Naming Rites

Names are such a strange thing. When I was pregnant with my son, all those years ago, my husband and I made a list of names. We whittled them down to a shortlist and when he emerged, we took one look at him and knew his name. He wasn’t a Liam or a Hamish – he was Calvin and he always has been. He was named for the cheeky but brilliant/malevolent cartoon character with Hobbes, the tiger sidekick/partner in crime. It suits him utterly. He even has a ginger cat.

Ginger loves to help me write.

As middle names my son has his Pop’s name and his Grandfather’s name because that’s what middle names are for, in my opinion. My paternal grandfather had two middle names and his wife, my nanna, was just Jean. She hated not having another name. She gave all her children middle names because she felt she’d missed out. Not having a middle name weighed heavily on my nanna’s soul. Names are important.

Mark Manson has an excellent authorial name. I think his books and message resonate because they’re on point but also because he has a powerful name. Manson carries some punch. The double M sound is strong. I’m not sure if it’s a pen name or not but it’s awesome and coupled with his sweary titles, it feels like a warning.

Buy my books or else…?

Mr Manson, who I am sure is a very lovely, non-murdery type person, says we should love our demons. Our ancient ancestors and the old storytellers knew that you can’t control a demon unless you can name it.

It’s this whole metaphor about knowing yourself. Unless you can acknowledge you drink too much/get angry for no good reason/are super judgey….whatever, you can’t sort yourself out. You have to own up to it, that’s why the first step of the Twelve Step Program is honesty.

I’ve never done the Twelve Steps but I’ve done a lot of personal work. I try to keep things in perspective, stay grateful. Right now though, one of my demons is my name. In the great scheme of things, I know my name is not important. It’s more like a grain of said stuck in my sock. Slightly irritating at times, when I think about it, but really not an issue.

Or at least it wouldn’t be an issue if I wasn’t trudging the long road towards a career as a writer. The need to present myself to publishers as a ‘package’ looms over me. I already have two self-published books in a genre in which I’m not currently writing published so I feel I should write under a pen name.

I know plenty of writers who use pen names. It’s no big deal. But try as I might, I just can’t think of one that resonates with me. To be honest, the whole thing just makes me want to scream.

When I met my husband, I was thinking of changing my first. I hadn’t really settled on anything so the whole idea went by the wayside. I feel like everyone I know has a great name, especially the writers. I haven’t met one writer in the past 5 years that didn’t already have a great name. My friend Lizz, who is writing an amazing book that’s certain to be the next big thing the kids are all reading, changed her name a few years back and she’s so glad she did.

I’ve even met non-writers with awesome names. Kate Steele. I mean, she’s a project manager but with a name like that, she should be writing crime, surely.

I haven’t written much about it here yet, but I attended the Commercial Fiction Masterclass back in July with Bestselling author Fiona McIntosh. I’m still processing everything about the 5-day intensive.

At one of the sessions, I asked Fiona about pen names. After starting out as a fantasy author, she published her crime novels under a pen name because her publisher thought it would confuse the readers. She has since republished the Jack Hawksworth series of novels under her own name, now an infinitely more recognisable name.

With Fiona’s help I workshopped the idea of a pen name. She asked me some questions about family names, childhood nicknames, names I like. I got pretty emotional during the process. I can’t speak for anyone else but this name thing has always been really important to me. I’m starting to wonder if it’s an adoptee thing?

With Fiona’s help I came up with a name, Georgia Fleming. Fleming is my maiden name and Georgia is my cat. George is also my dad’s middle name, so there’s that. In that moment, I felt something like relief, and a little elated.

Something still didn’t feel right though. Not completely. My name isn’t Georgia. It’s been suggested to me that I should keep my first name and use another surname.

I wonder if Lee Child felt the same way until the millions of dollars helped make him more comfortable… (His pen name “Lee Child” comes from a family joke about a heard mispronunciation of the name of Renault’s Le Car, as “Lee Car”. From that point on, calling anything “lee” became a family gag. His daughter, Ruth, was dubbed “lee child” while in utero.)

