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Does a rose by any other name still smell as sweet? From pseudonyms to labels and reputations, Lauren Ford muses on just what’s in a name.
One of the most common things that can be asked upon having a child will generally relate to the name of the new addition. This will spur further enquiries about meaning, background and sometimes even future occupations.
A person’s name forms an immense part of their identity and can also have an impact on their personality and career choices, as well as the way they may be perceived amongst wider society.
The importance of someone’s name has serious ramifications in the literary world, and despite the constant warnings we have all received throughout our lives, sometimes we tend to judge books by their covers – or in this case, by the name of the person that appears on their covers.
In the world of authors, it seems to be the females of the profession that experience the most concerns with name choices. These can involve a variety of name changes, from the use of pseudonyms to a range of modifications of the author’s name.
There can be many possible reasons for a female author shifting their name when writing. Some may opt for the anonymity that a pen-name can provide, or it may be at the behest of the publisher, and in days gone by it was largely due to gender bias.
Within the sphere of female authors, there are few names that are bigger or more recognisable than JK Rowling or the Bronte sisters; Anne, Charlotte and Emily. All of these women have published under a variety of pseudonyms. The Bronte sisters all originally published under male names due to the insecurity that surrounded female authors in the nineteenth century. They were known as Acton, Currer and Ellis Bell respectively.
JK Rowling, however, has published under her well known initials as well as under a male pen-name. Her real name is simply Joanne Rowling (no middle name) and she implemented the initials to appeal to a wider audience with her Harry Potter novels. Following the tremendous success of this franchise, she branched out into more adult fiction and has since published The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, and despite her attempt to distance this book from her previous accomplishments, she was eventually found out.
Another female author who is an example of name variations is Nora Roberts, who publishes crime fiction under the moniker JD Robb. This is a well known genre related name switch and subsequently raises an interesting question about the importance of names and the themes that can be associated with them.
The multitude of ramifications that are linked to a person’s name are not a new phenomenon. In the second act of Romeo and Juliet, we hear that, “A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet.” This is possibly one of the most quoted lines attributed to the Bard and can truly make a person wonder about the value of their own name as well as the titles that we have attached to all manner of things.
A person’s name can be one of their most prized assets, especially in a vocation where your name is how your work is recognised, and can also be associated with every intrinsic aspect of a personality. It is, sometimes, the only thing that can follow someone through their entire life. It can also cause turmoil throughout a person’s entire life – from the trivial things such as trying to find a personalised keychain at Dreamworld, to deciding whether or not to change your name when you get married, or attempting to avoid having your future offspring go through life with a name that could have an unfortunate rhyming scheme.
The human desire to hold on to identity and the amount of power we associate with a name is best summarised by a crucial moment in the Arthur Miller play The Crucible, which centres on the Salem witch trials and deals with people having their names sullied by false accusations of witchcraft. One such victim, as he is being sentenced to death, demands that the judge take his soul rather than further damage his name as it is the only thing he truly has left.
How important is the name that we use, and would a rose really smell as sweet if it was called something truly horrific?
To celebrate being a year old we want you, the readers, to help us decide the articles you loved best during our first year – and to encourage you to participate, we are giving away three prizes!
All you have to do is look through our archives of content and email us your favourite article – and also if you want, the one you weren’t so up with. From the submissions, we will assess the most-loved content from our first year and republish it at the end of our birthday month.
Both writers and readers are encouraged to enter (no, Paris, you cannot nominate your own articles…#justsaying), so please email us at [email protected] by Nov 30 to enter! Please include your name, address and mobile number.
And the prizes are…(did we mention there are prizes…?)
First prize: A brilliant acting course based in Sydney and hosted by Darlo Drama worth $550!
Second prize: A gift pack from our friends at Booktopia
Third prize: Four movie passes
(Plus watch out for a couple of other competitions during our birthday month!)