Saturday, June 21, 2008

What's in A Name?

Still on the name theme, and because I enjoyed Tania's contribution so much, I asked another interesting writer, Jamieson Wolf about his name. He came back with this fascinating mini-essay into how he came up with his pen-name. Enjoy!

What’s In a Name?
By Jamieson Wolf

Once upon a time, I wanted to be an actor.

I had taken dramatic arts all through out high school and university and wanted nothing more than to grace the stage and screen with my presence. Acting was in my blood; it was the air I breathed.

Looking back on it, I suppose it had a lot to do with the fact that I enjoyed being someone else, pretending to be someone I wasn’t. Like most people with a creative bent, I had a lot of self esteem issues that I didn’t want to deal with. Acting gave me the outlet I needed. I could pretend to be someone else, someone other than me.

There was one thing standing in my way, however. My name. My name was boring, boring, boring. I knew that if I was going to be an actor, I would have to reinvent myself. I would need a new name.

I saw this as the perfect opportunity to leave my old self that I was so unhappy with behind and embrace a new me, a better me. A me I could be proud of, a me I could live with. A me that wasn’t unpopular, gangly and awkward.

I was fine with my first name, which has always been Jamieson. But I wanted to change my middle and last names to something that would have a spark, something that would give me the new life I was so desperate for. A name that would help me heal.

All through out my first year of university, my mother and I tried to think of different names. I wanted to take her married name, that of Villeneuve, as my last name. Thankfully my stepfather at the time consented and welcomed me into his family. But I needed a middle name, something that would be different.

We tried all kinds of W names. I was already signing things with my initials of JWV, Villeneuve, so it needed to be a W name. We went through all kinds of names: Willhelem, Watkins, Wilbur, Wilkes, Wade, Walden, Waldo, Wallace, Walsh, Walt, Ward. I didn’t like any of those names. Finally my mother suggested Wolfgang and I thought about it for a moment.

I didn’t like Wolfgang, too old sounding. But Wolf…

There was something there, a spark, a tingle. I loved the sound of it, of the three names rolling off of my tongue: Jamieson Wolf Villeneuve…

I had always loved Wolves, loved the sleekness of them, their allure. I loved the idea that they hunted during the night, that they hunted in a pack or alone. They were hunters, strong and brave; things I always wished I had been.

Thus, a new name was born. But I would have to go through one final change before my name was complete.

After university, however, I realized that I loved the craft but not the people. For those of you not familiar with the world of theatre, it’s a cutthroat business. Though I had developed a thick skin, I didn’t have the patience to deal with the fake people, the backstabbing, and the competitiveness. I just wanted to act.

I left the theatre then. It was heartbreaking to do, as I had loved pretending, loved being on stage, the centre of attention. Something was different now, though. With my new name, I was a new person. The ability to be someone else didn’t hold as much allure or mystery as it once had. I didn’t need to pretend anymore.

As I began to write more seriously, I knew that I would have to go through one final change as far as my name was concerned. Again I was looking for a name that would stand out, one that would roll off the tongue and be easy to remember.

So, I decided to drop my last name and have my pen name be made up of my first and middle names. It worked for me, separating my regular life from my writing life and giving me the name I never knew I wanted.

Though it took many years, I finally have a name I cherish and I have finally found myself inside the pages of my work and inside my words.

I no longer have to run from myself because I finally know who I am.


Jan Verhoeff said...


That's an incredible story. I remember a name change by a local guy. He'd always signed his name like he was ashamed of it. When he changed his name, it became a proud solid signature with each letter discernable. It was an interesting change.

thank you for sharing your story with us too. Sometimes it IS in the name.


Sarah Salway said...

Fascinating, Jan. Particularly as it ties in so well with Jamieson's great piece. It's like the name and the person slot together.

Tania Hershman said...

Jamieson, thanks so much for an interesting meditation on names. First, I am amazed that you thought your name was boring even though your first name was already so different! That just shows how each of us reacts to names differently. I live in Israel and here it is not unusual for someone, when they immigrate, to change their name for something more "Israeli-sounding". It always takes ages and ages for me to get used to calling them by the new name. For weeks, months, years, my tongue wants to call them X, but they want to be called Y. And then, at some point, they become Y. How does this work? Why are we so tied to naming someone X instead of Y? Where is the part of our brains that names things and registers names? It's so interesting to me!

On a side note, I also did a lot of acting and gave it up because I couldn't stand the theatre world. But it is incredibly useful as a writer, to easily be able to slip inside someone else's skin. Shaking them off is sometimes the hard part!
Thanks for such a thought-provoking post and for sharing your story with us.


Sarah Salway said...

Yes, Tania. It really made me think too. And of course on the internet a lot of us use different names - take on different identities. I wonder whether that will make a difference to our writing in the long term?

SueG said...

Thanks for introducing me to Jamieson in this way. I'm going over to read his blog right now and add it to my ever-growing list on GoogleReader -- what would I do without that thing?

Jamieson Wolf said...

Hello Everyone!

Wow, lots of comments. I'll respond to each of you:

Jan- I'm really glad you liked the essay. The name change really helped make me feel comfortable in my own skin.

Tania - I'm glad you liked the piece! Part of the name chance was claiming that first name again; everyone (and I mean everyone) called me Jamie. No one would call me Jamieson. It's like they didn't want to say the extra syllable! LOL

When I changed my name, it took people a while, but that's okay. Anything good is worth waiting for.

As for acting giving me insight into writing...I never thought of that but you are absolutely right!

Sue - I just confirmed our friendship on Facebook! And I've become addicted to Goodreads. That and the virtual bookshelf on Facebook. I don't know what I would do with out those either but it's a pleasure to meet you!

Cheers to all of you and thanks so much for the comments. Thank you Sarah! You rock!


Deborah Rey said...

I'm happy you got away with your name change, Jamieson. Some others did and were butchered. They still are as a matter of fact.