A Writer by Any Other Name

I never liked my last name as I was growing up. It lent itself too readily to the bullies and the inevitable jokes about the pronunciation when I was in junior high and high school.

“Did you say your name was COCKS?”

And I would cringe and spell it for the idiot but the damage was done.

As a high school and middle school teacher, I managed to perfect nonchalance when introducing myself to a new group of teens, and I cultivated a look that could strip paint from a wall when anyone dared make a joke of my name. But I still happily shed it when I married for the first time, thinking myself well-rid of the albatross of my birth.

My first husband’s last name, however, was the victim of frequent mispronunciation.

“Mrs. Maths?”

“How do you say that? Mats?”

The outsourcing of service centers to Asia has not improved the situation now that my last name is Bibby.

“Es Mrs. Bebe available?”

And I am not alone in the name dilemma game. My late husband’s mother took her name loathing to the point where she legally moved everything one place to the left. Her middle name became her first name, maiden name the middle name and her married surname tacked onto the end. An act rooted in family tradition as her own mother had done the same thing.

When my dad died in October, the name thing reared its head again in a more poignant way. I had noticed for sometime that younger women writers seemed to habitually employ two surnames. I didn’t think anything of the practice one way or the other. One last name was as good as another, and the associations with family – old or new – wouldn’t matter much to a person’s audience because a writer is creating a new existence and history for her name whenever she publishes. Her identity then is her creation alone and a good writer can call herself anything. Jane Austen, I believe, published her first novel as “Anonymous”.

But I now am published under all three of my names because my evolution has not taken my public persona into account. So who am I?

Ann Cox Bibby? Or Ann Mathes Bibby? Or A. Cox-Mathes-Bibby? Maybe Ann Coxathesibby?

Recently I was relating the story of my daughter’s decision to change the spelling of her name. She decided to drop the y and add ie instead. Her announcement that she was no longer Katy as I nicknamed her startled me only because of her age. She is six. As a former middle school teacher, I was routinely confronted with name alterations and came to see it as a rite of passage for many children.

“You were okay, though, with her changing her name?” I was asked.

Her name is Katherine. How the diminuitive is spelled is a matter of preference and truthfully I always preferred it with an ie but having a sister with the same name and spelling made it problematic. Thus the y.

It got me thinking even more about my own identity. Who am I in terms of my moniker? I have been Ann, Annie, Anniegirl, Anabelle, Bonan, Red, Blondie and Ann Marie. I’ve been a Cox, a Mathes and a Bibby. And every one of those names is my own but not one truly defines me wholly.

Someday my daughter will trade the ie for just an i, later she may be Kat or Katherine and more than likely she will be a combination of all the variations she chooses or is christened with by friends forever. Just like me. And like Shakespeare’s rose, the labels will not alter the essence of who she is because it’s words and actions that count.

This was an Original 50 Something Moms piece on Dec. 20, 2008

5 thoughts on “A Writer by Any Other Name

  1. I couldn’t wait to change my maiden name when I got married. If I hadn’t married, I would have changed my last name at some point, possibly to my mother’s maiden name of Smith – for real. I kid my husband that it was his last name, easy to say and spell and starts with a letter in the middle of the alphabet, that first attracted me to him. Not totally true but it was a factor.

  2. Simply write under a pseudonym. Create a catchy nom de plume. That’s what I’ve done and it actually derived from an anagram.


  3. Fun fact: When I got married, I took my wife’s name. My father was a stranger to me so I felt no need to keep my name or impose it on her or my kids. However, if I had know what a logistical nightmare a name change is I probably would have balked. My sister-in-law called me a Renaissance Man. My brother called me a big pussy.

  4. I always hated my name. When I finally came to grips with that, I just … stopped going by my given name, and started going by one I chose myself. It’s not a legal name change, but it’s worked out all right for the last twelve or thirteen years.

    Wish I’d done it sooner.

    Names … who knew there was so much to them?

  5. lovely look at the name game. i hated my given middle name, so it was with delight that i moved my maiden name to the middle slot when i got married. never used it… until after dad died. last of the lineage got me putting it in the signature block, on business cards, even though i don’t use it as a ‘go by’ name… if i hadn’t been married for 25 years, and published under the married name (tech papers, reports, journal articles)? i’d have probably gone back to just the maiden name…

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