Why a Nom de Plume?

From early on, I was already toying with the idea of writing anonymously. I do not intend to provide any picture, phone numbers, names of people, addresses, names of companies, age, sex, nationality, ethnicity, citizenship or name of church in this blog. Other things I can disclose. Although I don’t have a well developed explanation for this aversion of writing under my real name, still I started this blog under a pen name. After browsing the web, I am putting a well-articulated position here on why I went on to write under a nom de plume.

Only a select few knows about my blogging and this particular blog, when I was a newbie and was too eager to brag about it. Although I made no upfront agreement with them to keep my identity secret, through this page, I hope they will not pass on my identity to anyone. This is a blog that I am not ashamed to tell anyone, nevertheless, on the net, I do not like my real name to appear on it or to be associated with it, just yet. I will start another blog which I have no intention of even telling anyone, especially since I would be writing about very personal matters on it.

THE UPSIDE

I came across several blogs discussing about anonymity, some of which I will cite here. My primary source of these reasons was a blog by Baraka [1]. I elaborated the reasons on these blogs based on my own situation. I am conflating the reasons here for all my blogs, so you might find that other reasons do not apply with this blog. Ok, so why write under a pen name?

  1. Freedom of Expression. Censorship always upsets a writer. There are a lot of potential censors that could inhibit my creative licence, including but not limited to:
    • My values about human relations. I cherish human relations a lot it prevents me from talking as direct as I want. Other people are a major source of happiness and contentment and contributor to success. Fretting how someone will take my writing would constrain it, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Certain subjects or perspective will become off-limits, certain words become taboos. I would worry if people will disdain me, or will be disgusted of my views, or if there would be other future recriminations. By using a pen name, I can write about things I am ashamed or doubtful of admitting publicly or face to face with another person. I believe my most intimate emotions, desires and struggles are the most identical with other people, a bridge for understanding, a most interesting piece to read, yet they are what I am most afraid to share under a real name. By being anonymous, I can honestly express my innermost self. I want to have complete control on what gets written, including the whys and hows of the whats. I believe I am afraid to be judged and that judgement will stick with me. Readers can still judge the writings, but it is that of an alter ego, which is easier to discard.
    • My real life persona spilling into my blogging persona. If I do not write under a pen name, I give opportunity to readers to associate my writings with other incidental aspects of my personality or humanity. I would like my blog to be read based on its merits, not because of the name or personality associated with it. I would be posting a lot of opinion on contentious issues, and I want readers to judge the argument and logic on its own worth and how it links with the issue at hand and not dismiss it by thinking “….. says it like that because … is……”. Besides, it is good practice for readers to read writings and judge them solely on logical coherence, scope, applicability and redeeming value (or lack of them). Readers have to put up with my quirks though, which is one way for me to be identified with a particular niche as a blogger.
    • Political correctness. Some of my writings tend to be unpopular, I do not plan to be persecuted because of it. There is societal and legal bar on expression of sensitive or rather insensitive ideas on politics, religion, sexuality/erotica and ethnicity. There are topics that I can’t broach while on a dinner without ruining the appetite of someone. Or mention something in a business meeting without jeopardizing my career prospects. By being able to offload these ideas in an anonymous blog, we can endure the unstimulating and narrow topics of every polite social contact without breaking proper decorum and etiquette.
  2. Consideration of Others. As I mentioned in #1a, I value human relations strongly, I want to show tolerance and respect in the real world. I value everyone’s dignity and right to choose their beliefs, although deep down inside, I might strongly disagree with their beliefs and choices. I think about the impact of my actions and words towards other people. I do care about these people and the fallout on them if I do not use a pen name.
    • Loved Ones. The people dear to me might not want to be associated with the ideas that I write, or with the kind of person that I am as interpolated from the ideas I write about. Or there could be repercussions to my loved ones.
    • Associates. People who interact with me (office, clubs, gym, church, etc) will be in a guarded mode out of fear that I might use my blog to write about them, depriving both of us a normal interaction. As a result, I do not normally mention to anyone that I blog.
    • Readers. By blogging under a penname, I think I am giving readers a fuller, uncensored personal perspective. Readers will be short changed if I am not able to fully develop my ideas, or fully explain the emotional underpinnings of a particular decision or view I am taking. I do not write to please everybody, but I do not write as well just to alienate certain groups. I write for the love of writing, for the love of reason, for the love of freedom, for the love of beauty, and for the love of the peace and good.
