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The Initials, Not the Name

I've wanted to say something about this for a long time, but most of my posts I began for the subject were false-starts. Why do I choose to write under my initials, rather than my full name?

When I first started submitting my work for publication, many years ago, I made an active choice to avoid suggesting either my sex or my cultural background by using my full name. I am, firstly, a writer. Anything else that I am is irrelevant to my occupation. I have no intention of, and somewhat disdain, promoting myself as a female writer. If a reader coming into my writing sees my name appearing beneath the title of my story, and reads it like just another piece of the text, with no assumptions of where I came from or who I might be, I consider my work done. If the reader makes any assumptions on his or her own, that's fair enough. But I like to think I contributed to that issue as little as possible.

The cultural issues surrounding my name are slightly more difficult. I have a Muslim name, which clearly states I had a Muslim upbringing, in spite of the fact that I left that religion 14 years ago. I should start by saying I have no intention of changing my name. This was a name my late grandfather gave me, and I bear no ill will towards it. But I come from a country where the choice of leaving my religion is virtually forbidden, and where the legal implications of leaving that religion would also mean giving up my entire ethnicity. I would not particularly miss the latter. As I am firstly a writer, I am firstly a Malaysian. Anything else that I carry in my ancestry is not as important as the culture that raised me.

I've spent my entire life being questioned about my ethnicity and my faith, by my own countrymen, on the basis of my name. I don't think I need or want to explain myself about it more than I already have. I don't need that questioning to follow me into the one medium I feel I have some ability to communicate in effectively.

Having said that, I have previously been published under my full name. Due to the individual policies of publications I've appeared in, I haven't entirely been able to avoid featuring my full name. It's not hard to find me online either. The nature of my non-writing work has meant that I will pop up at a few fairly public sites out there. I do still prefer using my initials whenever possible, and endeavour to keep doing so.

I would love to see a day where I could write the subjects I do handle, use my beloved initials, have people know who I am and where I come from, and be judged merely for my writing. That's never going to happen, and certainly doesn't happen even with the initials I use now. But again, anything I can contribute to minimizing the type and amount of pre-judgment that could occur is helpful to me as a writer. Now all I need to do is write something worthy of my crypticism, spread more rumours about me really being a fifty-something gay man, and find myself a tall thing to hide behind.


Negligible Trivia:

Fact: At least four editors who've previously published me defaulted into thinking I was a guy. Or just couldn't figure me out and went, "Hmmmm."
Fact: I once entered a chat room, helped hit on a guy, and the only other girl in that entire place immediately assumed I was a gay man.
Fact: Girl in chat room was semi-correct, with embellishments and elaborate scrollwork.

Comments

atomicduck
Feb. 13th, 2008 08:40 am (UTC)
I'm never going to be a published writer, but I have considered this issue before. You know how authors with Asian names always end up writing about... Asian things? Like Amy Tan kind of stuff. While I think it's great that authors are writing about their own culture, and yes I know it's a big part of their identity, I find it kind of weird that they ONLY write about issues concerning Being Asian. You don't find a lot of second-generation Asian author names writing about being a criminal lawyer in New York, you know what I mean?

It's like either writers are obsessed with putting themselves in a cage (whether it be culture, or gender, or whatever) or their publishers are only letting through the ones with a certain "image" to go along with the name. Which has often made me think how pointless the author name really is. It's a marketing brand; it doesn't tell you anything about the person, really. I can't blame the Bronte sisters for all taking unisex pseudonyms. Or JK Rowling for that matter.
vampyrichamster
Sep. 24th, 2009 06:29 pm (UTC)
Wow. I took a really long time to find this comment. Sorry about the wait.

You really dont find a lot of second-generation Asian author names writing about being a criminal lawyer in New York. Exactly.

I think what you said here is pretty kickass. It bothers me too that authors with Asian names often write about Being Asian. It's a big part of their identity, but I think it also pigeonholes them into specific categories, mostly associated with a certain exoticism and romance.

I actually suspect publishers deliberately choose Asian authors who write stressing that exoticism and romance too, because that's what sells. So no, the name really doesn't tell us about the quality of the writing or what it's about at all. It's a decorative contraption!