childish myself – but then, I have never been in a position where I needed to give it much thought.

      Because I have read a lot of your poetry by now (and I suppose because I only know you online) I always think of you as 'Wendy Bourke', the whole thing, and I have expectations that this name will lead me to poetry I love reading.

      I think this might be worth noting: that the name, whatever it is, becomes associated with the writing, and it is the writing which drives the response to the name.

    2. What a lovely comment, Rosemary. Thank you.

  10. I've always loved my name. So I like using it. But like your post suggests there are many reasons for changes. I've been working on a children's book with a friend. She wants to co-publish. I'm not sure yet. However, if I do, I plan to use a pseudonym--I don't want young children running into my grown-up words by accident.

    1. With a name like yours, why wouldn't you love and embrace it?! And it seems to suit both your self and your writing.

      Nevertheless, your thoughts about the children's authorship are interesting, and I think very valid. Applause for considering such matters.

  11. How interesting! I read every story. There was a time that I called myself Sky, but that didn't last long. Now I like my name, and I am not published enough to consider how my last name Chast conjures up Roz Chast, the cartoonist. That isn't a bad association, is it?

    1. You are much more famous to me than some cartoonist I never heard of before! And he could do a lot worse than be associated with you. (Smile.)

  12. An interesting question you are asking, Rosemary.
    As a Chinese writing in the English language, does this makes it more interesting? Even the same Chinese surname or name in different dialects are pronounced differently.
    But i have come to a stage where if I am to publish a book, it will be under my real or given name. Then again, perhaps I am better known as dsnake1 in the blogosphere. 😁

    1. I think that when you publish your book (please, please!) it would be good to write something in the blurb, or even on the title page, to the effect that you blog as dsnake1 – incidentally, I've always wondered why – so that your readers make all the necessary connections.

  13. I started writing within the last 10 years. By that time I'd been married a long time and my married name became too connected to my identity. I'd never use my middle name because I detest it. So I'm simply Myrna Rosa. I don't think I'll ever publish enough that my name will be an issue.

    1. Well, it's a lovely name for a writer, and surely works well in any capacity. How lucky you are to have a name you like, which there is no need to change.


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