The Masterclass was intense. I was having trouble sleeping and each day I felt like I was dragging myself through treacle just to get there. On the second night, I felt that familiar and dreaded wave of mania heading towards me. It’s been a while since I’ve experienced it. It was my constant companion during my insomniac teen years.

I’ve never been diagnosed as Bipolar and I’m not sure every insomniac suffers bouts of mania. I didn’t make the connection until a psychologist pointed it out in my early 20s. I just figured I was a non-sleeping high achiever. I had some depression but always connected it to life events. It was only after T died that I sought real help and since that initial therapy and hypnotherapy, I have managed my sleep with meditation, yoga and exercise and intermittent blocks of therapy as dictated by life.

So after a scramble and a phone call to my Dad, I got something to help me sleep and some melatonin. I got things under control. But during those long sleepless hours I obsessed about this name nonsense.

Maybe that’s why it feels so big to me now, all these weeks later…

In my whirring mind, it occurred to me that my mum used to call me Lizzie. Lizzie Fleming would be more appropriate, I thought. It’s a derivation of my middle name so it makes sense. I told the Masterclass group the next day and felt good about it. It felt mine, special.

Until I called my mum. ‘Oh, I call everyone that,’ she said. ‘Yep, your sister. The dog…’

‘But my middle name is Elizabeth. You called me Lizzie… it’s the whole Princess Elizabeth thing from the hospital…’

No?

Not so special then.

Back to the drawing board.

My new writing group said it’s best to use my existing given name over a completely manufactured one so at least I’d know to answer if someone calls out to me at a conference or writing event. These are the things we have to consider. Seriously, it’s exhausting.

Maybe I could do a Colette and just call myself “Christine.”

I could write under my first married name. My initials would be CEO which is kinda boss. That would open a whole other can of worms though so we won’t go there.

I could use my maiden name, I suppose, but that would be a little like moving back into my childhood bedroom. Boy, would the people who now own that house be surprised! That’s a metaphor for you!

I could use my given name at birth, RMW, but for the aforementioned can of worms.

Now I am really down a rabbit hole I might has well keep going. If you’re still reading, thank you and my apologies. This is therapy for me right now.

See this is the thing. As Christine Betts, I am on my fourth name. One of the stranger aspects of being adopted is the name change. In hindsight, I don’t think it should be legal to change a baby’s name but the 70s were a different universe. My parents weren’t told my birth name until they requested it from the Department of Childrens’ Services when I was 12.

There are two ways I could look at the name my adoptive parents bestowed upon me. One is positive, affirming, kind. The other is negative and hurtful. I know my parents were desperate for another daughter and there I was, a child in need of a home. Like all expectant parents, they had a name picked out.

That name was Christine Elizabeth and they had had it ready for years, from my mum’s very first pregnancy, thirteen years before. It means Christine means God’s Gift, Elizabeth… Gift from God. See a pattern forming here? My parents’ faith is embedded in my name.

Mum and dad had four sons before they had a girl and for each of those first four pregnancies they had the name at the ready.

When my older sister, baby number five (can you even imagine!) came along for whatever reason, they chose a different name. Baby number six was a boy. They could have called him Christopher or Christian but they didn’t.

Did they save the name for me, or was it left over?

Positive or negative?

Einstein famously said “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

I’ve always preferred to believe that everything happens for a reason. Am I Christine for a reason? Who would I be if I’d grown up as RMW, the initials of my birth name? Who would I be if I’d kept my maiden name when I married my first husband?

Who will I choose to be this time next year when I am offered some kind of contract to sign?

Does any of this matter? Is this really the demon I have made it into in my mind or something of no consequence?

Fact: I could have finished my manuscript in the time I have spent working on this post.

2 Comments

  1. melcat76

    You’ve always been Queen Awesome to me.

    Nominative determinism is an interesting theory, but the story you tell yourself about your name is what creates the feeling. It’s not magic, it’s simply association and conditioning.

    For what it’s worth, if you really want a pen name, my vote is for your first name with a chosen noun-surname, one with an essence you love. Christine Strong. Christine Peace. Christine Kind. Christine Dance. Christine Joy. Christine Love. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

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