a writer by any other name

The name we’re given at birth can have its pros and cons. As a kid I was never hugely enamoured of the name Maura, but it wasn’t awful either. In Ireland it’s relatively common, and to my teenager mind that was the worst strike against it.

I remember my shock when I first saw a copy of China Mountain Zhang by Maureen McHugh. Here was a fellow McHugh, with a similar first name, who was a published science fiction writer. Worse, the book was well written and very good. At that time I had aspirations to write, but was doing very little about it. I’ve followed Maureen’s career since then and she is a fantastic writer. Her collection Mothers and Other Monsters is outstanding.

I made a decision some time ago that when I wrote prose fiction I would use the Irish form of my name, which is Máire NicAodh. This is not an issue for screenwriting since no one pays attention to the writer anyway!

While at Clarion over the summer I had the good fortune to spend a week in the company of Maureen McHugh. There’s a lot to be said about genetics, because I could see what I would term “McHugh traits” in Maureen. It was like meeting a long-lost relative. Of course she was intelligent, generous, and funny. She could also crack the whip when needed.

A couple of weeks later Ellen Datlow arrived for her week of instruction at Clarion. One of the many pieces of advice she gave us was to make an early, and firm, decision on what name we write under. It’s a lot harder to change later than it is at the beginning.

I know that I was hesitant to use the name Maura McHugh because I did not want anyone to accuse me of trying to impinge in some sense upon Maureen. While at Worldcon in Glasgow last year at least two people asked me if I was Maureen. The names are very similar.

I considered these matters and decided to continue using the Irish form of my name. When I made the sale to Sean Wallace in October I had intended to use Máire NicAodh. Yet, Ellen bugged me about it. She likes my name in English, and urged me to use it. She raised the point that outside of Ireland people are going to find the Irish form difficult to pronounce, spell, or find. And putting aside issues of pride in Irish identity, the reality is that as much as I like my name in Irish, I never use it in daily life. In that way it is not a reflection of who I am.

I gave the matter a lot of serious thought. Much more than I had bothered with previously. At times it seemed like a frivolous, egotistical issue to ponder (since I’m standing on the bottom rungs of the writing career ladder), but part of me recognised that it was important. I emailed Maureen and asked her opinion on the matter, and her advice was practical and valuable.

I do not possess a useful middle initial, and I’m not convinced that it would make any real difference anyway. People remember the first and last name more than anything else.

The upshot is that “Bone Mother” will be published as the work of Maura McHugh. It’s who I am, after all. I’m grateful to Ellen for pushing me to consider the matter fully, and to Maureen for her insights.

After all of that thought/discussion on the matter now I have to concentrate on my writing. At this point that’s what’s going to sell my stories, not what name I use.