What’s In A Name?

What’s In A Name?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
    1. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
How your name looks in different fonts is more important than you might think.

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.

“Kilmister” doesn’t seem INappropriate for my approach to character deaths, though.

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!

15 thoughts on “What’s In A Name?

  1. Several reasonably famous authors use a different name for each segment of their work, e.g. romantic fantasy, traditional fantasy, romantic urban fantasy, … Not because they don’t want readers to connect them, but because Amazon sorts on author name, so having everything in a single name can make it harder for readers to know which books are like others. Some of them even put all their other pen-names in the description field so readers can find the other versions of them. So you could have several names on the go for different reasons.

    If you aren’t using your own name, I recommend picking something that doesn’t bring up anything on Amazon (or at least as little as possible), so that anyone who wants to recommend on of your books can say “You really need to read Eggplant ElephantEater; they’re the best author ever” and the person they’re speaking to won’t have the extra step of working out which Eggplant ElephantEater they mean.

    For the avoidance of doubt, I absolutely think you should use Eggplant ElephantEater; it definitely isn’t just for example purposes.

    1. It would probably have to be Aubergine ElephantEater, since I’m British, which doesn’t have quite the same alliterative ring…

      And yeah, you’re right. I mean, I don’t know if I’ll ever write anything that suits the Miriam Joy name, but I can see the multiple names field being a way of transitioning between them so that people can still find me. There’s another Miriam Joy (she writes books about batik and other craft stuff, and sometimes they get attributed to me on Goodreads), which isn’t something I considered when choosing my name. Literally no one has my mum’s maiden name, though, it’s a really rare name, which could be beneficial. If I felt able to and chose to use it. I’d probably have to consult my relatives who still use it as their actual name, though.

  2. M.J. Longman doesn’t sound bad. Alternatively, you could switch your initials– J.M. Longman.

    This is something I’ve thought about before. I used to go by Robyn Hoode online, certain that would one day be a writing pseudonym. It’s obviously not turned out that way, since I’m going by my real name now, but references to that name still show up, like in my Twitter Handle.

    Also, “Katie Nichols”… it just doesn’t sound like a name I want to be published under. It doesn’t strike me as fantasy writer at all. And that’s technically my “maiden name” (not married, but one day I might be and then what? Start writing under my married name? Keep my maiden name? It’s a mess.).

    I’ve started going by Kate in some places, which sounds a bit better to me. And I’ve decided that I want to be published under my grandmother’s maiden name– Dyer. I’ve thought about Kate Dyer or E.K. Dyer (my initials switched). But I don’t know.

    Done talking. I’m sure this was all very helpful. XD

    1. Is it bad that my first thought when I saw J.M. was just JAM? I was like, “I can’t be Jam Longman, that’s a terrible name.”

      Actually, the reason I originally used Miriam Joy rather than my surname was in case I got married. Which is really hilarious in hindsight as someone who ace/aro and never wants to get married, and wouldn’t necessarily change their name if they did, haha. I think most writers keep whatever name they were using beforehand and just use their married name (if they choose to change it) in their personal life, much like some teachers do if they don’t want to change it. But it’s all very difficult.

      1. Well, I actually thought JIM when I saw it so… you could take your initials, make up a new name for what they stand for, and be James Moriarty. ;)

        I’m also currently in the boat of not really wanting to get married, but I’m not ace. But that’s another discussion for another time… like never?

        Maggie Stiefvater has a cool name, but not is that her changed name, Stiefvater is her married name. Her example does not help us here. (One of the few times it doesn’t.)

        It occurs to me that I actually do write happy, sometimes romance-y stuff, and that Katie/Kate works with that, but I don’t actually want to be associated with the romance genre? I’d rather be associated with contemporary fantasy.

        1. I get the impression from her blog posts etc that Maggie Stiefvater got married super young, though — and anyway, she changed her name to Maggie, it was originally Heidi, so she’s already got multiple factors at play here, haha.

          Not wanting to get married is an entirely legit thing whatever your sexuality. Tbh I wasn’t that keen on the idea even before I figured out I was ace, though that’s something of a chicken and egg situation.

          A lot of YA and other books contain romance. I’m just incapable of writing relationships that don’t end badly or, on the rare occasions they’re lasting, they’re usually deeply messed up for other reasons. Yay.

  3. Well I have NO ADVICE. But I’m happy to come flop on my face in the carpet and wail piteously that I also hate my name and have since about forever. Parents. Sheesh. Why do they get to pick our names. I’m publishing under my initials because I like my last name (feels kinda German, NICE) but having people actually call me my full name of Caitlin just…ugh. It’s something I really truly hate and there is zero room left for me to do anything with it because I queried/signed an agent under that name. Haha. ANYWAY. Initials is my small decision! And my name means Pure and my middle name is Grace so. That’s just laughable with all the stabby, violent, dragonish books I write. :’)

    Anyway if it’s any consolation, people DO accept name changes on the internet pretty fast. My blog name change went over super easily. (I mean that’s different, but still a change.) So you could do it, and I’d recommend going for it while you’re not a, you know, super rich millionaire author. Or even don’t change what you’ve got already, just start building your platform again with the new name? Go under two names!

    1. I totally don’t have the organisational skills to have two names on the go in a professional capacity — I’m okay with having different names for public stuff and private stuff, but I wouldn’t want to start over with blog stuff or whatever, you know? Plus, I have spent quite a lot of years building up my various social media accounts as well as my blog, so I’d want to keep them, even if I had to change all my URLs.

      Is that the case, then, that you can’t change it once you’ve signed a contract? I know people who have changed their names when they’re already active in a professional capacity — I guess you’d just need to draw it up again and sign it again so that it remains binding under a new name. After all, people do change their name by deed poll all the time, for all sorts of reasons. My cousin’s recently changed her name because she didn’t like her old one. (And my sister’s considering changing her name legally to Bella, which is how most people know her, rather than Helena, which is her legal name. My family aren’t that great at sticking with the names we’re given.)

      My biggest problem would probably be to do with banks and so on. It’s already bad enough entering poetry competitions and being like, “So, I paid for it in the name of Miriam Longman, but I entered under the name of Miriam Joy,” and those are both obviously aspects of the same name — if they were more radically different I might have to think about setting up a bank account in a ‘company’ name for any authorial transactions, especially if they pay by cheque. Sigh. So complicated. I have no idea how to go about doing that sort of thing.

      I don’t mind the name Miriam generally, it’s a nice enough name and sometimes I wish it wasn’t mine so I could give it to characters. It’s just it doesn’t suit my purposes in this instance.

  4. Yeah, she was like 19, I think.

    Thing is I’m not sure I’m actually writing YA anymore? My characters for the last two stories have been in their 20’s. That is literally the only reason it couldn’t be YA, though, but I think that’s what distinguishes YA and NA. So… *shrug* I don’t even know. And the situations are such that I can’t just change the number. No teenager owns a magic china shop or is a professional dragon racer (okay, maybe some could be but there are no present parents here). Anyway….

    Not wanting to get married is a fairly recent development for me. And maybe I’ll change my mind one day, but I’d just like some friends for right now, not a spouse.

    1. Yeah, I’ve struggled with that too. But I’ve heard that a lot of publishers and agents and so on aren’t keen on NA as a thing because it tends to manifest just as YA + sex — I went to a talk and I’ve read a few blog posts where the verdict was age the story up and make it Adult or age the characters down and make it YA. I have the problem with the Moth Trilogy that Isabel starts out 16 but by book two she’s 20 and it’s like WHAT GENRE IS THIS SERIES AHHH. (And pfft, since when was YA [a] realistic and [b] full of parents?!)

      1. (Point. YA with good parents and reality is… rare. And probably boring.) Maybe my next story will actually have teens. But who knows? I’m a plot bunny chaser, not a category writer.

        1. I’m very bad at writing good familial relationships, I have to admit. The best families in my books are always the ‘found’ families and unconventional setups — most of my characters have terrible birth parents. But to be fair, a lot of what I write is based on medieval Irish lit and people are always killing their own children and so on in that.

  5. I’ve always been partial to using my entire name myself. My first name is terribly boring, and apparently impossible to spell. My last name is just incredibly boring. But my middle name is fairly unique and interesting. I have toyed with just going by my middle name when I write, but now that I’ve been writing this long under the whole name, I’m not sure it would be a good idea to change.

    1. That’s fair! Weirdly, I know a LOT more people with Joy as a middle name than people who have it as a first name. It seems to be one of those names that’s seen as more suitable to be a middle name, and as a result, it’s not very unique at all.

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