Maybe I Should Have Used a Pen Name

Paul Doiron here—

I’ve been thinking a lot about Nathaniel Hathorne lately. And William Falkner, too.

What’s that? You think I misspelled the names of those two great American authors? Well, yes and no. It’s a little known fact that Nathaniel Hathorne added a “w” to his last name in his twenties. Why did he do it? Some people think the change was an attempt by Hawthorne to distance himself from his notorious family of Salem Witch Trial fame. But it seems more likely that he was merely trying to return the surname to its ancestral spelling.

In the case of William Faulkner—born William Falkner—a third party was to blame. Cecil Adams, of The Straight Dope fame, lays it out:

He didn’t change it—the printer who set up his first book did, by mistake, and Faulkner decided to live with the new spelling rather than hassle to correct the error. He’s lucky his name wasn’t Friar Tuck.

Indeed he was! I also tend to believe that Faulkner realized that readers would have an easier time pronouncing his surname if it contained a “u.” This might just be projection on my part. As someone with a name that resists easy pronunciation by native English speakers, I have come to see the wisdom of going with the flow.

“When you grow up with an uncommon surname, mispronunciation is a lifelong companion,” I once wrote:

In my life I’ve been called just about everything: DoronDyerDrierDye-runDry-run. The most common variant was, and is, Dorian (as in Gray). The American tongue has difficulty wrapping itself around the French diphthong. I am sympathetic to this handicap although I sometimes wonder how Agatha Christie managed to create a world-famous Belgian detective with a surname almost identical my own, and yet somehow hostesses in restaurants continue to page me as, “Darren, party of two.”

As much as I love my elegant French name and cherish my family’s proud Acadian heritage, I know it gives some readers trouble. No author wants his or her name to be an impediment to success, after all. And sometimes I fantasize about reaching back through time, to those innocent days before I became a published writer, and introducing my own printer’s error into the mix.
Of course, if I could retroactively change Doiron, to say, Dorion, I know I would have other regrets. It’s already confusing enough that there is a retired Maine game warden lieutenant by the name of Pat Dorian. And I have heard through the grapevine that there are people around Greenville who assume the retired warden is now writing my novels because our names are near cognates. I have feel like I have done him an unkindness in that regard.
Pen names are fine, I guess. They worked pretty well for George Sand and George Orwell. (Not to mention a few of our merry band of crime writers.) And if I had grown up with the last name Dahmer, for instance, I could see wanting to unburden myself of that excess freight. But a Doiron I was born, and a Doiron I will die. Even if my troublesome name slows my ascent of some future bestseller list or prompts a contretemps at the next meeting of the mystery book club.
So how do you pronounce Doiron? Start by reading the aforementioned treatise. It may not be the ideal pronunciation guide, but it might help you get on the same page as your librarian. “Oh yeah,” she’ll say. “I know who you mean. Paul Darien.”
As long as she has my book on the shelf, it’s fine by me.
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4 Responses to Maybe I Should Have Used a Pen Name

  1. Barb Ross says:

    Well, that answers a question I’ve been too embarrassed to ask.

    Signed,
    Barbara Ross
    also known to telemarketers as Roth, Roff, Ruff, Rose and my favorite Barber O’Ross.

  2. Sunny says:

    I work in audio book publishing. For some sensitive materials, narrators will choose to use a pseudonym. Recently a narrator I like a lot was nominated for an Audie as her pseudonym, it must be frustrating that her real name won’t be getting that recognition.

  3. MCWriTers says:

    As someone who had to be taught to pronounce your name, I sympathize. I have Andre Lemieux in my books, and few people, including me, are comfortable pronouncing his name.

    As someone who knows Lt. Dorian, I would say that anyone who reads your books knows that Pat didn’t write them, because (and believe me, I am Dorian’s biggest fan, he figures prominently in both of my true crimes) because…there’s not enough mumbling, your characters don’t speak faster than the human ear can hear, and you’d need a heavy dose of creative profanity. I long to follow him around and record him for a week, just so I can get a handle on that style of speech. Never mind that the man could never sit still long enough to write a book.

    When you start your next series, you can write as Paul Darien, and set your characters among the elite hunting culture in the Conn. suburbs. Big guns, fancy gear, Range Rovers, and little sense of the big woods. Mr. Darien’s first book? Lost on a Mountain in Maine. No. Wait. That’s already been done. How about Many Bad Little Falls?

    On another note…I sometimes wish I’d written my Joe Burgess series as Rusty Orion…my imaginary pen name…as it still seems to be true that men are more likely to read books written by men.

    Kate

  4. I commiserate. I speak French (after a fashion) so “Doiron” isn’t a puzzler at all–but I’m also one of those people blessed with a name that resists easy pronunciation by native English speakers. And no, my real name isn’t Alleyn. It’s German (not too common in Germany, either) and has a couple too many consonants. People have been trying to shove in an extra “e” since I was a child, and sometime around my college years, I gave up and added it myself. Nowadays just about the only things that still bear the true, legal spelling of my last name are my birth certificate and my passport!

    Use a pen name? Oh yeah. I decided long before I was ever published that that horrid squish-together of consonants was never going to blight a book jacket.

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