What’s in a Name?

It used to be that if you wrote romance, you did it under a pseudonym as a matter of course. Now, though, I see a lot more writers keeping their own names and proudly pointing to their book covers. These days, if you come up with a pen name, there’s usually a reason. Maybe you work as an educator or a lawyer or some other job where you can’t comfortably risk the exposure, or you write two different genres and need to avoid confusion.

Interestingly, if you look at old book titles, it seems like every pen name was Anglo. No matter what the author’s ethnicity really was, everyone was a WASP on paper. I don’t know how this came about. Woodiwiss isn’t a common name, after all. Nor is Heyer. But it seems to have evolved that way over time, and most authors seem to follow suit. Maybe because publishers believed an author’s name should be easy to pronounce, or maybe they thought it should feel familiar. Comfortable. But in so doing, romance authors’ names became homogenized to a surprisingly large extent.

When I first started writing romance, I knew I’d need a pen name because I also planned to write YA. I needed that separation between the sexy and the relatively chaste. So I came up with a name: Talia Daniels, a nod to my husband’s name. But when I went to register it, I discovered a bunch of Talia Danielses. Who knew?

So I decided to come up with a middle initial. And of course I chose Q, because, well, why not?

My husband, the aforementioned Daniel, scoffed. “What name begins with Q?”

“Quinn.”

“Use that. It sounds better than Q.”

And so Talia Quinn Daniels was born. The first time I said the name aloud was when the RWA board member called to say I was a Golden Heart finalist. It sounded awfully strange in my own ears, but I went with it. I figured I’d get used to it.

Until it came time to design my covers. Turns out Talia Quinn Daniels is an awful lot of letters to fit on a cover that needs to be readable in thumbnail format. The length of the name was crimping my design choices.

And so Talia Quinn was born. It still sounded strange to my ears, but again, I figured I’d get used to it.

Then I looked around and realized just how many other romance authors named Quinn there are. And I started to get “Find out the origin of your name!” Facebook ads talking about its innate Irishness. And, um, well, I’m not Irish. Not anywhere near. That doesn’t have to matter, but somehow it did. Because, by whitewashing my name choice, wasn’t I aiding and abetting the genre’s tendency toward a mainstreamed homogeneity? My real name is almost excessively exotic, and I like that about it.

I realize it’s unusual to change my name at this stage–not to take on a new authorial identity, I mean, but to keep the same one, only shift it slightly. But it feels right. And so I’m now:

Talia Surova.

My mother’s father came to America in 1910 as a nine-year-old boy. When he became an adult, he changed his name from Surovsky to something more Americanized. I’m simply changing it back. Returning to my family roots. So far it sounds a lot less strange to my ears. A lot more like me.

(note: I first posted this on the Firebirds group blog, which is where you’ll find the comments.)

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