Tuesday, August 31, 2010
marrying my way through europe - or, what the hell are you calling yourself these days, anyway?
Some of my old friends complain that I've used up half of the space in their address books. "It would be okay if it were only in the f's or the g's or the v's or the s's, but, hey, you're all over the book."
Sadly, my nomadic, restless ways are not confined to addresses (let's see, since reaching adulthood, I've lived in four states and, um, 15, no, wait, make that 16 dwellings), but to husbands as well. I'm on my third. (She says soberly, not wanting to give the impression that it's going to go any further than that). And with each new husband, a trip to the social security office ensued.
In the old days (pre-911), you could skip on down there with nothing more than a marriage certificate and a driver's license, but those days, as we all know, are gone. Pretty much, if one wishes to change one's name in today's climate, be prepared to deliver a tome of paper trail.
According to the IRS, my name is Suzanne Vitello Soule (there's an accent on the "e" of Soule, but technology renders that invisible in most legal documentation). But every day, my latest husband extracts the mail from the box out front and delivers the ream of missives to my writing desk for a rousing game of "Guess who lives here now!" Suzy K Vitello, Suzanne Graham, Susie V Soule. The New Yorker thinks I'm Suzy Gram. Most creditors still go by Suzanne Vitello. In-laws from a couple marriages back put all the names down, just to be on the safe side. Only Syracuse University and their savvy development staff have been able to keep up with my name-changing hijinks, and for that they deserve to be rewarded by occasional donations.
For the uninitiated, my formal pedigree is as follows: Suzanne Kathleen Freisinger Vitello Graham Soule. "You change names as often as I change my underwear," said my friend Kelly, once. And when my writer friends acknowledge me in their books, they've been known to ask: "So just what is your name these days?"
Alas, I know I should care more about my name than I do. Perhaps I'm so aloof that I really don't think it makes that much difference? It certainly doesn't keep me up at night. But this morning I followed the Twitter trail, and slapped up against this provocative post by Alison Winn Scotch on the very subject of writers and names.
In establishing the all-important platform, does it undermine readership, credibility, brand, to change your name? In marketing, when we advise clients to "rebrand" e.g. new logo, new web site, new, look & feel, it's very externally focused. "Keep up with the times," we insist. "Make a connection with your audience."
In art, though, the idea is to be visible on the strength of one's essence. Name it. Be it. Live it.
I decided, with this latest marriage, that in the writing world I really haven't been anything but Vitello. Occasionally, as a journalist, I've scabbed a name before or after the Vitello, but really, my writerly identity is commensurate with that name. Though--I don't have one Italian molecule in my DNA.
Here's my dilemma. I'm now working on a book that is an organic outgrowth of my heritage and passion, and a good part of the book is set in Austria, where I was born, whence my paternal lineage hails, and where the name I used as a maiden, the first 24 years of my life, comes from. That my née name is Freisinger might be very helpful if the book I'm now writing becomes my first published book. I mean, if Amy Tan got married to a "Smith" and she tried to publish under that name, would Joy Luck Club even have a platform?