Penning a Name

I’m having an identity crisis.

My birth certificate states: Dianna Lynn Tibert, but am I really that person recorded many decades ago? Shouldn’t a name give a hint of personality, of trade, of origin?

“Aye,” you say, “a surname tag gives the origin.”

That’s only one-fourth correct. A surname at birth gives only the origin of the father’s father’s father’s father. It completely ignores the father’s mother and the mother’s family lines.

More than four hundred years ago, when surnames were becoming standard, people wore names of their profession—Baker, Fletcher, Crofter—and their father—M’Donald, McIsaac, O’Brien—and their surroundings—Forrest, Glen, Field—and their locations—Glasgow, Paris, Lomond—and countless other things associated with their lives. There was great pride to be known as Joe the Fletcher or Matilda of the Meadow.

But we have long ago lost touch with the origins of our surnames. I’m not the son of Donald, and I’m not a taylor.

I understand why surnames became standard, why it’s important to connect family lines; I couldn’t be a genealogist without knowing that. Still, what happens when a person feels no connection to their name, or wants to branch out and try a new one because their career—writing or other—beckons them to so?

What do they choose, and how do they choose it? Do they make it official (like Meatloaf did), or do they keep it as a pen name (like J. D. Robb does)?

My new dilemma is finding a name for my fantasy series, The Castle Keepers; in fact, choosing a name in which to imprint all my adult fiction. The first half is easy; I’ll keep my first two names: Diane Lynn.

But what about the last name? I don’t want to use my father’s surname for reasons I discussed in this post. So what’s a woman, who’s been told since birth her name will change, to choose? There are so many good ones, but which is best for my books?

Lately, I’ve been leaning towards my grandmother’s maiden name—McDonald—spelling it M’Donald.

But then rumour has it many centuries ago, it was actually spelt M’Donnel and pronounced M’donNAL. Apparently, the Scottish put the emphasis on the second half of this type of surname, whereas the Irish, put it on the first half. For them, M’Donnel would be MacDONell.

Of course, not everyone would know this, and my name would be pronounced MacDonnell. A cure for this would be to spell it M’Dunnel…

Then tonight as I wrote this blog, the sound of Myth Busters drifted down the hallway, and I was reminded of a name I had been called—one I had used affectionately—for about five years in my early twenties: McGyver. The crew on the television show—Myth Busters—was testing one of Angus MacGyver’s tricks for blowing open a door.

This name—McGyver (I prefer just the Mc over the Mac)—came about because of my ingenuity. I had worked in a camera shop which operated on a tight budget. Sometimes we ran out of spare parts, and being the assistant manager, I had to find a way to keep everything running. Several links in a chain, which fed the photographic paper through the printing machine, had broken at one point. Without new links to replace the damaged ones, the machine came to a halt.

Assessing the situation, I considered an alternative: twist ties. Within a few minutes, I had the chain linked and the machine running again. Before the spare parts arrive a few weeks later, twist ties held together several chains, yet perfect photographs kept rolling out.

After many creative inventions, my work smock displayed the name McGyver. Not knowing the difference, customers often called me by that name. I wore it with pride because I prized my creative ways for solving problems and because I loved the television show.

Perhaps I’ll revert back to my old tag, the one which revealed my self-reliance and resourcefulness. After all, being a freelance novelist, I need to be creative and inventive, and think of alternative ways of getting things done.

Diane Lynn McGyver. Mmm. I like the sound of that.

…After sleeping on the idea, I’ve finally decided what my pen name will be. It feels right; it seems to fit. I can live with it, and I’m even beginning to think it is me. That’s the feeling I’ve been waiting for. Who knew it would come to me in the final hours of having to make important decisions on books covers, business cards and announcements.

Incredibly, I’ve also discovered the name dilemma was the mountain stalling my progress with Shadows in the Stone. Today I feel inspired and ready to tackle the final leg of my journey to publication.

Diane Lynn McGyver

12 thoughts on “Penning a Name

  1. I like the sound of your new name. 🙂
    I just read your post after adding more to my Writers’ Helps page on my blog. One link is for naming characters. This is something I have to look into for my own writing since I want suitable names for characters. Even for picture books, the right name can make such a difference.


