Recently I was surfing publishing sites when I came across this author: Jasmine Dreame Wagner. Yeah, Dreame. Unless she was born while her parents partied at Woodstock, I’d bet she made that middle name up.
Does having such a nifty nom-de-plume help an author get published? Of more concern to me is this: Does having an uncool name hurt my chances of being published?
Pon-e-pin-to. Seems simple, but there’s the odd spelling, the two disruptive Ps. It’s Sicilian, but it doesn’t look it. Probably got bastardized when my grandfather landed at Ellis Island, although I’ve never been able to find any history on it.
My earliest memories include first-graders finding easy insult in my name. I was a small kid. Remove the first P and the last O, and I am left with One Pint, about the size of me as a child. And don’t think the other kids didn’t notice the aptronym.
Decades of school, military service, and employment, and it never got better, just more absurd: Pinto; Pony; Pinny; Ponepinhead. Let’s just say no one’s ever said to me, “I wish I had a name like yours.”
The name has always given me trouble because it gives so many others trouble. My dealings with restaurant hosts, repairmen and other service types usually include a butchered attempt at pronunciation (Hello, Mr. Pon… Mr. Pont… um, Mr. Pontepintimino?), followed by a correction, followed by the inevitable, “What kind of name is that?” Depending on my annoyance, I reveal that the name is either Italian, Sicilian, or that I’m an agent of beings from another galaxy, sent to earth to confuse the population before our invasion.
When I lived in California, that educational Neverland, it was worse. Instead of asking the name’s origins, people guessed. Spanish? Uzbeki? Native American? Polynesian Islander? I invoked my intergalactic roots much more often then.
So ever since I turned my career towards fiction writing, I’ve toyed with possible pseudonyms. How would I sell stories and books if readers couldn’t pronounce my name? As in any other business that relies on mass public consumption, you don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle. You need a name that’s short, snappy, filled with punch and potential. Maybe something Waspish, like one of my writing favorites, David Foster Wallace—three Anglo first names (or three Anglo last names, if you prefer) that fly off the tongue. Bing, bang, boom.
But no, I could never pass. Besides, I feel I should stick with my roots. Go for the cultured, continental image. One of my favorite author names has always been Umberto Eco: note the regal, yet sensual first name, coupled with that abrupt burst of emotion—Eco! In Italian, the word “ecco” can be used as an interjection, meaning “so there!” And if you’ve read a little Eco, there’s no doubt he had that in mind.
All right then, let’s embrace my inner Wop. My mother’s maiden name is Tori. That’s easy to pronounce and remember. How about Joe Tori? Nope. Joe Torre—same pronunciation—managed the Yankees and Dodgers for years. Best I’ve been able to conjure has been Giancarlo DeTorre, but that’s almost as convoluted as my original name—so I’ve consigned it to a character in a novel I’m writing. Everything else I invent sounds even more forced and phony.
And yet, there are other authors who have made careers while keeping their original, unusual names: Paolo Tadini Bacigalupi, Michael Czyzniejewski, Daniyal Mueenuddin. If they can do it, why can’t I?* Should I keep or should I change? I am more confused than ever.
Meanwhile, the search goes on.
*No cracks about lack of talent, please.