  3. Compartmentalization. A pen name is a wall, a mask that separates my life as a blogger from my other public life. It keeps both incompatible worlds separate in public as I want them to be. I want my blogging name in blogosphere to connote a profile of idealism, originality (path-breaking), profundity (clear & deep thinking), tenacity and complexity. It might not be now but it should evolve into those in the future hopefully. In my other public life, I display less of those qualities, being more pragmatic, traditional, consensus seeking, laid back and simple person. It would be confusing to maintain the two personalities under the same face and name. I don’t want to act strange to my family and friends. I am satisfied and pleased that my face is associated with the easy going person that I am outside of the net.
  4. Invisibility. I don’t want to be visible if googled, and my writings to generate inordinate attention to myself. Even if I get published, I’ll still write under different pen names depending on what subject or genre I write. There is a certain joy in being unknown, of being able to wander to places without being stopped or stared at, of being able to talk to ordinary people, of being daggy sometimes. I want to go on enjoying my short life without anyone poking their noses into it. Popularity and unpopularity/notoriety both have merits either of which I really do not lust after. I feel fulfilled as a person without the need to stand on the roof and shout or call attention to myself. But I am not a recluse or antisocial, my corporate life prevents me from being that. My confidence and self-assurance are just fine with or without the anonymity on, in both worlds.
  5. Privacy. I think writing under my real name and divulging all my feelings, weaknesses, desires, foibles, etc., is like going out naked: it’s a form of nudity. I can’t, in my natural, normal mind, go out in public conducting my business naked in full view of all the people all the time. It’s like having a see-through clothes on, or living in a see-through house. Its washing one’s dirty linen in public.
  6. A real person is more than a name. Being just a word, it is really indistinguishable on-line if I am lying by saying so and so is my real name versus saying it is a pen name. Unless I post my pic and provide substantial identifying details or I am a public figure, any name is not yet a real me, however truthful my intentions are. It’s an all or nothing situation if you want to get real. It is better to tell the truth that it is a pen name rather than saying it is your real name and lying about it (lying tends to infect and spawn in most aspects of a lyer’s life) or not lying but opening a potential threat to your life.
  7. Insurance. A pen name is a form of security, making enquiries more difficult. There are many potential sources of risks, so why notreduce it? With too much information online about me if I use my real name, people would know what moves me, where I live, my daily routine, where to chance upon me. And that is a potentially dangerous advantage I had just given away to someone I might not even know by name. And even if I know their names, I might not know their ulterior motives. Published wordsremain on the net for some time, difficult to take back and erase. They’re available for use by anyone for multiple purposes, should the means, motive and opportunity arise. Loved ones can be harassed, can turn into bitter enemies, or just plain doing “damage in disguise” without them knowing in spite of good intentions. With this in mind, it is up to commenters of my blog if they should supply their real names or email addresses as well. There are no permanent friends, only permanent interests, and some who are careless. As a form of mercy to unhinged people, I will not supply them with the means to find me. These are what concerns me most:
    • Stalkers who might get obsessed (too curious, too furious, or too fond) with my cyberpersona.
    • Cyberbullies.
    • Identity thieves, who may commit fraud using my personal details.
    • Low lifes sending unsolicited emails and spams.
    • Current and future employers and colleagues who discriminate on bloggers as potential threats.
    • Other potential business relations (partners, bankers, employees, etc.) could not possibly start fresh if I want to start my own company which I am now seriously planning. Reputation can go either way.
  8. Easy to discard. A pen name can beleft behind, should circumstances dictate it.
    • Due to failure. I can walk away from a failed blog unscathed and start afresh with a newly minted pen name, wiser with the lessons of failure. A new name has no history. A name is treated differently if it’s different. The publishing industry cannot attach to me anymore any failed or lacklustre performance. Very few readers spend time uncovering possible pen names of a single writer or digging the autobiographies of each and every writer. Readers would rather do the single thing they love the most: read.
    • If I need to come out. I can always come out if I decide later for whatever reason, but I can’t be anonymous anymore after becoming a public figure. Once published under a real name, privacy is compromised and under public scrutiny, especially if it becomes a big hit. Phone numbers, email addresses, physical addresses, financial records, medical records, family trees, histories, etc all could be fair game for paparazzis and the media who wants a slice of you.
  9. Not unique to blogging. It is common tradition to adopt a pseudonym when entering public life. A king or pope adopts a regnal name when he ascends the throne; an actor, model or performer adopts a screen name or stage name; and in combat sports ring names are used. So why not me? It’s the only way I can brag by name by imitating a practice common among kings, popes, actors and other public figures.

THE DOWNSIDE

The negative side which I have to deal with includes:

