Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What's in a name?

When i first started writing seriously, i decided to use a pen name. I planned to write YA fiction, and at the time i wanted to be a psychologist and to work with teens. I feared that people would think that my work was fictionalized case studies, and in order to draw a firm line between my creative writing and my counseling, i decided to do them each under a different name. After all, even if everyone in the world knew that the two identities were the same, by deliberately giving them each a different label, i would (i hoped) help my readers and clients to compartmentalize my work in the same way i did.

Because obviously, i would be such a famous writer and shrink that it would be virtually impossible for anyone to be unaware of my work in both fields, and if i wasn't up front about my ethical separation of the two, there would be a huge scandal and lots of interviews with Barbara Walters or Tim Russert about my deception of the American public. There is no arrogance quite like that of a fifteen-year-old who is the smartest employee at the sandwich shop. (I worked at a Quizno's in high school. Business was slow, so i would often write during down times. 75% of the other employees were high school dropouts, and the other 25% would probably never even apply to college, so yeah, i was the smartest one. Kind of like being valedictorian of summer school.)

As i began to write more and more and to expand my genres, i started to worry that people would read my poetry only in light of my short stories, or vice versa. Perhaps both were equally good, but people would hate one genre and love the other, simply because they had read my stories first and were disappointed by my poetry simply because it was so different. Or perhaps my poetry would be terrible but it would be published anyway because it had my name on it. (Remember, i was most definitely destined for literary greatness. No question about it. Plus poetry is really easy to publish and people go crazy for it and take it very seriously.)

So i decided to create a different pen name for each genre. At one point, i had about six worked out, and i was practicing signatures for all of them. Because of course i was.

The first pen name i'd picked was very important to me, for personal reasons. And because it was so important, i did not use it when i started this blog, or when i created my twitter account, or when i did various other online/public things. I wanted to reserve it for "real" writing.

And then, as i immersed myself more and more in online writing communities, and as i began sharing about my offline writing projects, i began to feel that i had made a mistake. I also became more and more disenchanted with the idea of multiple pen-names for one life. It all seemed so contrived and artificial. The name 'Diana Lark' in particular could hardly have been more obviously false. What seemed beautiful and interesting and appropriate at seventeen and nineteen seems trite and wrong at twenty-three. And more and more, i find myself returning to that real, important, personal name, and wishing that i had stuck with it from the beginning.

There is a lot wrapped up in a name. There is family history, world history, mythology, poetry, and etymology. There are connotations, different for each person who hears the name. There is the way it looks on the page, typed or hand-written or signed quickly on the inside pages. Name is identity. Name is power. Name is definition. Name is prophecy.

Over the next few weeks, i will be shedding the name Diana Lark in favor of the new one: Judith Elsroad. Thank you for following Diana all this time, and let's get geared up for Judith! It ought to be quite a ride; one of my Twitter followers had a dream last night that my tweets were read on NPR under a different name. So, prophecy?


  1. I just discover your blog, am about to follow it, and then you let on that you're changing the name :) Do I follow here, or at the new one ??

    1. Follow here! :) The name will change, but the URL will stay the same, because i am not good at Internetting.