I’ve been struggling with names this week. I mean, I’ve also been struggling with the fact that I have two essays and dissertation work to do this week, when my doctor has just informed me that the horrendous headache I can’t get rid of is in fact a migraine and I want to do nothing except curl up in bed and pretend my head doesn’t exist until it goes away, but names have been on my mind.
Mostly the fact that I don’t like mine.
I’m not sure what triggered a resurgence of these feelings — whether I was trying to decide what name to use when signing a card, or whether it was because I wrote some articles for both Varsity and The Cambridge Student and needed to let them know how to credit me — but I’ve been questioning once again my decision to use the name ‘Miriam Joy’ for my writing. I mean, this is hardly the first time I’ve expressed doubts about that decision, and there’s nothing new to say, but still. It’s bothering me.
For those who haven’t heard me talk about this before, my uncertainties come down to a few things:
- The name Miriam Joy doesn’t really suit the style and genre of my writing. It sounds like I should be writing inspirational Christian fiction, when actually I write creepy, depressing books about fairies and assassins and bad people making poor life choices. Or, when I write happier books, they’re all obnoxiously, relentlessly queer. I feel I need a name that better expresses those ideas, and Miriam Joy isn’t it.
- It’s also extremely feminine, and I’m not. The Miriam part isn’t too bad (it can mean ‘bitterness’ and ‘rebellion’ as well as ‘longed-for child’, and those first two definitions are values I’m happy to embody, as long as the bitterness is the kind that drives you to prove people wrong and not the kind that eats you up from inside), but when combined with Joy it’s like, ‘Here is a meek feminine Biblical woman!’ And I’m not really any of those things.
- If you only know me online you may not have realised exactly how butch I am, because you know my name is Miriam Joy and you’ve heard me talk about ballet and knitting and writing and so on, none of which are at odds with femininity. However, those who know me IRL will have seen my super short hair, reluctance to wear dresses, and habit of moving and/or building furniture when I’m stressed, and will realise that ‘feminine’ is not an adjective that suits me very well.
- People often refer to authors by their surnames and I just don’t identify with being called ‘Joy’ because it’s not a name anyone uses for me. I mean, my surname would be weird too, but I don’t know, there’s something about it that just doesn’t fit.
- It’s annoying for cover design because of the shape of the letters, something I noticed when trying to make sure my name was lined up properly on the cover I made for Bard. My actual surname ends in N, a nice square letter that’s easier to line up. Do you have any idea how hard it is to tell whether a Y is correctly spaced? VERY, is the answer. This might seem mild, but I can assure you, it’s a consideration if I decide to continue with self-publishing of any sort, even if it’s just writing stories for Wattpad.
Anyway, I’ve been puzzling over this. I know that in some ways I would’ve been better off changing this a bit sooner, and I know that I also probably shouldn’t wait until, say, I’m published, because then it’d be way more complicated to change things. Sure, it would suck to have to redesign the covers for my poetry, come up with new usernames on every website ever, and change my email address… but better now, when my ‘audience’ is relatively small, than later, right?
I do know people who’ve successfully changed their names (usually because they’re trans, but some people who’ve just changed them for other reasons) partway through their careers as writers or similar, so it is possible. But it’s not easy.
The trouble is that it’s not a case of weighing up whether to change to a name I’ve settled on or whether to stick with my current one — I know that I don’t like my current one, but I don’t know what I’d change it to. While the obvious choice would be to opt for my surname, or even initials + surname if I wanted it to be gender neutral, I do enjoy the sense of separation from my personal life that comes from dropping that. Plus, searching for Longman on Amazon tends to churn up a lot of results entirely unrelated to me, most of them dictionaries.
There’s no connection between my family and Longman Publishing, by the way, if anyone was wondering. But I imagine people would assume there was if I started using that name.
I’ve considered asking my mum if I can use her maiden name, but it doesn’t suit the name Miriam all that well, so I’d probably have to go for initials there too, and I don’t know if I have a ‘claim’ to that name, as it were. Likewise, there are plenty of names further back in the family that have potential, but I’m not sure they’re mine to use.
I also have pseudonyms that I use when I want to be a little bit more anonymous on the internet, generally based on nicknames that my friends use. While there are a couple of these that are fairly well established (I have an email address for one of them, for example), switching to those would destroy the anonymity I enjoyed, and might mean I have to delete a couple of accounts if I don’t want them linked to my ‘public’ persona. Not that I’ve done anything illicit online, but when you’re trying to make a career as a writer you don’t necessarily want people to know the username of your AO3 account, nor do I want the whole world knowing it’s me in the comment section of Tab articles (because I like to rant).
If I were to switch now, then, I can see myself changing my mind in a few years’ time, just as I changed my mind since choosing the name Miriam Joy in 2011. It would be better to wait until I’m certain, but I feel I’m holding back from committing to anything or putting my name in print because I don’t know if I’m going to keep it and I don’t want to build up too much of an identity around it. Also, I have to find new hosting for my blog in the next couple of weeks, and if I were going to opt for a new URL, now might be the time.
(My YouTube channel is a whole other kettle of fish. I know that whatever I do, ‘Miriam Joy’ will remain as an online identity even if I request that people use whatever name I pick up, and it won’t ever be possible to pretend that name didn’t exist. Which is fine — the earliest videos on my channel, if any of them still exist, are under the name of MJ Longman and that’s still the URL, so it’s not like this hasn’t happened before. But it’s a consideration.)
I don’t entirely know what I’m hoping to achieve by blogging about this, because I’ve done so before and I haven’t reached any new conclusions. I guess I’m just looking for advice, or thoughts from people who’ve adopted a new name either professionally or personally, especially those who’ve done so after building up a considerable online presence. If you’ve got any, please share it!