Archive for April 10th, 2012

Pseudonyms born of schizonomia, imprisonment, and a stunning ear for sound

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012
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Dr. Seuss was not a “Dr.” at all – his father had wanted Theodor Geisel to pursue a medical career, and the title was a way of acknowledging the dad’s thwarted ambition. When Stephen King became successful, he had to kill off his pseudonymous alter ego, Richard Bachmann, via “cancer of the pseudonym, a rare form of schizonomia.”  William Sydney Porter, imprisoned for embezzlement at Ohio State Penitentiary, named himself after his prison guard, and became O. Henry.  Joanna Rowlings – like so many women before her – was encouraged to assume a sexually ambiguous name.  What does the “K.” in J.K. Rowlings stand for?  Why, nothing at all.

Read all these and more at Flavorwire’s “10 Odd Stories Behind Famous Authors’ Nom de Plumes” [sic]

One that didn’t make the list:  Anna Akhamatova, born Anna Gorenko.  Another commonplace situation:  her father objected to his teenage daughter befouling the family name with poetry.  What followed was not so commonplace.

As Joseph Brodsky explains in his essay, “The Keening Muse”:

"I am a Jenghizite."

As for the pseudonym itself, its choice had to do with the maternal ancestry of Anna Gorenko, which could be traced back to the last khan of the Golden Horde: to Achmat Khan, descendent of Jenghiz Khan. “I am a Jenghizite,” she used to remark not without a touch of pride; and for a Russian ear “Akhmatova” has a distinct Oriental, Tatar to be precise, flavor.  She didn’t mean to be exotic, though, if only because in Russia a name with a Tatar overtone meets not curiosity but prejudice.

All the same, the five open a‘s of Anna Akhmatova had a hypnotic effect and put this name’s carrier firmly at the top of the alphabet of Russian poetry.  In a sense, it was her first successful line; memorable in its acoustic inevitability, with its Ah sponsored less by sentiment than by history.  This tells you a lot about the intuition and quality of the ear of this seventeen-year-old girl who soon after her first publication began to sign her letters and legal papers as Anna Akhmatova. In its suggestion of identity derived from the fusion of sound and time, the choice of the pseudonym turned out to be prophetic.