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)


  1. Indeed. It only takes a small tweak to the name. I used to be known as Matthew before the Headline sales director decided Matt was better. As a journalist, I still am. But already Matt feels like a sligtly different person.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Only sligtly, Matt? (sent from my glasshouse) - (as was the deleted comment, complete with typo)
    Leigh (did you guess?)

  4. Hi Leigh

    It seems that writers are called upon to be performers more now than ever before, and you can't behave like the life and soul of the party 24 hours a day without those poor people who have to live with you on a daily basis being forced to go straight for your heart through the hankie pocket with a bread knife.

    So, I think putting on a public face, along with another name, allows you to take it off again in private.

  5. Yes, Zoe, I agree there is definitely an element of wanting to protect privacy. I keep the bread knife blunt though, just in case . . .