This baby just found out what name his parents decided to give him.
Our teacher, a petite nun, wrote the words, “nom de plume”, in large letters as high as she could on the classroom blackboard. Putting down the chalk, she dusted off her hands and faced the class to ask, “Who knows what these words mean.”
I raised my hand. Sister nodded at me. I proudly announced, “A nom de plume is a name.”
Sister exclaimed happily, “That’s right! But what kind of name?” That question had me stymied. As far as I knew, a name was just a name. I frowned and gave her a quizzical look. Sister explained, “A nom de plume is a pen name, or a pseudonym. It’s a fictitious name that many writers adopt, instead of their own. Does anyone in class know of a writer who has done this?”
One of my classmates tentatively raised his hand and following Sister’s nod, answered, “When I was reading the book Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain last summer, Mom told me the writer’s real name was Samuel Clemens.”
I wanted to be a writer someday, so this tidbit of information made me wonder indignantly, “Why wouldn’t a writer want people know who had really written something? If I ever write a book, I know very well that I would never use a false name for my by-line!”
Someone else in class felt the same way I did. I listened closely to Sister’s explanation. “In the past many women authors used masculine pen names to conceal their femininity. Publishers often considered books written by women a poor investment.”
Without raising his hand and waiting for Sister’s nod, someone blurted, “But Samuel Clemens was a man. Why did he use a fictitious name?”
Sister was surprised with how strongly my class reacted to author’s pen names. I suspect most kids have a fascination with names. Our own names were relatively new. Some of us even knew what names our parents had almost given us. I wondered, “Would Sandy be the same person if she had been named Charlotte? Jim was a popular guy, but would he be popular if his name had been William?”
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” is a frequently used adage from William Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet, that I often heard while growing up. Juliet compared Romeo to a rose, claiming that if he were not named Romeo, he would still be her sweet, handsome love. She didn’t believe that his family name Montague affected who he was. But was she right?
Many of my classmates wished they had had been given different names than the ones they had. I didn’t like my name either because there were three Kathys in my class. I hated how common my name was. I wished Mom had given me a name like, Victoria. My friends also agonized over the middle name they were given. My cousins and I spent one hot summer afternoon under the shade trees next to their house discussing the topic. The only people we knew with their middle names were elderly relatives.
My fascination with names followed me into adulthood. I was hired to work on an obstetrics unit at the hospital where names have always been a major topic. When I first started, most mothers named their babies after relatives or saints. By the time I left that job, things had changed. Babies were named after spices, states, birds or hunting equipment.
I read a letter sent to an advice columnist recently. A young mother-to-be stated she wanted to name her soon to be born infant, Oceanna. Her family hated the name. She wanted to know if she should go ahead and use the name she loved, or the name her mother insisted she use.
That evening I asked my daughter, “What middle name sounds right with the name Oceanna?” Not giving her a chance to answer, I explained, “A mother-to-be wants to give that unusual name to her baby. I think she should name the baby Oceanna Deep, and then have three more babies named, Terry Firma, Mariah Wind and Blaise Hot. What do you think?”
My daughter laughed, “I hope no one would do that!”
I nodded and chuckled, “Me too. But you’ll have to admit, those names would make great noms de plume!”
Thanks for the very special writing today. Names are important & how they are chosen is a great topic. Most of us ‘older’ folks can explain where or who our names came from-which is not necessarily true today.
Thanks Dorothy. Names are important, and it is nice when we know we were named after someone!