What’s in a Name?

Bronte Sisters
The Brontë Sisters aka Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell

Like many writers – the Brontë sisters and George Eliot spring instantly to mind here – I use more than one name. I write a lot for my day job, and I write in scientific fields related to my academic qualifications on the side: mainly to keep my hand in and stay up to date with developments in those areas. For all that, as well as for party politics and family matters, I use the name my parents gave me. For pretty much all other writing, blogging, and associated activities – as well as for an increasing amount of more focussed activism and for socialising on various LGBT+ scenes, I use the name I chose for myself.

Echoes of Possibilities Cover
Echoes of Possibilities – the first anthology I was published in under this name

There are areas of overlap: there are people I work with who know my chosen name for a variety of reasons: including the select gang of workplace activists I’ve been gathering around me, and there are friends from other areas of my life who know me in multiple contexts and by more than one name. I also use different variations on my university nickname for a number of fandom handles and for internet and email domain names, so it’s not unheard of for people to address me by one of those instead of, or as well as, either of my more common names.

I’m not particularly bothered which name(s) people use for me in arenas where I’m known by more than one, and I don’t go out of my way to hide the other names in places where I’m only known by one of them. I prefer my parents not to Google my author name (if they have to Google me at all – and I’m yet to find a way of stopping them), because they’re very much of a class and a generation that use ‘but what would the neighbours say?’ as a way of trying to shut down discussion and dissemination of my very public opinions and activities.

A Series of Ordinary Adventures Cover
A Series of Ordinary Adventures – my out of print short story collection

Looking around at the outside world, people change their names for a variety of reasons, some more acceptable to the straight population than others. For some reason, changing because the new name is ‘cooler’ or to because someone else in a small workplace already uses the same name as a new colleague, is seen as perfectly ‘normal’, whereas changing names to better fit one’s gender identity is still seen as ‘odd’ (probably better read as ‘threatening’). Admittedly I know straight, cis, people whose families have also objected to their use of a different name to the one their parents generally used for them; there seems to be a tradition in my family for people to completely drop one name in favour of another only after their parents are no longer around to be offended, but that may be a minority position. And imagine the horror expressed by certain family and friends, when both sides in a mixed sex couple choose an entirely new surname to celebrate the joining of their lives together.

Tea and Crumpet Cover
Tea and Crumpet – one of the UK Meet anthologies I’m published in

Even when a name change is accepted by family, friends, and co-workers, there’s still the problem of health care providers, who are remarkably good at either ignoring the notes on patient records stating the name someone wants to be known by (in favour of the first forename out of the full recorded name), or of loudly dead-naming a person (and quite possibly misgendering them in the process) just because their former name has been provided for the purpose of matching up older and newer datasets.

I don’t know the solution to that one, although I suspect it involves some kind of uneasy alliance of all those who have been misnamed at one time or another, in order to better educate those committing the errors – whether accidentally or maliciously.

British Flash Cover
British Flash – another of the UK Meet anthologies I’m published in

As for me, I’m quite happy to answer to any number of names – quite possibly because I grew up answering to the dog’s name, my friends’ names, and various names of relatives, depending on where my parents’ minds had drifted off to before they decided they needed to get my attention – but I am making more of a point these days of owning my pronouns, and ensuring that people around me get them right: whether I hear them doing so or not.



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