Of names and pseudonyms

IWSG_NewBadge2016It’s the first Wednesday of the month again, time for a post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

The IWSG question this month: When do you know your story is ready?

My answer: That’s a thousand dollar question. I’m sure everyone will have their own answer, but for me, a story is ready when I read it through one last time and don’t want to change anything, not a word. It’s mostly intuitive. I read the prose and try to listen to it with my inner ear. Is the word choice right? Are the sentences too clunky? Is a paragraph too long? Some short stories of mine take five or six revisions before they reach that point, and that is after the structure of the story is finalized. I don’t even want to talk about novels. Those take even longer.

And now, to my proper post, something that’s been bothering me lately. Some of you may know that Olga Godim is my pen name, not my legal name. Olga is my real-life name, but Godim was my father’s first name. He died over 20 years ago. When I first started submitting stories to publishers, in 2007, I decided to use a pseudonym, and took my father’s given name for my alias. All my fiction publications since then have been by Olga Godim.

nametagAt the time, I did it because I’ve always been shy. I was embarrassed to admit to anyone, especially to my relatives and colleagues, that I was writing fantasy fiction. It sounds odd, I know, but I was already almost 50 years old when I started, so it was, perhaps, understandable. I wouldn’t have made the same decision today but I don’t regret the choice of name I made then. In a way, it allows my long-gone father to be a part of my writing life.

Strangely, I recently began identifying with this name much more than with my legal name. I use Olga Godim in social media too. My website, my BookLikes and GoodReads accounts, my Twitter, and even my Flickr and Pinterest art collections, they all use this name. Most of the time, I feel much more an Olga Godim than the name I was born with. I even contemplated for a spell changing my legal name, but the troubling thought of changing all my documents and credit cards stopped me.

I use my legal name too, in my journalistic work – as the byline for my newspaper articles – but increasingly, it feels more and more distant, even a bit hazy. I’m becoming Olga Godim, a persona I invented, as if my mask is taking over, and I’m happy to let it. Isn’t it weird?

Does anyone who uses a literary pseudonym encounter the same paradox, or am I alone in this peculiar personality split? Am I Olga Godim or am I not? Are there two of me? It certainly feels this way, because Olga Godim is much wiser than my legal alter-ego has ever been. Olga Godim also has many more friends (online only, but still). I like her much better too. So who am I?


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15 Responses to Of names and pseudonyms

  1. Julie Reeser says:

    This got me thinking. I have toyed with finding a way to get my heritage into my name, because on the one hand…I have a unique origin (both my mother’s maiden name and my father’s are the only ones in the US), but those names also carry baggage and are my past. I want my name to project my future. Having said that, there’s another woman with my name who is much more accomplished, and I pretend I’m competing with her! She’s a PhD, and a cancer researcher, so clearly I’d rather she win! 🙂 What are your thoughts on Elena Ferrante and her pseudonym being undone?

  2. This sounds like the plot of a Stephen King novel… one morning you wake up to discover that police are searching for Olga Godim because she’s charged with murder. But she’s an imaginary person and you didn’t kill anyone… or did you?

    I’ll give you first dibs if you want to write it, but if not then I’m taking the idea back. ;-P

    IWSG October

    • Olga Godim says:

      I’ve had a similar idea for a while now; its been sitting in my Plot Ideas folder, gathering dusty bits. But go ahead and write your story. I’m sure it will be different from mine. When I do write it one day… 🙂

  3. emaginette says:

    It doesn’t sound odd at all. I’m pretty shy about it too. 🙂

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  4. Misha says:

    I took a pseudonym when I started publishing, but only to make it easier for people to remember my name. I have found, though, that more and more of people who’ve followed my blog for years call me Misha Gerrick even without me asking them. So I guess it is taking over in a way.

    Soon, though, I might branch out into something completely different genre-wise. And when that happens, I’m probably going to use a completely different name for branding purposes. Then I guess I’ll see what it’s like if my secret identity takes over. 😉

  5. I don’t think it’s odd. It sounds like being an actor and playing a part. I’ve always wondered who actors really are. Do they have their own persona or are they forever playing parts based on who their audience is? Do they eventually lose themselves and shift into their favorite character? It would make a fascinating discussion for a psychology class.

  6. dolorah says:

    Perhaps you are just becoming the person you were always meant to be? I don’t write with a pseudonym, but I thought about it. Godim is the name that got you writing, and publishing, and it is a “legal” name, of sorts. Perhaps you can find a way to accept the two persona’s? It might come in handy sometime.

