Monday, May 30, 2011

What's in a name?

Warning: This post is quite long, and isn't about writing, and tells you stuff about me as a person and not as a writer.

Since it was mentioned by a couple of people in the comments on my last post, I'll tell you the story behind my multiple surnames. The story itself isn't that exciting but it does bring up an interesting topic, that of pen names.

I've read a lot about pen names, written by people both for them, and against them. Here's my issue, and the reason why I've only just added my surname to my blog. I wanted the name on my blog to be the one I would use if I ever do get published but I didn't know what that name would be. Not because I wouldn't want friends and family to know I'd got a book out – who's going to buy it if not them? – but because I don't know what my name will be when that day comes.

I have no emotional attachment to surnames. I had my Father's name when I was born, which was nice of him as he didn't give me much else. The funny thing is he didn't even give me that really, the way my name is spelled on my birth certificate is different to how he spelled it for his own use. (He also made up four first names for himself. Honestly. I first saw a copy of my birth certificate when I was ten and thought I actually had a different father than the one I was led to believe was mine!)

After being in care, I was fostered at the age of ten. My foster parents decided I should have their name. Apparently this is unusual when there are no plans to adopt. I wasn't happy about this. I'll admit, the biggest problem I had with this idea was that they had the most common surname in England and I liked the one I had already, it wasn't a family loyalty thing, at this point I had no family. I complained, but the voices of ten-year-olds aren't very loud and it was done. They really should have done it officially, getting a passport was a terrible struggle, but luckily little girls don't have that many official documents so by the time I was an adult the name was mine.

In the meantime, at the age of fourteen I'd met and formed a relationship with my birth-mother. At the age of eighteen I was asked by my foster mother to leave their home. It was a good idea and one that neither party ever regretted. A year later I moved across the country to live near my mum and her family. She lived with a man who she'd been with since not long after leaving my Father. When I was 20, she married this man. (He's the man I call Dad) I took their name. This time I did it by deed poll. It was much easier to get a new passport.

Six years later, I got married and took my fourth surname. The one I now have. Seven years ago my marriage broke up. I now have a new partner who I expect to be with for the rest of my life (as much as any of us can expect these things, anyway). Which brings me to today. My ex-husband and I never got divorced. We'll probably do it when the girls are sixteen, when judges won't be anxious to 'fix' childcare arrangements that are not broken. I keep his surname purely because it's the same as my daughters and it makes my life easier. I suspect I'll change it when I divorce, but to what? Techno's name? That's a strong possibility, although I doubt we'll marry; or the last name I had before I got married? Another contender. The one thing I was quite sure of was that I didn't want my ex-husband's name on a book I'd written. So I was dithering about which of the other two choices I should use for my blog.

Then something one of my girls said to me a week or so ago, made the decision for me.

“When you have a book published, I can't wait to show my friends at school.”

She has three years of school left. I didn't have the heart to tell her she'd probably be out of school and university before I ever get a book published, but it did make me realise. That surname I'm not bothered about? It's not just my ex-husband's name, it's my daughters' name too. So, for Diva and Blue, the first book I ever get published will be by Sarah Pearson. Whatever my name really is by then.

When I originally wrote this post, there was lots more stuff in it about my life that was nothing to do with names. It was fun to write though. I think I will write that autobiography after all!


  1. This has got to be the best post I've read on why someone decided to use a pen name. I was shocked though that your foster parents wanted you to take their name since they weren't adopting you. I've never heard of that before.

  2. Stina - thank you. Yes, things were 'interesting', that's for sure :)

  3. Wow! You've had quite the name changes. And I'm with Stina - how strange your foster parents wanted you to take your name without officially adopting you.

  4. Talli, 'strange' would not be an out of place word to describe parts of my childhood :)

  5. This was a great post Sarah, but the most touching from your daughter - "When you have a book published, I can't wait to show my friends at school.” So gorgeous. You've had quite the life. I hope your life now is wonderful and that those 'empty white pages' are filling up!


  6. Great post Sarah, I use a pen name but its my middle name, Louise and my husbands middle name, Charles. So I still feel it's very much me (and acknowledgement of his ongoing support). Lovely comment from your daughter...

  7. L'Aussie - Sometimes it takes my daughters to remind me of the difference between what is important, and what I merely think is important :)

    Louise - I love that you used your husband's middle name. What better way to say thanks for the support!


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