  1. Trust factor and credibility. This is succinctly stated by one commenter, saying “why should the average reader care about the opinion of someone who cannot identify themselves?” [2] about anonymous comments. I can feel an underlying disdain in this comment. Short answer: Because opinions should stand on its own merits, not on the merits of the person who made it. I have made a lengthy case about this above, so fell free to refer if anyone has forgotten so soon. Another question: Am I hiding something? Yes and no. For yes, see the list under THE UPSIDE above. For no, read on. There is a widely held belief that credibility and trust factor go up with a real name. Happily, I need not join the chorus since I am writing under a pen name. I think credibility depends partly on the subject matter and the overall tone of the writing. If I am talking about ideas and I back it up with facts and proofs and logical arguments, a pen name is not a hindrance in believing a blog. If I am talking about products and people, then yes, a real name would be a factor, but still not the deciding factor. It is how I treat people and products in my blog that matter, especially if I whack people. It is said that integrity is difficult to hide, it shines through. It is not diminished just because it is under a pen name or called itself “anonymous”.
  2. Subpar quality. The argument goes, since I am not publicly accountable, I will not take my writing seriously, like any real piece of writing. Well, bloggers have a hunger for self-fulfilment and personal satisfaction through public recognition; otherwise, they would not publish their works over the net. If I don’t want to be a solitary blogger without an audience, then I must care about my readership, I should care about the quality of my writings. Quality is determined by the readers and as long as they are satisfied, they would come back time and again. Readers can feel if a blogger is making a connection or a kindred spirit. So yeah, if my blog is not up to scratch, I will duly amend it, and continually amend it to reflect the level of my intellectual development or maybe reflect my lack of it. Readers decide when it is the right time to leave.
  3. No glory [3]. There are different motivations for blogging, and different intensities of such motivation. Some bloggers do crave or hunger for glory as a payoff for the many hours “slaving to write a decent book”. In reality, it’s just in the blogger’s mind, as there is a disconnect initially between the blogger and the pen name, as if the pen name is a different individual. But “after a while, they come to associate themselves with their pen names as much as their real names”, as Shane said. Failure is not a problem, we always want to sweep it under the rug, but with success (like money, being in the bestseller’s list, excellent reviews, etc.) comes the temptation to brag. How do I ascribe credit to myself and share the new and improved me with the people I care about and the people who belittle me? How do I prevent a beautiful secret craving to escape from my mouth? The answer to this one is unique to each individual and cannot be prescribed. In my case, I can share it with my loved ones only (spouse, partner, lover), provided they must vow not to break my trust by sharing it with others.
  4. Cowardice. Am I afraid and not ready for my voice to be heard as mine? This self-directed query betrays a simplistic, mono-dimensional, naive outlook. My concern is not just pure, unalloyed fear, my world is more complex as I have painted above.
  5. Licence to offend. It has been observed by AC Grayling that anonymity of a blogger or commenter provides people a cover “to be gratuitously offensive. …a cover for cowardice, and it allows some to get away with discourtesy …. without having to make a case for the disagreement, opposition and dislike they express…The posters lurk behind anonymity, not infrequently indulging in downright personal rudeness because they are thus emboldened by it”.[4] While I do agree with him, letting steam off cannot be eradicated. Even some people who signs in with real names can be rude. Besides, not every argument can be verbalized and ordered in rational and logical statements, plus not every person has that ability. From the complete repertoire of responses, people pick a limited set for themselves in defending their beliefs, with invectives as direct, knee-jerk emotional arguments to put the point across other people. It has its uses, but one must be judicious in timing and circumstances. If I am the recipient of such nasty things, I will be taken aback of course but at the same time, the situation is pointing another avenue in engaging the person. And indifference is always there as an alternative response.
  6. Susceptibility to plagiarism. Without any identifiable author, my work is in a very high danger of being plagiarized or claimed by another, as it is accessible to everyone. If that happens, there is always legal recourse for me to think about. My writings, even if under a pen name, are still covered by IP rights. There are ways of proving that my work is plagiarized, or its mine and I just used a pen name. My loved ones know the pen name as that of me for 20 years now plus I know the password of the blog and it is registered with my email address. Additionally, does the claimant speak the languages spoken in the blog? Does she/he have the same set of beliefs, interests or other skills displayed in the blog or book?
  7. Public records. Those who are truly intent on discovering identities can always look at public records. To avoid leaking my real name when I get published, I have some thoughts on how to do it but this is not tested yet. (a) I will only deal with a lawyer agent who signed a confidentiality agreement with me. He should be the only one who knows that the pen name and me are the same person apart from loved ones. He will facilitate the creation of a legal arrangement for purpose of keeping my identity secret. (b) The agent will deal with the publishing house for me. (c) My account name with the publishing company should be my pen name, so that all payments will be in that name. (c) As a person with financial background, I know that (i) I can and must open bank accounts with pen names as business names, (ii) all my official receipts and invoices should be under my pen name, and (iii) when filing my tax records, it should only be in my real name, without any reference that can connect me with the pen name. I would love to hear if anyone out there has attempted this or has done something better.

Readers might think this is a bit extreme, but anonymity is not a prison either. In due time, I will reveal myself, so I hold myself accountable for everything that I am writing.


Sources:

[1] http://rickshawdiaries.wordpress.com/2006/03/27/to-be-or-nom-de-plume

[2] http://gaizabonts.wordpress.com/2006/10/06/rivalry-imports-anonymity//

[3] http://romanticinks.com/2006/01/11/is-a-pen-name-for-you/

[4] http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/ac_grayling/2007/01/blogging_and_posting.html

One Response to “Why a Nom de Plume?”

  1. Patricia Says:

    Hey. You covered a lot of the ball field reasonably.
    No problem with nom de plumes, personally. What you’re saying is what really matters. I’m coming back here to read more.
    Thanks for including my blog here.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: