13 May 2011

On the Naming of Names

I started writing before I could spell. I drew pictures in sequence like a comic strip. They weren't very funny, however. Eventually I was writing short, multi-paragraph tales of similar (cartoonish) material. I was big on illustrating standard jokes. Then, as my world enlarged year by year and stories lengthened page by page (those were the days of typewriters), I began to consider the Big Question: 

What name would I use as an author?

Perhaps that is not what most elementary school pupils have as their most pressing matter of importance. But it was mine. By the time I was in what we called junior high school, I was reading mostly science fiction and fantasy, as well as the classics of English literature and world literature translated into English. I was not a bookworm; rather, I was a book caterpillar. The authors I read had such wonderful names: Roger Zelazny, Robert Silverberg. Isaac Asimov, Miguel de Cervantes, Feodor Dostoevsky, Heinrich von Kleist, and so on. But I did not like my name.

Stephen Swartz. Two strikes. With my middle name (not to be repeated here), it was three strikes. I did not like Bible stuff to begin with, so having names from that book irritated me. When I learned that "Stephen" was the guy who got stoned (as in having rocks thrown at him, not smoking marijuana), I shuddered at using the name. That it was from Greek and meant "crown" did little to inspire me, either. My surname Swartz was a good German name that was conveniently misspelled at Ellis Island. The correct spelling would probably be: Schwarz. It means "black"--the color, or dark in general. Having ancestors from the Black Forest in southwest Germany (where the trees grew so close together they blocked out the sun, is what my grandmother told me) helped explain it--and I was always explaining it to everyone who mispronounced it or deliberate misspoke it by way of an insult. Swartz- Shorts - Sports - Snorts, and Warts.

So I embraced the Pseudonym, or pen name. What shall I be called? I liked the sound of foreign words, especially after I tried to teach myself Russian from an old Berlitz book. For a while I used the pen name Boris Khivitikov.  Briefly, the more exotic Krum Kiram.  As I began creating the world of Ghoupallesz, I borrowed some native names. Then I tried the unwieldy Stefan von Schwarz. I considered using initials, too. Soon it dawned on me that if I used some pen name, nobody who knew me would believe I had written the books with those names. I could not simply stand in a book store and point at a book "by Boris Khivitikov" and expect anyone to believe Boris and me were the same.

Therefore, I gradually learned to live with my names, and to accept the names given to me by my parents, the people least able to anticipate my adult naming needs. Stephen Swartz it is and, I guess, shall always be. I might flip the middle initial in there for one genre or the other that I write, just for show. Either way, I've always preferred the title to outshine the author name on book covers. It is the story that is all-important, not the feeble, innocent human (or elf, ogre, warrior, lackey, etc.) who pens it, copying furiously as the Muses whisper in his ear, lucky to catch even half of it all.

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