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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Who are you?

"Must a name mean something?" Alice asked doubtfully. "Of course it must," Humpty Dumpty said, with a short laugh. "My name means the shape I am and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape." - Lewis Carroll

A few months ago, my blog post “Dudes Who Can Rock” received a lot of traffic and several comments. Wondering what caused this sudden upswing in activity, I did some searching and I discovered that a member of the Blue October message board had linked to my blog, which was driving the traffic. When I went to the message board, I discovered a discussion about my blog article (which was quite flattering) and, much to my surprise, a debate on my gender and identity. I was shocked, a little offended but mostly quite amused.

There are two things I found most interesting about this encounter. One, was that the minute someone wanted to disparage or discredit my opinions they accused me of being a 13-year-old girl. A 13-year-old, implying an immature opinion, I get that, but why a girl? Is it assumed girls don’t know how to “rock”, as it were? Conversely, and what I also found humorous, was that some of them had automatically assumed I was a guy, probably because of my gender-neutral, abbreviated user name of D. L. White (even though I use an illustration of a girl for my “About Me” picture, and list myself as female and married in my Profile).

I’m not completely na├»ve to what goes on in the online community. I know that more often than not, people hide behind their online identities. They hardly ever use their real names; they often lie about their gender, age, appearance, etc. That’s what made this whole encounter so humorous for me: I am, in fact, using my real gender and my real name (albeit an abbreviation of it). D.L. are the initials of my first and middle name and White is my real last name.

This whole incident made me realize that I have never explained why I use this moniker on my blog (which may or may not be of interest to you, dear reader). D.L. White is my pen name; the name I use when I’m writing. I decided a long time ago (before the invent of blogs and screen names) that I would use D.L. White as the name I would write under, so that no one would make unfair assumptions about my written work, based on my gender. It is also a nod to all the women writers who have come before me.

Women authors, especially in the 19th century, used pen names because the literary world was a male-dominated profession. Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte published a joint collection of poetry under the assumed names of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Charlotte continued to use the name Currer Bell when she published her first two novels.

Even in the modern day, there are women authors who go by abbreviated gender-neutral pen names, especially in genres that are typically written by men, the most famous example of this being J.K. Rowling. Before publishing Jo Rowling’s first book, the Bloomsbury publishing house feared that the target audience of young boys might be reluctant to buy books written by a female author. The publishers requested that Rowling use two initials, rather than reveal her first name.

However, pen names aren’t used exclusively by women to avoid gender assumptions. Authors use pen names for all sorts of reasons. Did you know:

*** Charles Dodgson, a mathematician with published non-fiction works, was worried it would confuse his readers if he published works within other genres. So he wrote his fantasy fairy tales under the pen name of Lewis Carroll.

*** Early in his career, Stephen King wrote under the pen name of Richard Bachman to circumvent a production restriction in his contract. He also thought it would be a fun experiment, to see if his success had to do with talent or luck.

*** Pen names seem to run in the King family. Stephen King’s son, Joe Hill, chose to use an abbreviated form of his given name (Joe Hillstrom King) as a pen name out of a desire to succeed as a writer on his skill and talent alone, instead of riding on the fame of being Stephen King’s son.

So there it is- a nerdy little bit of literary trivia. Now here are my questions to you: Are there any of you out in the blogosphere, who have been reading my blog and assumed I was a guy, or assumed I was not who my Profile stated me to be? Does it change your view of my opinions and my posts now that you know I’m a girl? Should it matter, than an article about rock music (or literature, or art) was written by a man rather than a woman? Why does it matter? If you’re using an online name or identity that is different than your real identity, what are your particular reasons for doing so? What other authors do you know of who have used pen names?

Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

6 comments:

D.L. White said...

Here's another interesting tidbit... Mary Shelley first published "Frankenstein" annonymously. In later printings, she included her name as the author, along with a long introduction.

chandy said...

I chose a traditionally male name for my daughter (Elliot). I really chose the name because I just loved it, but part of the appeal was the gender ambiguity.

(And, Bono is so totally #1 on my list of people who rock, no contest.)

D.L. White said...

So...I have to ask - did you name your daughter after the character on the TV show "Scrubs"? (Love that show.)

Jessie said...

Hey, new to your blog. Love it!

I love Scrubs, too, and when I first met Chandra I asked her the same thing!

I choose Reagan as my first daughter's name. It was strong, yet feminine. And named after a brilliant leader, of course.

D.L. White said...

Hi Jessie - thanks for the comment! Feel free to stop by anytime! :)

chandy said...

Well, not really named "after" the character...I'm not really honoring Dr. Reed or anything. But I always thought her name was really cute!