A Democratic Approach To Name-Changing

A Democratic Approach To Name-Changing

So, following my blog post from the other day about why I’m unhappy with the name Miriam Joy as my professional name, I decided to do some work towards changing it. However, I’m a very indecisive person, so I decided to enlist some help: Twitter polls.

I chose Twitter polls for the very simple reason that I don’t know of any other website that I currently use which would allow me to ask a multiple choice question in that way. I got at least twenty responses for each question I asked so, while not representative of everybody who knows or follows me, it helped me to gauge feelings towards names.

These polls weren’t intended to make my decision for me, but to help me out a bit. Since it’s a professional, public name that I’m looking to choose, it seemed worth finding out what people thought of it (a personal name wouldn’t be any of their business). What kind of names did people think suited me? What would they find appealing on a book cover?

The first question I asked was about first names: should I stick with my first name, go for initials, go for my nickname Finn, or choose a new name entirely?

I have to admit, these results surprised me. I thought Finn would be more popular, but one of the limitations of the Twitter poll system is that it didn’t allow me to explain my reasoning behind my choices. Finn, for those who aren’t aware, is a nickname I use partly because I like it and its mythological significance, but also partly because it’s a short form of ‘Delorfinde’. Delorfinde was my username on pretty much every website from 2007 to 2011, and still is on some, including NaNoWriMo — it’s the name by which I was known when I was finding my feet as a writer.

Back then, people usually shortened it to Del, but over time I switched to using Finn. As a result, it’s a name I feel has a certain level of connection to my writing. I wonder whether telling this story before running the poll would have changed the results…

So the general consensus here was that initials would be the best way to go. Interesting.

The second question I asked was about surnames. Should I use my current surname (Longman)? Should I use my mum’s maiden name, Kilmister? Or should I go further back in my family to grandparents and great-parents and go for one of those more distantly connected names? There are some good ones to choose from, including Griffiths, Gabriel, Hutchins and Duignan, but after running some combinations in my head I put two of them in the poll and excluded Gabriel and Hutchins.*

(Gabriel mostly just made names sound really pretentious, and didn’t really solve the problem of me sounding like an inspirational Christian fic writer.)

So this was interesting. Kilmister was in the lead until the very last hour of the poll (it ran for 24 hours), and then Griffiths swooped in for a surprise win. Now, there are some advantages to this, if I were to follow it: Kilmister is still used by several of my close relatives (both of my mum’s siblings, and my cousin, have it as part of their name), and I think I would need to ask their opinion before I started using it. Griffiths, however, is distant enough that while I still feel a connection to it, I don’t feel the need to ask permission.

It was actually my great-grandmother’s maiden name. Her name was Susanna Griffiths, and she married Joseph Duignan. This is hilarious to me as I wrote a book a few years ago that featured a couple called Susanna and Joseph, but I chose those names at random from a long list I made in my notebook and had no idea it had a parallel in my own family.

I do have a character called Bronwyn Griffiths, so I’d probably have to give her a different surname, but since I’m not sure it ever appears in the story, I don’t think that’s a major consideration.

However, I made a few mock-up covers and I wasn’t sure I liked how MJ Griffiths looked, or M Griffiths. Moreover, I wasn’t certain about the initials thing, because it wouldn’t give anyone a name to call me by online unless they continued to use Miriam, in which case they’d need to be ‘in the know’, and that seems a bit exclusive. I want to be approachable, and a very academic, serious pseudonym like MJ Griffiths wouldn’t help with that.

So I asked a third question.

‘Em’ was popular as an alternative to ‘M’, especially considering one person commented to say they’d accidentally clicked on option two instead of option one when they actually preferred Em. It would still be a version of my name — my mum calls me ‘M’ quite often, pronounced ‘M’ — but less spiky and intense than just using an initial, so aesthetically more pleasing.

