What's in a Name?
By Jacquie Brown
When you leave abuse you want to stay hidden; you want to stay silent. There’s safety in silence. But how can you stay silent and safe when there are others still trapped in a situation like that, and you know the way out? How can you stay silent when God says, “Write a book” like He did to me?
I know there are many of you out there infuriated with social injustice and longing to be part of positive change.
It’s not right … this has to be stopped …. people need to know about this!
And yet we know it may not be safe to voice our thoughts. So what do we do? We create a nom de plume.
Creating a pen name, or pseudonym, is relatively easy; you just write something publicly under that name. As my copyright lawyer told me, there is no legal process you have to go through. However, weaving the various threads of your cloak produces a myriad of potential ramifications.
When I was in the middle of writing my book I felt a pen name would help protect my loved ones. I tried one name for two of my talks but it was too disturbing. When I was called by a strange name I felt inauthentic and confused. To add to the confusion, I chose a name that was hard for others to remember. I decided to drop it and write under my maiden name, which is always our legal name and can be assumed whenever we want even if we changed our name for marriage.
When choosing a pen name, enter into the process with help from the Holy Spirit. How do we want to be portrayed? Choosing a style of name that matches our purposes adds power to our message and our branding. Different name styles suit different genres. One useful online site with an eight-step pen name creation process is http://www.wikihow.com/Make-Your-Own-Pseudonym
Identity protection is a powerful reason to write under a pseudonym and was my reason for considering it. My maiden name, Brown, was so common it already afforded me some anonymity, otherwise I would have chosen a pen name. However, anonymity does not mean we can escape liability for defamation of character (writing false information about a real person). Also, even when facts are true we should guard against revealing information that could cause physical harm. Changing the names of people and places may be a wise option.
Publishing creates an avenue for your true identity to be discovered. Publishers welcome pen names; however, you are usually advised to make sure your editor and your agent know your real name, which will also be on your contracts. These create avenues for your true name to be discovered. Filing for copyright protection is another area that will most likely bring your true identity into play.
An important piece in today’s world is to create and co-ordinate your online presence so that you have your own little web within the Web. A website with your pen name as the domain is a good anchor for your web to spin out from. Linking to your website, create a presence using your pen name in the other social media platforms, especially Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube. An excellent tool helping you to stay private on Facebook is Privacy & Safety on Facebook: A Guide for Survivors of Abuse, which is also useful for anyone wanting to maintain privacy. To preserve anonymity, ensure you keep privacy and safety in the forefront as you create each strand of your personal web.
Real World presence
How will you manage your name and address in your real world? You can create a private address with a postal box through UPS to handle mail and parcel delivery incognito. However, how will you deal with your name? In most jurisdictions authors are required to obtain local business licenses if they are selling their own books. Also, some cities require you to register a “Doing Business As” if you are not doing business under your real identity. Banking is another place that will want your personal information. What name will be on your royalty cheques? Taxation too is driven by your identity. You cannot write under a pseudonym to escape taxation. Even Jesus paid taxes. Each of these activities could create a paper trail to your true identity. If you want to prevent any paper trail it would be best to seek legal guidance.
From Pretend to Permanent
A solution to the various ramifications of using a pseudonym, while trying to keep your true identity under wraps, would be to legally change your name. In some circumstances, if your life is in danger, which is common for abuse cases, the federal government will create a new persona for you including a new social insurance number. The process to a permanent name change should begin with a lawyer but choose one wisely—ensure the lawyer is not connected to the person behind your desire to remain anonymous.
If you have decided to adopt a nom de plume, enter into the process thoughtfully and prayerfully. Our names are so deeply connected to our identities that changing them can change more than just letters on a page; it can change us. To transcend your current state and inspire you onward and upward to loftier ideals, choose a name that will help you step into the fullness of who God created you to be.
*This article is for informational purposes only. For expert legal advice about your own publishing questions, always consult an attorney.*
About this Contributor:
Jacquie was trapped in domestic violence for decades. She finally escaped and now gives others the map to freedom through her book Off the Map: Follow Me Out of Domestic Violence, short listed in the 2011 Word Alive Press Free Publishing Contest.