Pen Name de Plume de Jour

Today’s guest post is by Clyde.

I just read From the Fair, the delightful autobiography of Sholom Aleichem, the Yiddish author of the Tevye the Milkman stories and many others. If you like Fiddler on the Roof, you might like to get a deeper feel for the world of Tevye and his village. You might also like to read the original stories, which are if anything more charming than the musical. He writes the autobiography in third person, even though he repeatedly makes it clear it is his own real life story, which adds another dimension to the narration.
Reading the book has inspired me to get back to work on my long-neglected fictionalized story of my childhood, wishing I had anything like his narrative gift.

Aleichem, whose life was contemporaneous with Mark Twain, was often called the Yiddish Mark Twain, to which Twain responded, “Tell him I am the American Sholom Aleichem.” They shared much in common, such as an allegorical pen name. Twain’s name means essentially “safe water” in steamboating terms. Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich chose the name Sholom Alecheim because it is both the common greeting in Yiddish and a blessing of peace upon another person. Their chosen names also have a sonorious ring to them.
Both men were mostly self-taught, were raised in poverty in backwater villages, survived many family tragedies such as the death of a parent in childhood, made and lost a couple of fortunes due to bad investments, and were very successful public speakers. Both were brilliant at characterization, were masters of dialogue especially dialects, and did much to invent the literature of their culture.
I have included a photo of the statue of Aleichem in Kiev. It is wonderfully ironic that Russia and Kiev honor him this way, considering how the tsarist regime treated Jews and that Aleichem had to hide when he lived in Kiev because he did not have a license to live there, as required of all Jews.

Unlike Twain, Aleichem was deeply religious and superstitious. For instance, his tombstone in New York City lists his death date as May 12a, 1916 because he was afraid of the number thirteen. He died too young before finishing From the Fair. The abrupt ending is unsatisfying, but well, L’Chaim to his life and all of ours.

If you were to use a pen name, what would it be?

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83 thoughts on “Pen Name de Plume de Jour”

  1. Nice writeup, Clyde, and I must admit I’m guilty of not having read any of his books. I need to remedy that!

    I might have already posted a little device for generating pen names. You take the middle name and make it the first name. Then you turn the person’s street address into the last name. My daughter is Molly Melinda Grooms, formerly living on Juliet Avenue. Her first book appeared under a pen name: Melinda Julietta.

    I have written about a dozen books or a few more. I wrote one or two under a ghost name, the name of the guy who pretended he had written them. In another sense, though, I have used a pen name for all my other books. Most folks I know who publish books use the most formal version of their name. My first name is actually Stephen, not Steve. Starting with the first book I wrote, I took a stand on principle by insisting that my books be written under the name I usually go by. I hate pretension. If I am Steve Grooms in daily life, that’s who I am as a book author. It isn’t a silly point but rather a decision that starts the complicated process by which author and reader establish a relationship.

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    1. Steve I like that device for picking a pen name. However, it might not work well for me. I live on 1st St. SE. Peter is my middle name. I guess I could be Peter Uno Street of the Southwest or maybe just Peter Uno.

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    2. Lewis Dublin works but it implies Irish, which I am not. By my last two addrresses Lewis Webber–sounds like a gun in James Bong. Lewis Gull–sounds like a writer of bad horror stories. My fictionalized childhood could be written by Jake Hill, since I grew up on Jake’s Hill, now n the world of real estate marketing called Grandview Heights. So maybe LeGrande Hite.
      My mother’s maiden name I offer to any budding female writer–Ann Adeline Wetter, or A. Adeline Wetter for mystery writers.

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  2. Rise and Shine Baboons!

    Years and years ago, I used to fantasize that I would be a great writer. My fantasy pen name was “Caroline Bennett.” This was a lovely fantasy until reality took over. The truth is that I can be a good writer, but I don’t tolerate long hours alone at the keyboard well. Thus, the fantasy will not become a reality. Visual arts are so much more fun (for me) because groups of artists get together to work on their individual projects. I love sitting in a studio with a group engaging in the adult form of parallel play.

    Years ago I wrote a memoir about coping with my father’s MS then my own breast cancer experience. However, when I allowed others to read it I contracted a case of terminal self-consciousness. So I’m not a memoirist under my own name either. Too uncomfortable. How did Jeanette Walls do it?

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  3. I don’t know about a pen name. I’ll chew on that for a while. I do know what my girl band’s name will be though … TRAMPLED BY TUTORS.

    Nice post, Clyde. If this Yiddish guy’s writing is truly similar to Mark Twain, then it’s time I get to know him. Steve – do me a favor and send me a summary after you’ve read something by him. You have my email, remember??

