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.