I’ve recently been in conversations with my publisher, Blank Slate Press, about my name and the name of my book. They recommended changing both. After careful consideration and a fair amount of back-and-forth, I agreed. The changes work. They make sense. But they were painful, too.
My legal, married name (changed in court, no less) is Anene Marie Tressler-Hauschultz. I like the “A to Z” of my name, but I’ve endured years of lost dry cleaning, misfiled medical records, and the sighs of harried clerks because of it. I will spare you the slaughtered spellings and even worse pronunciations. Life is hard. So is my name.
I’ve learned to deal with those unwieldy 18 letters over the years, but the length and difficulty of my last name presents an unnecessary burden for readers and booksellers. So I’m going with the pen name Anene Tressler. I love the name Anene—my much-loved grandmother named me. The name Tressler? Well, not so much. But that’s another story.
I was surprised at how difficult I found the idea of returning to my maiden name. When first married, I resisted changing my last name—I didn’t want to get swallowed up like so much chattel in a patriarchal system. I settled on the hyphen in an effort to keep the peace. It wasn’t my husband who had a problem with separate names, but my own mother. By now, I’ve been married longer than I was single. And while I’m not “merely Anene Hauschultz” I feel that I’m no longer “just Anene Tressler” either.
Naming is powerful stuff—magic in some cultures—and I was feeling the pull and weight of this fact. So I did some checking. Turns out, I’m in some rather crowded company in the name change department. Authors have used pen names for all sorts of reasons throughout the years.
Some writers take pen names to avoid over-exposure. For example, Stephen King wrote under the name Richard Bachman because his publisher felt that the public wouldn’t accept more than one title per year from an author. Writers have also adopted pen names when writing in more than one genre: Romance writer Nora Roberts writes erotic thrillers under the pen name J.D. Robb. Samuel Langhorne Clemens wrote as Mark Twain and Sieur Louis de Conte.
Some authors adopted pen names so that their names would better suit their work: Pearl Gray dropped his first name and changed the spelling of his last name to become Zane Grey, a name he felt was more suited to the Westerns he wrote. Some adopt names to avoid scandal: C. S. Lewis wrote poetry under the name Clive Hamilton to avoid harming his reputation as a don at Oxford.
Women often assumed masculine or neutral names to avoid sexism: Mary Ann Evans wrote under the pen name George Eliot, Karen Blixen wrote as Isak Dinesen. And let’s not forget the wildly successful creator of Harry Potter, J. K. Rowling. Other writers have chosen pen names for more whimsical reasons: Edward Gorey often wrote under anagrams of his own name and Daniel Handler adopted the name of one of his own characters: Lemony Snicket. I also discovered that authors who collaborate sometimes publish under a single name. That’s the case with Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee (and numerous ghost writers) who publish under the name Ellery Queen. Some authors choose a pen name for self-protection. This was the case with the French philosopher Francoise Marie Arouet, who wrote under several pen names to avoid imprisonment for his political beliefs, the most famous being Voltaire.
But in the world of pen names, I think Edward Alexander Crowley may deserve some sort of special recognition: He wrote under 150 different ones!
Blank Slate Press also recommended that I change the title of my book. I’ve been at work on this novel for a very long time. Years. And through it all, my working title has been “Circus of the Little Flower.” But as the book has evolved, that title didn’t. My editor suggested a new one, lifted from a line of dialog in the novel. So the new title will be: Dancing with Gravity. Even though I still find myself writing “LFC” on my files, I know this new title is better, stronger. It is a movement toward clarity; it captures the heart and soul of much of the action. And again, I’m not alone: Ever hear of the best seller, Tomorrow is Another Day? No? Try Gone with the Wind. John Thomas and Lady Jane? Maybe you’ve read Lady Chatterly’s Lover. How about Trimalchio in West Egg? You may know it as The Great Gatsby. What about Something That Happened? It’s better known as Of Mice and Men.
Naming is powerful, political, and deeply symbolic. The names we give push back the darkness and impose order. Changing the title of my book won’t change its contents, but it might catch the interest of a potential reader. My shortened last name is easier to spell, easier to remember, easier for the readers and booksellers. These changes document my journey from private citizen to published writer… as I reach out into the world in all sincerity and fragile hope that we—writer and readers— might connect.