    It was a busy summer and now we’re into September. My former principal’s husband called it “the month with no S’s – no sleep, no supper, no sex.” I hesitate to add the last S. It isn’t appropriate, nor is it applicable or legal for baboons like me whose roommate is a cat.

    Whoo Hoo it’s Friday! It’s going to be a bumpy year. I have a little guy who likes to show me his muscles by tipping over his desk. Suggestions, Friends??? I already tried duct tape and it didn’t hold.

    I’m giddish this morning, can you tell? It’s because I get to wear jeans today. I’m giddish and kiddish and I wish I were Yiddish. I am so cleaver in denim!

    Lora and I will be in St. Peter on Saturday. Hope we bump into one another. (Not Lora and me – Baboons and we, sillies!) Krista – is the public allowed to bring coolers in? I think I could make a mint on my rare remaining stash of Summer Shandy.

    I thought of a pen name – Bic.

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    1. Dang, Donna! We’ve missed you. This delightful post reads as if you have already launched your TGIF happy hour.Bic Shandy would be a pretty good pen name.

      Here’s hoping you have a September chock full of Ses.

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    2. When I was two, we lived in a two-story house with a long staircase. One evening, when my folks had company and for some reason, I just didn’t think going to sleep was the best use of my time. I climbed down the long staircase and presented myself to the party. My mom carried me back up and put me in bed. I came down again. This went on for awhile until my mom decided she didn’t want to carry me any longer. She stood over me while I slogged my way back up the big staircase with no help. I didn’t get out of bed again.

      Donna – have you made him pick the desk back up after he tips it? Just a thought.

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    3. Donna, I’m sure a kid that keeps tipping over his desk over is really irritating. Can you bolt his desk to the wall? It is hard to ignore that sort of thing. I hope he will stop doing that soon.

      I will look forward to meeting you at Rock Bend where I will be on Saturday.

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    4. Every time you see him not tipping over his desk, compliment him on his self control for not tipping over his desk. You may have to do this every 10 minutes. Also, ask him to show you how strong he is by having him carry large piles of heavy books. You could also make him the desk monitor to keep an eye on the other students to make sure they don’t tip their desks over. Or, you could tell him every time he tips over his desk he has to tip it over 10 more times, and that if he doesn’t do it the right way he has to do it 5 more times after that.

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      1. You can also direct him to go push on the wall with both hands and arms any time he feels the need to tip the desk. If he has sensory issues, he may need pressure on his joints. Pushing a wall puts pressure on the same set of joints.

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    5. is the bottom of the desk a workable surface. maybe he’d like to work on the bottom of his desk instead of the top. move the chair up to the front of the room in case he wants to use it tomorrow.

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      1. Thanks for your suggestions, kids. This little boy has adhd and aspergers, and having to be back in school again is really pissing him off. We’re having some success with a chart showing the day’s schedule and having him stick velcro smiley faces beside each task he completes. When he has 3 smileys he gets 10 min. to play with Legos. He also likes stress balls and fidget toys, and often responds to deep pressure. He told me on Wednesday that he had enough work at home to do, he didn’t need any more at school. Love that logic!

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      1. If I had a couple extra days, I’d be there! I can’t vouch for the shandy though. Is this the fest I saw the sign in Duluth for last month that advertised Trampled by Turtles and Willie Nelson?

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  4. Good morning to all,

    I didn’t know anything about the author, Sholom Aleichum, and I’m glad to hear about him. Thanks for telling us about him, Clyde.

    Sholom Aleichum is very close to the greeting used by Muslims, salaam alaikum, which is also a greeting meaning peace to you. The use of an almost identical greetings by Muslim and Yiddish people is surprising to me, but probably is not surprising to people who know more than I do about the history of these people.

    If you are a woman, and don’t use your maiden name, you could use your maiden name as a pen name. In my case I guess I could use my mother’s maiden name and combine it with my middle name following part of Steve’s suggestion for picking a pen name. Thus, my pen name would be Peter Thompson. That sounds good to me.

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    1. Both Arabic and Hebrew are Semitic languages. Yiddish is a modernized Hebrew with lots of German, Russian, and English blendings and coinages. Arabs and Jews share a great deal in common, much more than their very similar languages.

