Ask someone: “What’s your name?” and you’ll usually get a straightforward answer—crazy spellings aside. But a lot of times, especially with pen names, there’s a whole backstory behind those “Hello my name is…” stickers. This week, we talk about pseudonyms, mistaken identities, parental foresight (or lack thereof), and more.
I haven’t always been Marla. I was born Mariella. But growing up, it always somehow got translated to Mary Ellen, Marcella, or “Do you mind if I just call you Mary?” Anyone who could spell it couldn’t say it, and anyone who could say it couldn’t spell it. So I decided to make things easy for my pseudonym and go with the much-easier-to-spell “Marla.” As an added bonus, it’s easy for me to answer to, more like a nickname than a pseudonym.
But before there was Marla Cooper, there was Amber Bartley, the pseudonym I chose back in eighth grade. Bartley after a boy I liked, Amber after…. well, I don’t know where Amber came from. I even got a library card issued under that name. For a while I thought that would make a fitting pseudonym, sort of an homage to my eighth-grade self. Until someone at Left Coast Crime made a face when I told him and said, “Can you really picture yourself answering to Amber?” He was right. I couldn’t.
Sorry, Amber Bartley. I’m Marla now.
As everyone who has googled me can tell you (Spoiler Alert: Everyone = Me and my mom), one of the first images that comes up is the stunning photo of Jaclyn Smith found here. As you may know, the lovely Ms. Smith played one of the most iconic characters on television: a Charlie’s Angels member who happened to be named Kelly Garrett. As you can imagine, I’ve been asked on more than one occasion if I was named after her.
The answer is actually no. According to my mom—who’d know—I wasn’t named after Jaclyn Smith. I was named despite Jaclyn Smith. Charlie’s Angels and I are about the same age. It premiered in September 1976. I premiered (REDACTED) years after that. My mom always liked the name Kelly* and figured if it was good enough for a TV character, it was good enough for her daughter. Plus, she reasoned, I’d probably be around a lot longer than the show. Luckily, she was right.
*The E is courtesy of my dad: Ernest. It was either add an E or name me Ernesta. So yeah, dodged a bullet with that one.
I’ve been stuck with a “Q” in my name my entire life. It’s for my maiden name, Quinn, which is common as peat in Ireland. Also common as muck back in the 1960s and 70s: baby girls named Lisa. There were at least three of us in my grade school class each year. Weirdly, we all had long blonde hair. Most of us also shared the same middle name: Ann (mine had an “e,” woohoo!). To keep us straight, our teachers made us use the first initials of our last names. Lisa A, Lisa S, Lisa R and…Lisa Q. I couldn’t wait to dump it when I grew up. But years later, my next door neighbor was another (blonde) Lisa, which made for a lot of mixed-up mail and party jokes. I moved to another part of the country, and thought I’d given my Q the slip for good. Then I became an author and went to buy my domain name. The Mathews with one “t” was available for the low, low price of $1800. And the Matthews with two “t”s was already taken—by a former Playmate of the Year (and no, not giving you a link, but hint: 1991). That had me a little worried my future cozy mystery readers might be in for quite the Google images surprise. Some people—including my agent and publisher—thought maybe I’d added the “Q” for a quirky pen name. Nope. But the initial that stalked me like a Sesame Street alphabet segment finally seems happy on my first book cover, and we’ve made peace. Sort of. But hey, where are you now, other Lisas? I miss you.
I don’t write under a pseudonym. And yet I do.
Allow me to explain.
My birth name is Ellen Seideman. During my brief acting career, I got tired of my last name always being misspelled or mispronounced, so after much experimentation and debate, I subbed in my dad’s middle name – Byron.
As to my first name, when I was born, my father’s one request was that in the Jewish tradition, it pay homage to a late relative. My Italian mother was on board – until she found out that the name in question was Edna. “No way am I naming a kid of mine Edna,” Mom told Dad, with a few choice Italian swear words and hand gestures thrown in to make sure she got her point across. The compromise was a name featuring Edna’s initial– hence, I became Ellen.
I have no middle name because my mother was so discombobulated by my birth – I was her firstborn – that she simply forgot to give me one. But she told me that if she had remembered, it would have been Maria, my late grandmother’s name.
So, you see, my name should really be Edna Maria Seideman.
Thank God it’s NOT!
We’re betting we’re not the only ones with stories about our names. Share yours in the comments below!