“Every name is real. That’s the nature of names.” – Jerry Spinelli, Stargirl

I’ve been thinking a lot about names today, largely because I got a small email asking a big question about the upcoming book that the articles I’ve been writing will be published in: how did I want to be credited? What name did I want to use?

It probably wouldn’t be that big a deal for most people; a lot of people in our culture go through life never having to think of the weight their name carries. Their name is just their name, and that’s it. Others don’t have that luxury – sometimes, they even have to change their name just to survive. I could go on and on just about that, but it’s not my story to tell.

Names aren’t meaningless

Some people might argue that names are irrelevant. I disagree. Names aren’t just the shells we crawl into to protect ourselves, completely interchangeable and easily discarded. They help shape who we are – even if it’s just in small ways.

I think this is true whether the name is given by another person or chosen by the bearer. When people choose names, whether personal or professional, they do so deliberately. They know the difference even a minor detail in a name can make, and how that name will affect the way they are seen by others. Names, for better or worse, are the most fundamental way we define people; when two people meet for the first time, the first thing they usually ask the other person for is their name.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject: if somebody changes their name, for whatever reason, respect the new name. If they want you to call them by the new name, do it. I don’t give a damn whether it’s their legal name or not. Just do it. It’s not that goddamn difficult.

Zanne Nilsson

Anyway. The whole how-do-you-want-to-be-credited question sent my brain on this whole weird journey of wondering whether or not I should use my “real” name or not, and what would count as my “real” name anyway. Is it the name on my birth certificate, the nickname my family calls me, the nickname my fiance called me, the nickname everyone else calls me, or the name on my writing?

I kept coming back to the name I’ve been using on all my public writing for the past year or so. There were a lot of reasons for this, mostly practical ones (using it makes it easier to distinguish myself from the many writers with names similar to my legal name, plus I’ve already worked to establish it on social media), but some emotional ones as well.

See, there was an important reason I chose this name. Well, half of it anyway; admittedly picking the “Zanne” part was a combination of the fact that it doesn’t carry any specific gender connotations (at least not yet) and the fact that I just like the sound of it. But the “Nilsson” part was taken from my late fiance, who was memorialized and buried under a completely different (and wrong) name. So I use it as a way of keeping the name and memory of him alive. It also serves as a reminder of why I started writing in the first place; simply seeing it reminds me of why I’m doing this and pushes me to try to do better.

So yeah, I think this is the name I’ll be using when I write from now on. If you know me in real life you don’t have to start calling me by it or anything (unless you want to, that’s cool), but I guess try to use it if you’re talking about me as a writer or something – if only to keep things consistent. Cool? Cool.

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