Patchwork Thoughts

Dear All,

Today,  my brain is a bit like a badly made salad sandwich. It’s full of lots of little bits of unidentifiable mush, most of which is green and squishy. Nothing seems to go very well with anything else, and there’s a faint tang of questionable mayonnaise. Overall, the whole thing is soggy and unappetising.

Sort of like this. Except my brain feels more green and leafy.Image:

Sort of like this. Except my brain feels more green and leafy.

So, I must beg your indulgence if today’s post is a bit stranger than normal.

The things occupying my mind today include: sudden change, religion, noms de plume, the resilience of people, and love (naturally, given the day). I can’t say why, exactly, these things are among the pieces of flotsam and jetsam washing up on the beach of my inner sea, but there you are. So, I’ll pick one of these things at random and we’ll see how we get on.

Roll up, roll up...Image:

Roll up, roll up…

And the winner is…. noms de plume (or pen names, if you don’t want to be pretentious). Did you ever want to have one, or did you ever imagine you’d adopt a different name at some point in your life? One more glamorous or interesting than your given name, maybe? I used to think about this a lot when I was younger. It probably came out of my dreams to write, or at least to be a creative person. I was going to be an artist for a while, too, but that dream sort of faded away as I grew older. But when I decided writing was my ‘thing’, I thought I’d do it under the name Yolanda Salazar, just because I liked the sound of it. Or maybe Phyllida L. Ravenscroft, or Jessica Lavery, or Xantha Musgrave. I had loads of names in my posy of identities. All of them made me sound like a middle-aged scribbler of questionable novels, the type with ripped bodices and swarthy miners/firemen/cowboys/etc. on the cover. I’m not quite sure why this was, because it’s not like I had a lot of exposure (no pun intended) to that sort of novel as a younger gal. (I should probably point out that I still don’t have any great familiarity with that sort of novel now, in my old age, either. Just in case you were wondering).

As I grew older and got a bit of sense, I decided I’d write under my middle name and my mother’s maiden name, because they sounded good together and they made sense, and I was more likely to be able to remember that name under pressure. It would be weird, I thought, to be at a book launch or some sort of terribly glamorous event and to show yourself up to be a total flake by exhibiting difficulty in remembering your own name. But then I got married, and my husband’s name rocked, so I just swiped that one (well, with my own initials in front of it, naturally). It turned out for the best in the end without me having to do very much, so it’s a bit of a win-win for me. I still have my other name (my middle name and mum’s maiden name) on the back burner, in case I decide to start writing blood-curdling horror novels at some point and want to have a different identity to slot them into. It’s good to have a plan B, I think.

Back in ‘the day’, of course, women writers sometimes needed to take male names in order to be published, or to be taken seriously. I still remember how my mind exploded when I learned that George Eliot was actually Mary Anne Evans, and I remember feeling angry when I read my introduction to ‘Wuthering Heights’ as a teenager and discovered the whole ‘Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell’ thing. My enthusiasm for name changing was nothing to do with being female, of course, but everything to do with being a pasty little Irish girl with exactly no qualifications to write or create anything. Also, my birth name came with lots of assumptions about what sort of person I was and what sort of family I came from. It even allowed people from my locality to put me in a particular ‘slot’ – they could tell whose child and grandchild I was, where I lived, and who my aunts, uncles and cousins were, just by hearing my name. Assuming a different identity gave me the freedom to be creative, I felt. It was like giving my mind a room of its own, and allowing it to do something different than just be ‘that girl from the top of the town’.

In a way, though, I’m glad that I’ve ended up using my own name (not, admittedly, the name I was born with – but it is my own name!) as I set off into my dream. Somehow, anything else would’ve felt ‘unreal’, like I was giving someone else the freedom to follow their heart, and not myself.

Amazing how much power a name can have, isn’t it?

