the writer formerly known as...

Twenty years after I was born a Brooks, I became a Wilson in one of those happy-ever-after fantasies that didn't quite work out the way I had planned.

But Wilson was a nice name, and eminently preferable to Brooks (which in Afrikaans means underpants or knickers and led to horrible teasing at school) and I quite enjoyed it. It was one of those anonymous names that everyone could spell and I liked the fact that it was totally normal at first look, but had a secret history. The great grandfather of the Mr Wilson I married had emigrated from somewhere near Moscow to the US and like so many others with unpronouncable or "difficult" names (I think it was Tobinofsky) he was given another one. One of the legends is that Wilson was chosen from the phone book, another is that he particularly admired a Wilson (couldn't have been Harold).

So, for the next 25 years or so, I built my name and reputation as the journalist Lynne Wilson ... until I met and married my new happy-ever-after man (for real this time). He was perfect in every way, except for for the fact that his surname wasn't Wilson.

For the first couple of years, he put up with being referred to as Mr Wilson at functions or meetings, but I could see he was unhappy so when I started my own company a few years ago, I decided to drop the Wilson and become Lynne Smit.

Problem solved? