Pseudonyms and True Names: The Sacred Power of Identity

Kel Campbell is not my name.

I created the pseudonym because I didn’t want to invite internet poison into the places that I live, breath or work. After borrowing syllables and sounds from siblings and friends, I had a name — two words, eleven letters — that would act as a shield, or at least a front. But Kel has become something more than that. She has become a person in my mind, with a face and personality and story that aren’t my own. Apparently this isn’t without precedent. Here’s Stephen King on his creation, Richard Bachman:

“Then he began to grow and come alive, as the creatures of a writer’s imagination so frequently do. I began to imagine his life as a dairy farmer… his wife, the beautiful Claudia Inez Bachman… his solitary New Hampshire mornings, spent milking the cows, getting in the wood, and thinking about his stories…his evenings spent writing these stories, always with a glass of whiskey beside his Olivetti typewriter.”

I commented on a piece not too long ago, and very innocuously asked why men always wanted us ladies to smile. A man answered back, “Probably because you’re a bitch.” It was surprising (and nonsensical) since the nature of my question was more scientific in nature than interrogatory. His comment did sting a little, but not much. Because Kel took it. It made me feel good to hide inside of her. I thought back to Ursula K. Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea, where every one in the whole world hid his or her true name. In Earthsea, knowing the name of a thing or person gives the caller power over the thing or person.

Have I gained power from withholding my name?

Kel Campbell wrote a piece of fiction. As for me, I’ve never touched the stuff; never had the self-esteem for it. Where did it come from? Was it something that I’d nurtured inside of me for all of these years, or was it able to make its way to the surface through the much bolder Kel Campbell? After all, I took the name from the strongest women I know. Did I absorb their powers when I took up their names? Did I fold them into my persona while I kept the fragile me hidden, like a prized locket picture?

Perhaps Kel is more me than I am. In The Matrix, Mr. Anderson was no more real than his universe. It wasn’t until he truly embodied Neo that he was fully formed. Because we come into the world as our name, we never have the opportunity to form a person in our own image. If we’re a Kelly, we get treated like a Kelly. If we’re an Agnes, we get treated like an Agnes. Linguistically and through deeply-held associations, there are already assumptions about who we are from a name that is supposedly “true.”

It’s a peculiar sensation to deny yourself to the world. There’s an old saying that we each die two deaths: The first when we physically die and the second when the last person speaks our name for the last time. What if Kel is able to write something so truly beautiful and real that others read it, long after she typed the sentences? It will be her name that the world speaks, not my own. In a way, it’s already a death.

NOTE: No Kel Campbells were high during the making of this piece, no matter what it sounds like.