A Frustrating Dilemma: My Name is Not My Own

To pseudonym or not to pseudonym?

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When I recently decided to dive into publishing my writing online, I confronted a question I’m sure many writers have grappled with.

Do I publish under my real name or a pseudonym?

It’s a serious conundrum, deserving of some serious consideration. The internet is forever so even though I can change it later, whatever name I initially choose will be associated with at least some of what I publish for all eternity.

Some of my favourite authors have used pseudonyms — George Eliot, the Brontë sisters, George Orwell, Robert Galbraith, to name just a few — and for various reasons. Eliot and the Brontës published under male pseudonyms because of negative attitudes toward women writers at the time. Orwell wanted to protect his family from any potential embarrassment his work may have caused them. And Galbraith was making a fresh start in a new genre and was hoping to succeed or fail without any undue influence from his (her?) previous success.

But none of those reasons apply to me. Sexism may be very much alive and well but anyone who reads my stuff will know I’m a woman regardless of what my byline says. My family connections are tenuous at best — for good reason — so embarrassing them is the least of my worries. And my previous successes are too small and obscure to be of any concern.

I’ve heard the idea that in the age of cyber-stalking you’d have to be crazy to use your real name. Really? Yes, it happens, and yes, it’s horrible, but how big of a concern can it really be? Haters are everywhere and online bullies can be astonishingly cruel, but they can also be ignored — or blocked, if necessary. And let’s face it — I’m just not that interesting. How many stalkers are likely to find me in the first place? I simply refuse to use a pseudonym out of fear that some anonymous troll — who is probably hiding behind a fake name himself — might decide to harass me. If I start out like that, the trolls have already won.

Friends have also suggested I use a pen name because to do so would allow me to create a persona and that persona could write with abandon, voicing ideas, feelings, and situations that as myself, I might be too cautious to express. Hmmm… interesting idea, but it sounds a bit too much like what those anonymous trolls do, hiding behind fake names to spew vitriol they’re too cowardly to say under their real names. No, I think I’d rather write with abandon as myself and take responsibility for what I say.

Not only that, but I did try the persona thing once before. About a year ago, I started an anonymous site that I imagined as a boozy, feminist, lifestyle blog for women who prefer children at a safe distance and Bloody Marys for breakfast. I think I made half a dozen posts and shut it down. I still write those pieces sometimes — they’re a lot of fun and part of who I am — but a whole blog devoted to solely that one part of me was unsustainable. And to do it anonymously felt inauthentic.

So after dismissing every possible reason I could think of for writing under a pseudonym, I then had the additional dilemma of which ‘real’ name to use — the one on my birth certificate or the one people actually call me? Because for me, they’re not the same. The name on my birth certificate is a name no one has used to address me in decades, so if I published under that name, no one I know would ever recognize it as me. It’s so far removed from the reality of who I am in the world, it may as well be a pseudonym.

But the name people call me isn’t unique. There is an Olympic swimmer and a successful novelist who both share my name, though the swimmer spells hers with an extra l. I’m sure no one will ever mistake me for either of them — or them for me, for that matter — but still. I’d never want anyone to accuse me of trying to capitalize on someone else’s name but it’s my name, too, goddammit. Not to mention — yes, I’ll admit it — the egotistical urge to be uniquely recognizable by name. (Like that’ll ever happen.)

So what to do?

In the end, I decided to use my ‘real’ name, the one everyone knows me by, but with the addition of my middle initial to differentiate myself, even if only slightly, and even though Google will never, ever figure out that miniscule difference. That Google part doesn’t matter, though. I’m not here for fame or fortune, not by a long shot.

But if you do happen to stumble upon me, I’m happy for you to know me by my name. Hi, I’m Lily. This is me, the real me, in all my queer, feminist, opinionated, angry, profane, kind, messy, and imperfect glory. If you hate what I write, it’s all on me. And if you like it, well, I guess I’ll have to own that, too.

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Let me know in the comments if you write under your real name or a pseudonym — or both — and how you made the decision. Just curious. :)

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