    I don’t think I’d ever legally change my original name. To me, it would be a connection to where I began, and perhaps allow me anonymity when needed. I haven’t had to make those decisions though. Its like writing/publishing stories; gotta make a decision, live with it. Or change, later. Life isn’t stagnant; neither are pen names. Just make sure you are changing because it feel right, not cuz you’re having an identity crisis. You can be more than a chosen name.

  7. patgarcia says:

    Hi Olga,
    I relate to what you are saying. I have a pseudonym also. It is derived from what I always wanted to be called, Pat and from the last name of my first husband, which I liked very much. So I write as Pat Garcia. My real name is Patricia Anne Pierce-garcia because I added the Garcia to my legal name. My first husband and I departed on good terms and I remember telling him that one day I was going to make the name Garcia very proud. When I started singing on the stages in Europe, I didn’t change the name. So for my concerts I am Pat Garcia, the contralto singer. In fact, most people know me by my pseudonym, Pat Garcia. I believe I identify heavily with my pseudonym, but I also want to keep my legal name, because it appeals to me too and more than that, I identify with it also. Sometimes I think there are three people inside of me. Pat Garcia, the writer on the north polar, Pat Garcia, the singer on the south polar, and Patricia Anne Pierce-garcia,the woman in the middle between the two polarities and this legal name keeps my polarities balanced. I have come to accept this as natural and human for me.

    Shalom aleichem,

  8. How wonderful to keep that connection to your father. Mine passed away a few years ago and I miss him every day.

    I was also a bit hesitant to tell people what I was up to. I think writing is so personal, a rejection of our art feels like a rejection of ourselves. I don’t blame you for wanting to keep the two personas separate.

  9. You are Olga Godim… it’s still a family name and you are who you are. YOU still write your books, blogs, etc… She is YOU and YOU are her. I completely understand why you changed you name. I want to as well. My whole life I’ve wanted to change my name, not identifying with my birth name. BUT the funny thing is, so many people LOVE my name because it is unique. And it means “OF Jesus” in Italian. But that side of my family, I really don’t relate to well. My character is more my mom’s side and really her father, whom she never knew, BUT who I take after. Through his line came my creativity. My art. My design sense. And, even my looks. Someday I may change my name, but for now… I’ll be me. But I’ll be me with another name, too. Just like you.

  10. I have a different view on names. I always thought I’d use my maiden name when I started publishing, but I didn’t because it just seemed easier for payment and such to use my legal married name. But for years after I married, I would introduce myself with my maiden name. It’s hard to change. Who am I? Is that person with my maiden name lost? Interesting questions.

  11. Loni Townsend says:

    My apologies for coming in so late. I didn’t realize I missed your post!

    I’ve often wondered about Pseudonyms, and I did consider using one when I first started writing. I chose not to go that route for the silliest of reasons: I didn’t want to practice two signatures. Two of my closest critique partners both use pen names, and I think, like you, it’s become part of their identity.

  12. Carrie-Anne says:

    I adopted the pen name Carrie-Anne 23 years ago, at age thirteen. Had I chosen a pen name as an adult, I definitely would’ve picked something more interesting, like Octavia, Zenobia, or Persephone, but the name Carrie-Anne just fits me. I’ve also remained a Hollies’ fan all that time, as nice as it’d be to have chosen a less-common name from one of their other songs, like Eloise. My other pseudonym, Ursula Hartlein, for my more serious historicals, is my real middle name plus my five-greats-grandma’s birth surname. It means “brave little one” or “strong little one” in German.

    My real forename is the most overused female name in history, across many cultures, after only Mary. Even Mary seems like a breath of fresh air these days, since it’s no longer so popular! Then no one ever gets my Slovakian surname right, though it has a very straightforward spelling and pronunciation.

  13. I just discovered this post after doing a WordPress Reader search for the tag “pseudonym.” Olga, your post resonates with me so much! Charlotte Graham is a partial pseudonym for me (only one of those names is real for me ;-)), and for over a year and a half now I have kept two separate identities running. I’m still me in both worlds, but virtually no one in my real life knows about my blogging and writing. I am so tempted to come out to them all, but I have this odd fear of embarrassment if I come out to all my real life family and friends as a blogger and writer with this secret identity.

  14. Great read 😀 thanks for sharing!

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