Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Rose By Any Other Name

How much do our names define us?  Anne Shirley, the young heroine of Anne of Green Gables, insisted on being called "Anne with an E".  When assigned to write on the blackboard as punishment, Anne quietly corrected the teachers misspelling of her name by chalking that missing E in.

Of course, Anne also wanted to be called Cordelia, because she thought it was much more romantic than Anne, even with an E.  But would Anne still have been as charming had she been called Cordelia?  I doubt it!

Can the name we write by affect our sales?

Assuredly.  Just ask J.K. Rowling how well she did under her pen name Robert Galbraith before it was revealed who was behind that name!

I was talking with one of my sisters the other night (I have four), and she was sharing her thoughts about my choice to write by my married name.  She feels, and correctly so, that I would receive more local sales had I either written by my maiden name or if I had included it. Because I was tired, I was probably more irate that the subject warranted - partly because I know she's right.  But as I told her, it's a decision I stick by because I chose change my name when I married for a specific reason and I chose to write by that name for a specific reason.

In the long run, I don't believe it will matter.  In the short term, yes - it hurts local sales.  For now.  Because I tend to think in the long term.  I think globally.  To the people in the UK who downloaded my book when it was free on Kindle, they don't know the difference between Robin Slater (maiden name) and Robin Janney.  It's all the same to them.  To the locals who still haven't gotten the news that Robin Slater got married last summer - well, they'll catch up eventually.

So much of the series I am writing is about Identity.  As a woman and as a survivor of trauma or abuse.  We see some of the latter in the male lead, as he struggles to no longer let his painful past rule his life.  We see both in the female lead, Angela Carman.

Who is Angela?  While she never outright asks herself in the novel, the self doubt is there.  In Farmer's Daughter we find a young woman making her way in the world, and struggling somewhat as she does so. Studying to be a veterinarian, and in a very real sense going against her parents' wishes as she adds another job to her schedule in an attempt to save the family farm.  We even see at one point where she is questioning whether or not she really wants to be a veterinarian.  As the story progresses and the tone turns romantic, we see a young woman trying to understand what kind of relationship she has with her boss.  Sometimes it felt like they were friends, other times it felt to her as though she were a thorn in his side.

Towards the end of the novel, we catch further glimpses of Angela's struggle in regards to her family.  Something she never allowed herself to dwell on was the fact that she wasn't a true 'Carman'.  Or so she thought.  Even though she had the same last name, she never felt like she truly belonged because of that conversation she had overheard as a child.  (Kids eavesdrop on their parents all the time)  Imagine her surprise when she learned that she had been legally adopted by her blood uncle and his wife!  She really was part of the family, and didn't know it!

As Angela's life changes throughout the course of the books to come, we get to watch how she chooses to identify herself.  We see how other's perception of her effects how she views herself.  All too often we as women will let other's opinions of us shape out own opinions of ourselves.  The kidnapping that happened near the end of book one shook Angela, badly; and the events that unfolded in the Dream she had while in a coma most definitely affected her identity.  Upon awakening, once she'd regained her voice, she plainly told her new husband, "I need time Craig ... I don't even know who I am anymore ..."

That needed time was short lived, perhaps a month.  And then she was on his doorstep, telling how she was choosing to identify herself.  Not by who had fathered her - but by the man who had raised her.  And as his wife.  But what she felt what was best for her - leaving her hometown - warred with what she knew of him, his love for the store he ran and the small town they lived in.  His choice, of course, was her. Because his story - his struggle for identity - began and ended in his love for her.

When Mr. Janney and I decided to 'tie the knot' - I decided I wanted to change my last name.  Why?  For starters, just because I wanted to.  He'll never say it, but I think he liked my choice - and he did leave it up to me.  He's not the one that would have to do any paperwork, that never seems to end.  It was my way of saying to him and the world that I'd decided to partner up with this man.  Two parts of a whole.  Could I have kept my maiden name and still say the same?  Probably.


This is where some might say I'm being silly.

I was tired of being a Slater.  For reasons that have nothing to do with any of my family members.  I'll always be a part of the Slater clan. Family love never dies, even when you're fighting and want to kill each other.

Even though it's been twenty years since I've ridden the school bus, I still remember.  The hurt is not the same.  I barely think of it, unless I have one of those dreaded back in school dreams we all have.  My family name was made into a slur.  And that feeling stuck with me a long time.  I know many of those kids have repented of the torment they put me and my siblings through, and for that I am grateful.  But I still have not "unlearned" that feeling of not liking my last name.

So I changed it.  It was not the defining reason, not by any stretch, but it was a factor.

And when I decided to publish my novel, I decided that seeing how that was my identity now - that's how I wanted to be known professionally as well.  I will still write poetry under the name R.A. Slater, mostly because I'm just too lazy to go back through my blog and change all those names.  I don't always write poetry, but when I do - I'm very prolific.

Time will tell whether I've made the right choice.  But even if sales never explode, I still know that I made the right choice for me, for where I was at in my life at this time.

Because at the end of the day, it's not about who writes the book, but whether that book is worth reading.  And that's where I think I've got a winner.

No comments:

Post a Comment