Just Like John Proctor questioned- How can I live without my name?
What’s in a Name?
Happy March! It’s Women’s History Month and I can’t wait to share some of the fun content I’ve got prepared! We’ll start today with some info on female writers and the big question of the day- What’s in a name? Does our name actually define who we are?
Literature nerds like me might remember the anguished scene in The Crucible where John Proctor refuses to give up his name. “Because it is my name! How may I live without my name?” He views his name as his identity. His source of worth.
And yet, as we go into Women’s History Month– we have to examine the irony of this poignant scene, knowing women have been forced to give up their names in many capacities for centuries.
The theme of this year’s Women’s History Month is celebrating women in writing. This one obviously hits close to home for me. One thing it forces me to examine is the sacrifices women had to make to get their work out for public consumption. For years it was considered “unfeminine” or “unseemly” for women to be writers. Therefore, women were either turned away by editors or forced to publish under a man’s name instead of their own.
In a different capacity, the decision regarding my name came up in my own publishing journey. Any of you who know me personally know I publish under my maiden name instead of my married name. This was done for a few reasons- but honestly, the main reason was because as John Proctor said– It is my name! I began my writing journey in childhood. I practiced and got my degree in English, taught and began my MFA program all as Joyana Peters. So, yeah, I wanted to climb to the top of that mountain and fulfill that dream with the name I started with!
I leave you with this other little story to consider-
A girl was born on November 22nd, 1819. As was customary at the time, she was sent to boarding school at just five years old.
When the girl was sixteen, her mother died. Although she was thriving at school and showed great potential, she was forced to return home to work as her father’s housekeeper. The girl settled into a new monotonous existence where each day blended into the next.
At the age of twenty one, an opportunity arose. Her father decided it was time for her to marry. They moved to the city so he could search for a suitable match. But luckily, the girl developed a relationship with her liberal neighbors who hosted salons with great thinkers like Ralph Waldo Emerson. Over time they took her under their wing and the girl began to consider a different version of the life she was living.
Higher education for women was still not an option, but she was able to break into intellectual society by writing book reviews and translations. She eventually moved to London and found work with a publisher. There, she fell in love with a writer, but he was trapped in a horrible marriage and divorce was still not an option. Desperate to be together, they scandalized society by deciding to co-habitate together anyway.
She became an outcast, no longer welcome in society, although he suffered no consequences. But the girl decided to make the most of this time in isolation. If her name was already tarnished– why not assume the required male nom de plume and publish her writing?
The girl’s work took off like wildfire. Even Queen Victoria became a fan!
She continued to publish under the now famous nom de plume for the rest of her life. And her work has transcended time and still stands out as revelatory and brave as the woman who wrote it.
So, who was this amazing female writer? Mary Ann Evans otherwise known as George Eliot the famous writer of Middlemarch.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What do you think our names say about us? Are they sources of our identity? Please comment on this post to share!
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