When I decided that I was finally going to give this “writer thing” a serious try, I was convinced that I had to do it under my own name. I told myself that if I published under my name–my married name now–that I would be held accountable. And in first starting, maybe I needed this trumped up sense of responsibility, of feeling that I had to make the work truly stellar. But over the past week I’ve come to realize that my previous beliefs, while perhaps essentially valid, were flawed for me.
Since childhood, I have wafted through different online communities, always under an assumed name. Throughout my middle and high school years, I was Morgan Daniels, and I still have some friends who call me that. In my gangling teenager days, I had one identity crisis after the other–people liked me online when I was Morgan, but then I’d go to school as Erica and have very few friends. I finally started to come to terms with my own name, and my identity, when I met my now-husband. For the first time, I was hearing my name out of the lips of someone who loved and accepted me as I had always longed for. I was, in those moments, proud to be an Erica.
When I joined another online community in my adult years, I christened myself Millie Doyle. I promised myself that Millie would be a better version of me, a less judgmental and angry incarnate. Yet in reality, this “new me” I promised was no different than the old one: loud, spirited, emotional, and utterly passionate.
I told myself that after years of hiding behind aliases, I would expose myself to the world this time. In placing my name on those covers, I would accept what I should have known since my first days of writing sex scenes in a fantasy roleplaying group: I am, have probably been as long as I’ve written in an adult capacity, a romance writer. I would not hide behind society’s ideals that romances are pure smut, that there is no validity to them. No, I would understand who I am and what I write, and I would be proud.
A conversation with a few dear Twitter friends started to turn my thoughts in another direction. What if I didn’t just need a name to be who I am? As the great Shakespeare says “a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet.” A pen name would give me some sort of separation between my professional and personal lives, something which my compartmentalizing mind appreciated. I began to seriously consider the possibility.
After a day of constant thought, I became better acquainted with the idea of billing myself as someone of my own creation, outside of the identity that I had developed in marriage. If I wrote under an assumed name, I would be giving my children at least some sort of chance at a life outside of a public eye (as most writers inevitably hope they shall wind up on the New York Times bestseller list, and if you are like me, you plan every detail down to the last curley-q on how you’ll sign letters to your friends announcing your success). While I might accept my newfound identity, I’m well aware of the fact that children are cruel. Being a romance writer is wonderful for me, but still I wanted to keep that private, separated from my future life as a mother. Still more I liked the anonymity this would give me, for in a startling world of little internet privacy I was at least two clicks away from having my home address found instead of one.
When I chose this pen name, I wanted to stick close to what I had come to love. I kept my own first name, for both ease of use and the fact that I am done hiding. Most days, I love who I’ve become. And I wanted to keep a M last name–I’ve been EM all my life, and I didn’t intend on changing now. I chose an English name, now covering another section of my beloved British Isles. I’ve been Irish by birth, Scottish by marriage, and now English by nom de plume.
But I think really, it was the chance at creating something entirely mine, a name that would last no matter what life changes I make. Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, my marriage will last through hell and back, but the preplanner in me who wants to have every single contingency covered is happy to have an identity that no one can take from me. I’m still a little scared to embark on this stage of my life as Erica Monroe, but I think in time I will grow adjusted, just as I have to every other name.
Because maybe, that’s all names are–another road post in our map of life. Anne Tyler once said that “I write because I want to have more than one life.” Maybe that’s why I compulsively rename myself too: each name is like a new invention, another new leaf. I haven’t been Erica Monroe for long, but I think I like where this version is heading.