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      1. Exactly, Arabic and Hebrew are siblings and show many similarities in grammar and vocabulary. Linguists have been reconstructing the Proto-Semitic language from which they and other tongues such as Aramaic and Amharic (one of the Ethiopian languages) descended. Yiddish is the best-known European Jewish language (a family that includes such rarities as Ladino and Yevanic). Technically, it’s more of a Hebraicized High German than a Germanized Hebrew, with the heavy borrowings from the Slavic languages Clyde mentioned (more so in the Eastern Yiddish dialects) and written in Hebrew letters. It was in the running for the national language of Israel but lost out to a revived Hebrew due to complicated political issues, but there’s a movement to bring Yiddish back from the brink of extinction in both the US and Israel, which is wonderful because it has such an amazing literary legacy, far too much of which remains untranslated.

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  5. I think I have mentioned the pen name a friend and I have talked about writing under (writing mostly perfectly awful romance novels): Verandah Davenport. I’m pretty sure Verandah went to a traditional finishing school, always wears pearls, and knows how to make a mean mint julep.

    If I follow Steve’s tool, I wind up as Klove Aldrich. A wholly different character than Verandah – he sounds like a guys’ guy who writes spy novels or something like that. He probably drinks scotch and dresses exclusively from the LL Bean catalog.

    With a last name like Bliss, my name already sounds like a pen name – so I guess if I did publish, I’d stick with my given name (but use the informal “Anna” and not the full “Anna-Maria” which is a bit of a mouthful for a first name, at least on a book).

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  6. Regarding the music festival in St. Peter–I used to say I should have been given the award for NOT going the shortest distance to attend my class reunions. Here are some of you folks making efforts of various degrees to come down to St. Peter and I am not going and not offering you a place to stay. And I will drive right by it on Sunday morning going to church.
    First is my wife’s mobility lupus. She has a very sudden increased lack of mobility. Last night at bed time was scarey for both of us, when she could not get up off of the bed. She was lying on her stomach for her back rub. Second is my problem with loud noises and crowds. But we may try after church Sunday. We will see how close I can park and all that.

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    1. I give up with my typing/thinking/cut-and-past errors today. GRRRRR and GRRRR.
      I am on edge waiting to make sure my wife is mobile enough before I go bike riding. But the truth is that I have just about given up on the book for the slow pace because of having to correct so much as I go. My typing is so often such a mess that if I do not correct quickly I am not sure what I was trying to construct.

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      1. I have to proof read everything I type several times and then I often miss some typos and probably also miss some spelling errors if I don’t run a spell checker.

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      2. I used to “Black screen type” which means turn off the computer screen, or cover it, and just type away so you do not lose your train of thought or let the editor/critic turn of the creator. But when I later come back after 10 pages or so, I now have so man messes that I cannot figure out what I meant.

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      3. may be time to talk into the cassette recorder. many better options today but that will allow the thought flow to happen and you can pick up the pieces later.

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      1. Another person known to us that will be there and will be playing in the band, City Mouse, is Mike Pengra.

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      2. City Mouse is the first band to appear at the Pavillion stage Saturday – would that be a good place to meet up?

        The Barley Jacks were at Heritage Square during the State Fair, but the signage there had it spelled The Barely Jacks.

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      3. If I get there in time to hear City Mouse, I will be at that stage. I will be at the other stage, where I think Krista is warking, after City Mouse is done. The Orange Mighty Trio will be at the stage where I think Krista is working starting at 2:15.

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  7. I write under a pen name, or did until I made it my new middle name when I got mine legally changed. I disliked “Kristin Lavransdatter” when we read it in college, but the title inspired my pen name, which is my adoptive mother’s given name and “-datter” (which is the Norweigan spelling, and which many people try to turn into the Icelandic “-dottir”). It took WisCon three years to get it right on my membership badge!

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  8. By the way, Dale’s note to me last night was the day was very long. I do not know if any of you have supplied him with guest blogs, but my guess is that it would be good to keep some in his larder for other very long days.

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  9. I will add that before I go on my way today, that I am the co-author of 14 educational manuals of which about 350,000 copies were sold. I wanted to use a pen name, but since the manuals were so tied to getting work as a trainer/consultant it is my real name on the spines. of the binders.

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    1. My thesis on the identification of a group of nematodes was published, but I was listed as the third author following the names of my academic advisors. They also listed me as the third author on a guide to freshwater nematodes that I wrote. I guess if you are the one who have the laboratory and the funding to support the work of students, you get to be the primary authors of their published work. They also did the publishing.

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  10. Using Steve’s device my pen name would be Joy Stryker, but that doesn’t have much of a ring to it. Delving back into past addresses, I could use Joy Magnolia… though I can’t imagine what kind of books Joy Magnolia would write. Maybe some treacly self-help books or something. She would be the polar opposite of Ann Hedonia. Another option would be Joy Girard. That’s not bad, actually.