It also helps maintain the air of gender neutrality, because it could just as easily be short for Emmett, Emmanuel or Emyr as for Emily or Emma, even if people are more likely to think of the latter. (While looking at various names beginning with ‘Em’ I was reminded of ‘Emrys’, which gives it a fun Merlin connection, should I want one.)

So, were I to follow Twitter’s opinion, my new name would be Em Griffiths.

It sounds… very Welsh. That’s no bad thing, and feels somewhat less dishonest than one of my alternatives (Finn Duignan) which sounded extremely Irish — my family is more recently Welsh, even though there is a distant Irish connection, and I have slightly more of a claim to that. It suits my genre of Celtic-inspired creepy YA lit, too.

G is not an over-occupied shelf in most libraries and bookshops — I should know, I’ve reorganised enough of them. But it hosts Neil Gaiman and Alan Garner, in whose company I’d be happy to be found. It’s early enough in the alphabet to appear relatively near the beginning of lists without ending up right at the beginning of shelves were nobody looks. Importantly, there aren’t many fiction writers with the surname dominating Amazon search results, and none that I can see in my genre.

But it would be a major transition taking time and effort and redesigning all my social media and so on and so forth. Is it worth it? Do I like it enough?

I wish I had a time machine so I could fast-forward and see how I’ll feel about the name Em Griffiths in six months’ time. Will I hate it? Will I regret it if I choose to use this name? Will it cause more trouble than it’s worth? So far, I don’t know.

I’ve got a couple of weeks before my blog hosting runs out and I’ll need to shift the whole thing over to a new host (I haven’t chosen one yet, so recs are appreciated), which will require transferring my URL — that would be a good time to choose a new one, if I were going to. Between now and then, I think I’m going to keep turning this name (and others) over in my head and see if they start to ‘fit’, because currently I don’t have enough of a connection to them to know how I’d feel about being called by them, you know?

And if you have any thoughts — on the name Em Griffiths, on the polls in general, on the act of changing my professional name in general — please let me know in the comments, because I’m aware that many of you aren’t on Twitter and haven’t had the chance to weigh in so far.


*At this point my cousin informed me I should absolutely use the name ‘MJ Finnatron’. I pointed out that this is meant to be my professional name, but that didn’t deter her.

11 thoughts on “A Democratic Approach To Name-Changing

      1. While I fully agree it shouldn’t make a difference, there are genres where having a “feminine” name is an advantage (or disadvantage); for example, classic romance is likely to sell better if the author isn’t listed as Buck Chivers.So, it might be worth looking at best sellers in the area you are pitching at to see if there’s a noticeable slant toward “obviously women” writers.

        1. YA is quite female-dominated but I definitely don’t write romance (quite the opposite) and my writing tends to skew towards SF/F, which is still fairly male-dominated and features lots of initials. Mainly, though, I have two reasons to avoid a feminine name: 1) it doesn’t suit me personally, as someone who is quite androgynous and 2) having a feminine name attracts far more online trolls than even a neutral name that takes them a while to figure out. (Also, because the world is an awful place, having a Jewish name doesn’t help there either.)

  1. (did this go through twice sorry if it did)
    How does one go about the process of changing their name online? Do you make new accounts or just change the usernames?

    I’m also thinking about changing names because Cynthia’s too feminine (I’m nb) and I blog too much about knitting and ballet and my last name looks ugly when it’s used by itself so we’re in approximately the exact same situation. what is life

    1. Mostly I think one would just change usernames — I used to be known as “delorfinde” online and I changed all my usernames in about 2011. Though I guess one would probably need to make new email addresses and there are some websites that don’t let you change your username so you’d have to make new accounts on those. Sounds like we’re in very similar situations!

  2. This is wild, because I go by Em as a nickname. I tell people that it’s because my birth name starts with the letter Em, but really it’s because I’m trans and the name I chose for myself is Emmett.

    1. Heh, I told people Finn was short for my username Delorfinde when actually that was only half true and I really used it because I’m NB and didn’t like how feminine Miriam was, so… relatable.

What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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