    • Thanks, Lynn. I love my new name, and it’s only been a few days.

      I agree. Character names are very important. Some come easy and others make us suffer before they appear.


  2. Dear Diane Lynn McGyver- I like it and your core story!
    Most times I think an online Pen name would be a good idea for me. A life of confusion over self identity with the name Ronald has lead me down a few paths. Birth Certificate, doctors, teachers and professionals call me Ronald and can’t spell or pronounce my last name. Other identities include: Lil’ Ronnie sticks to my fathers side, Just Ronnie in my family, Ronnie Jr. at the Bank, Females call me Ron, male friends call me Ronnie, non friends call me a lot of things – Ron, Ronald and Ronny. I wonder why I was/am confused.
    In the 90’s I tried an experiment and used my middle name as my first, Michael. Michael did create a different character but also became Mike. I stopped the experiment when I no longer responded to the name Ron – which was freaky and weird. Aaah I forgot to mention to you that my fathers name is also Ron (and Ronnie and Ronald) further making my identity blurred. When I moved to Lunenburg I introduced myself as Ron and it really has stuck.


    • Well, Lil’ Ronnie…I mean Ron, I can sympathise with you. The names of your parents have affected both of us one time or another. I recall going to a bank to set up an account only to be told I already had one. After about five minutes, I convinced them that I was not the Diane Tibert in question. After that, I began using my middle name.

      The uncommon and apparent confusion with spelling the last name can be a curse. Now that computers have come along, everyone wants to spell the name TILBERT. Have you got that one, yet? I think the typed I beside the B confuses the eye, making people think there’s an L there. My file at my doctor’s office–one I had been seeing for years– was spelt TILBERT until we couldn’t locate test results from the hospital.

      Mike…I mean Ronnie, you are free to choose your name now. You’re old enough…catching up to me faster than I can believe 🙂 Of course, you do know the confusion you’ll cause if I have to call you Michael. You can always look on the bright side: at least you weren’t named Stephen.

      Here’s a handle for you: Warrior of the Woods. We can call you WOW for short. lol

      Thanks for dropping by. I’m glad you like the name because you’re going to be hearing it a lot…in a good way.


    • Thanks, Darlene. I can’t believe I’ve been looking for a surname to use for more than a year and suddenly, it came to me on the wind (down the hall from the television set).


  3. I so understand your dilemna.
    I wanted to separate my identities for my non-fiction (under the name of Debby Lush, which is what I’m known by professionally in the horse world) from my fiction. Quite apart from not wanting to be known as a ‘Lush’ with all the connotations of that in the US!
    I stopped short of where you’ve gone, and decided to use just my first two names, hence, ‘Deborah Jay’. Well, almost accurate: my initials are DJ and I’m sometimes known as that. The J is for Judith, but Jay seemed to work when used verbally, so it stuck.
    ‘Deborah’ instead of ‘Debby’ came about at a book lauch party when someone said it had more gravitas than the shortened version, and with the short surname, it seemed to work.
    Complicated business, isn’t it?


    • I once worked with a Lorna Lush (I think that was her first name). When I first heard the last name, I thought it unusual, but after awhile, I didn’t give it a second thought. But you’re right, people look at names differently and make silly assumptions or stupid comments. Nova Scotia has its share of odd and usual surnames: Outhouse, Dick, Cunt (pronounced Coont), Butt, Gay, Loveless.

      I think we have to be reminded that it’s only a surname. Nothing more. We also must realise it can be changed at anytime if we want to change it. By no means are we stuck with a name if we dislike it or dosen’t work in our profession. I recall a case where a heterosexual man was so harrassed because his surname was Gay that he either committed suicide or committed murder (can’t remember that fact). I thought, why didn’t he just change his name if it bothered him so much.

      For a writer (or actor, singer), it’s very important that the string of names work together. Readers need to enjoy saying the name, not find it awkward. John Michael Montgomery is a perfect example. John Montgomery doesn’t have the same ring. John Denver, John Wayne and John Cougar (I sense a pattern here) all changed their names and nobody thinks twice about it.

      I think Deborah Jay sounds great. It is a complicated business; and we must make our names uncomplicated so readers can google us with ease.

      Thanks for dropping by.


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