    I have a friend who used to live on James Road in Mendota Heights, and to get to the house from highway 13 you’d take a left on Victoria, then a right on Douglas, then another left on James Road. I used to think if I ever wrote romance novels I’d use Victoria Douglas James as my pen name. I can visualize it in big swirly script right below the ripped bodice.

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  11. Names can be so interesting. I knew a girl in second grade who had been born in Greece. Her Greek name was a long mouthful, so when she entered the US right after WWII as a DP (Displaced Person) her name was trimmed to something American mouths could handle. But that wasn’t her name, and she lived her adolescent years with a wrong name and culturally confused identity, neither Greek nor American. She was delighted to take the last name of her husband, a poet and English prof. When he turned out to be an abusive drinker, she planned for a long time and finally escaped him. As part of her escape she changed her name, this time choosing a last name that was an echo of her favorite grandmother’s name.

    In the end, she could not be happy until she found a name that worked for the unique person she had become.

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  12. Taking a cue from Donna, I think my pen name would be Sharpee. Didn’t Aleichem write the story that eventually become Fiddler on the Roof?

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  13. tim riverview was my name with steves formula. i had a group i belonged to in the old days called the ear brothers. we celebrated different thing one of which was roy roger and the king of the cowboys, sons of the pioneers etc… the king was a rotating title and the criteria was that you would switch the vowels in you first and last name. i became tom jines and that was proclaime to be the best king of the cowboys name ever. i still hold the title i believe. however i like anna have a name that registers and i think i would simple keep the real deal.
    i wrote under the name giligan moskowitz in my school paper as a jazz critic years ago. that has a nice ring to it dont you think.

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  14. Very nice writing today, Clyde – and interesting reading too! If I used Steve’s method I’d be Ann Main. I like Ann, but Main is really boring. I’ve imagined writing books under the name Justa Knucklehead. Maybe it’s best if I don’t try to write books. Not this week anyway.

    I’m looking forward to seeing all of the baboons who are coming to Rock Bend. This is going to be so much fun! Like Jim pointed out, I’ll mostly be over at Joyce’s North Grove (or Tree) Stage. It used to be the North Grove Stage but the St Peter tornado took all but one tree. And then Joyce Eaton gave a lot of money to Rock Bend so we named the stage in her honor. I’ve never quite gotten over calling it the North Grove Stage. The trees are actually coming back now too. Anyway, I hope you’ll come over there and find me. That’s where I usually am – somewhere near the sound guy. I also have food duties backstage of the Pavilion Stage. Rock Bend staff will be wearing aubergine t-shirts that say “Bend Head” on the back and Staff tags.

    I’m almost done cooking. I still have some baking to do and I have to be back in the Park to set up the vendors’ booths and hang banners and bunting, etc., tonight by 5 p.m. I probably won’t be back here for awhile. I’m looking forward to seeing you tomorrow or Sunday – whenever you can make it!

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  15. If I followed Steve’s system, I would be Lynn Service Drive, Lynn Brown, Lynn Highway 75, Lynn Jubilee, or Lynn Canora.

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  16. Fun topic and lots of information that’s new to me in today’s blog. Thanks Clyde and everyone who has contributed.

    For me Steve’s system would result in Lorna Sidney, Lorna Woodbury, Lorna Grand or Lorna Nawadaha, now there’s a mouthful. I detest the name Lorna, so I would pick something different. As I don’t see myself writing anything anytime soon, I’ll have plenty of time to choose.

    Have a great time at the Rock Bend Folk Festival. Wish I could be there.

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  17. I did not know when Dale would use this, but now, on the Friday before 9/11, a connection strikes me to Sunday.
    Aleichem stories are mostly, like “Fiddler on the Roof,” set in the Jewish villages of eastern Europe, Russia in particular. His stories tell of how a people rich in tradition and history survive in a land where they are abused, hated, and sometimes slain, strangers in a strange land where they have no recourse against maltreatment, all the way to their own death. But in the stories that threat is just on the horizon–most of the time. The stories are really about how these people, who are divided themselves into various sects, manage to be a village and to survive and love and manage their complex society. The stories are told with wit and charm, and, I am told, in the Yiddish, with ribald jokes and with delightful puns which cannot really be translated.
    In the end many come to America, as in the musical. Think about what they added to our culture.Think of what happened to those who did not come here.
    The joy of Aleichem’s tales is the celebration of life in the midst of division, hatred, and poverty.
    If you wish to know more about the Yiddish people and their language, I suggest Leo Rosten’s “Joy of Yiddish,” a very entertaining and rich book.
    So again for the weekend and its memories and joys I say L’Chaim.
    TTFN

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