An article by Gabino Iglesias over at Entropy got me thinking about being an “other” as a writer. Give it a read, he points out some frustrating and interesting bits about the use of Spanish language in his fiction and how some readers seemed to recoil at the slight discomfort of having to use their goddamn brains and not be immediately catered to.
All that brain-burning got me really stuck on the author name/pen name. Especially in light of the Spanish language and its many quirks (hey, the alphabet has EXTRA letters). Spanish names are often immediate and noticeable; they don’t conform to English standards and I began to think about how folks like me and Gabino might repel readers without them reading a single line of prose.
It also made me think of a single, stupid fault I have.
I’m afraid of my name.
It’s weird, right?
There’s being ashamed or a little embarrassed. Normal stuff. Plenty of people have that feeling. They’ll hide their middle name or go by a shorter variation. As a matter of fact; I know a few people who go by their middle name and hide their first from the world—sometimes, in the case of my aunt, for good reason.
But me, no, I’m afraid of my name.
When I decided to write seriously—for fun and profit, not ego stroke—I had a decision to make: what do I go by? What would be my handle, my nom de plume*?
I’m not ignorant of the privilege afforded to me on a visual basis. 1) I have a penis (so, already doors fly open) and 2) I can pass for white (yay systemic eradication of natives by imperialist Spaniards followed by interracial marriages!). I shouldn’t have much to worry about—sadly. There are thousands and thousands of writers, artists, performers that deal with a mountain of shit I’ll never have to climb to even get noticed.
Still, my fucking name.
Angel Luis Colón. I struggled with it. Growing up that was never the case. Being from the Bronx, in that small urban world, it was normal. Folks had all sorts of weird names from all over this weird planet. Nobody asked me where my name came from or why my parents decided to give it to me. College changed that. I met people who didn’t live in my bubble and the questions started.
Isn’t Angel a girl’s name? – Maybe? I mean, all those renaissance paintings are of winged dudes. Who cares?
Oh, Angel like the TV show? Are you a fan? – Oh, fuck right off. Though Season 5 was tight. Still, I preferred Buffy.
Why do you use an accent? – Because I hate you and want you to suffer if you have to type my name. Also, see below.
And the mispronunciations: Colon, Colin, Colan (wtf?), Ahn-hel, Angelo, Ahn-gel (also, wtf, can you read?)
It wore me down fast. So fast, I started to introduce myself under a new name: Raz. It sounded cool and it shut people up. A nonsense, one-syllable noise. People accepted it without question, only occasionally asking its origin and even then it was easier to handle. I’d made the decision to be Raz, I could give any reason. Angel, that guy was made up by my asshole parents; I had no choice there. Boo hoo.
And for real, Raz was AWESOME. He was a day-drinker. Got good grades without trying at all. He was a social-motherfucking-butterfly of the highest order. I liked Raz so much more than Angel. He didn’t have to explain himself; he didn’t have to live up to this label he never realized was a yoke.
Fuck it, so maybe there was shame at first. But it grew and grew. And while I stopped going by Raz once I realized I needed to be a fucking adult, when the writing happened, I wondered if it was worth going back to that awful name.
You see my name on paper, there are so many assumptions one can make. You can assume I’m a woman or you can assume English isn’t my first language (which has happened a few too many times). And its mild vanity isn’t it? I want you to accept my name on my terms, but it’s not fair to expect that as an immediate response, shit, that’s borderline idiotic.
I agonized over what to write after the word ‘by’ on the very first piece I had published. Should I be Raz again? Maybe A.L Colón. Hell, maybe just Luis Romero (my mother’s maiden name). I could always go full-bore and use other ancestral names. Louis Puglia (the family name from Italy) or dig through the Irish ancestry. I had a million choices. A million faces to give the readers, to set an immediate standard that wasn’t ‘other’ or ‘too Spanish’. Because that’s what we’re avoiding, right? Establishing that I’m different out the gate.
And that’s when it became fear. I was afraid of what people would immediately assume about me based entirely on my name. That I would not be accepted because I do not fit into the round hole as well as a John Smith or a Jane Smith. That my name does not comfort or inspire an immediate sense of authority because it is not, well, gentrified. It is absolutely a dumb fear, but writers have a bad habit of focusing on dumb details. I’m a hundred percent guilty of that.
So why did I decide to use it?
Because I’m afraid.
Good reason, right?
Yes, I think about my name quite often—too much at times—but it has to happen. It’s me and I can’t bear the thought of a cheap facade plastered on the work I’ve bled for. It would feel as if an entirely different person took credit for it.
So I’ll continue to be afraid, but I’ll own the fear. It’s dumb and weak and grows a little fainter by the day. Hopefully with each further success it’ll altogether die out.
My name’s Angel Luis Colón. I’m different—really fucking different, man. You may hate me, you may love me. I may worry about that. But, fuck it. We’re here. I’m gonna write. You can read along if it strikes your fancy.
Also, who the fuck am I kidding? I totally still write for ego stroke. VALIDATE ME
*Speaking of which, this is by no means a dressing down on pen names. We all do what needs doing. I ain’t judging and I ain’t criticizing anyone else’s decisions but mine here.