Wednesday, 11 November 2009
Names and pseudonyms
Tom Cain (not his real name) and I had an interesting discussion about names at the last Curzon Group meeting, over a glass of red wine, olives, bread and humous . . . It’s a hard life, this author lark.
“What’s in a name?” Juliet demands. The name, she declaims, does not give the rose its delicate scent. Romeo would still be the same man under a different name. Yes, that’s true. But (always watch out for the ‘but’, I tell my students. It looks insignificant, but changes everything) Romeo is a Montague and that name, coupled with hers, spells tragedy.
One of the most powerful lines in Arthur Miller is John Proctor’s refusal to sign his name to a false confession. His inquisitors cannot understand why Proctor rejects their offer to save his life. All he has to do is sign his name and he will survive. He refuses, at the last minute, “Because it is my name.”
Why are names so important? Most of them are arbitrary and many are, frankly, weird, when you think about them.
As authors, I’m sure Tom and I are not alone in feeling a sense of liberation when using our pseudonyms. It is reminiscent of childhood make believe. It’s fun. When I give talks and sign books, I am not my usual shy, awkward, unprepossessing self. I step into role as The Author. However, this is not an act, any more than when I say I am a wife, or a mother, or a teacher. I am all of these things.
Using a pseudonym is like putting on a mask – not thinking Lord of the Flies here, (although maybe that’s not so far off the mark?) more Venice carnival . . .
As for names of characters in my books – that’s a whole discussion in itself.
As Juliet discovers, names are so unimportant, but they can change everything.
Leigh Russell (not my real name)