(All right, all right. I know I can’t post on a day like V-Day without mentioning it, so here goes – happy Valentine’s Day. Let’s all do something – even something small – to let another person know they’re loved today. It’s about more than stupid cards and meaningless bunches of flowers, of course. It’s about showing someone how important they are and how much they mean to you, whether it’s your spouse, your parent(s), your sibling(s), your binman, the guy who hands you your morning coffee, whatever it might be. Everyone needs a little positivity and appreciation, and not just on February 14th either. I’m thinking of a very dear friend (hopefully, she’s reading, and if she is, she’ll know who she is) – to her, today, I want to say ‘you are loved, always.’ Happy V-Day.)

16 thoughts on “Patchwork Thoughts

  1. anna3101

    I never wanted to have a second name until I came to Poland. In Russia you only have one name. There they have middle names! Two of them! I immediately felt like I was deprived of something very important and very cool 🙂 Now it’s my dream to get myself a middle name. Not yet possible officially but I hope someday… It does give you a whole world of opportunities – under a different name, you are a different person. Just like with foreign languages. I’m more cheerful when I speak Spanish and more self-confident when I speak English. If I got a second name, I’d be able to be one more person, while still being in one body and hopefully with one (sane) mind 🙂 What’s your middle name, if you can tell?

    1. SJ O'Hart Post author

      Don’t you have a Deed Poll system in Russia (or Poland) whereby you can change your name legally if you want to? We have one in Ireland. I suppose it would be great to have one name for one part of your life and another for a different part of your life – you could put on and off your names and identities as easily as putting on and off an overcoat.

      Yes, I have a middle name – two middle names, in fact. In Ireland, in the Catholic Church at least, we are given a middle name when we’re baptised and we take a Confirmation name when we’re about twelve or so. I have three ‘first’ names and two surnames, if you count my maiden name as well as my married name.

      Phew. Confusing. 🙂

      I don’t feel comfortable giving you my actual names, but I can tell you that my initials are S.J.M. 🙂

      Also, I wish I could speak as many languages as you. I can speak English, Irish, a bit of French, a very small bit of Spanish, and a smattering of German. I also know about two sentences of Dutch, and my pronunciation is terrible. It’s a dream of mine to become fluent in at least four languages. Someday, someday…

      1. anna3101

        I think you can change your name legally but only if you give an important reason for that. Sad but true 😦 Actually, I think I know your real name if it’s the one you use on goodreads 😉 But for the sake of anonimity I can call you… hmmm… let’s say Susanna Jane Maria. Or would you prefer Sofia Joanne Millicent? 😀

      2. SJ O'Hart Post author

        Susanna Jane Maria will do just fine. I love the name Maria, it was my grandmother’s name. 🙂 Yes, my real first name is on goodreads and also on Twitter. But my J and my M will remain forever unknown. Unless my husband starts his own blog and reveals my identity to the world, that is. 😀

      3. anna3101

        I can say the same about my boyfriend, though it would be sooo exciting if he ever had a blog, I’d be his number one follower 🙂 Sadly, that’s not happening in any foreseeable future 😦

      4. SJ O'Hart Post author

        Yup. It’s pronounced ‘Shin-Aid’. Most people would put the stress on the ‘Aid’ bit. It’s the name ‘Jane’ translated into Irish – or, so they say. I just know I like it. 🙂

      5. anna3101

        I just checked it out on Wikipedia – it has a beautiful meaning! The only other person I know with your name is a famous Irish singer 🙂 But I guess it should be popular where you live? My name is way too popular here *sighs*

      6. SJ O'Hart Post author

        When I was born (many moons ago) it wasn’t a very popular name. But since that famous Irish singer became a household name in the 1980s it has become far more popular. So, yes, my name is all over the place in Ireland. But I don’t mind it too much. I was a trendsetter, or my parents were at least. 🙂

      7. SJ O'Hart Post author

        Oh, yes. All my favorite names are Irish, and therefore unpronounceable. 🙂 But Irish is full of beautiful names. My favourite male name is Tiernan, and my favourite female name is probably Maeve (also spelled Maedhbh or Medb). She was a powerful queen, said to be legendary (but I believe she was real, of course.) 🙂

      8. anna3101

        I know a writer with that name – Maeve Binchy I think – but after reading one book by her I gave up the idea of reading more 🙂

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