As an experienced writer, I am sometimes asked why I use various pseudonyms, and not my "real" name. Supposedly that is quite clear for those of you who already know me from what I write; it is a part of my ideological framework. But for the sake of clarity, and for those who do not know me from before, I will spend some words on this subject.
I strongly oppose the notion of a name as "real" or "not real". The only name that can be in some sense "unreal" or "false", is one used with the intention of impersonating another existing person, a sort of identity theft. I certainly do my best to avoid being confused with namesakes or almost namesakes.
I also dislike the word "pseudonym"; "pseudo-" is a prefix implying something not being genuine, and there is nothing false or dishonest with a name just because it has not been recognised by a state, or is known to it. It is still a name, as genuine as anything written in a birth certificate or a passport. You are still you, and I am still I, no matter what names we assign to ourselves. The state is not a God with supreme right to define reality.
"Nome de plume" or "pen name" is a more fitting, less derogatory term. But it still marks a difference from something implicitly understood as more genuine.
I once suggested we simply call it "nym", name. The name in a passport, or other document of state, could be called "civil name". However, although with reservations, I bow to general usage; let's call it a pseudonym so people understand to what we refer.
For any publicly visible activity, it is wise to use a pseudonym. That is a matter of general privacy, of course, but in some cases it can also be a matter of life and death. Many writers have been persecuted for what they write, and some have been killed.
People can be indirectly affected too. I know well a poor young girl who was poisoned, because another person could not come and fetch her from a situation that grew dangerous. She got a serious brain damage and will never again get well. The man who would have fetched her could not come in time. He was refused a visa for something he had written years before, something that happened to be politically sensitive just there and then.
One single time in his life something had by mistake been published under a nym that could be traced to his civil name.
That man was I. Parts of the girl's mental abilities were lost as a consequence.
Since then I am more convinced than ever that writing should always be under a pseudonym, and its connection to one's civil identity should be concealed from public view.
Something that is innocuous today, can next month, year, or decade be deadly; or even pose a danger for one's descendants a century from now.
Of course that will not happen in most cases, but trying to predict what will be sensitive in the future, is as impossible as foreseeing the weather on a specific day twenty years from now. The irrationality of the human mind is boundless.
And, in the end, using a pseudonym costs no money or energy, takes no extra time, is not difficult; and the general privacy advantages are immediate. For me there is no disadvantage, no sacrifice. The choice is easy.
(This article is based on material previously published in Meriondho Leo.)
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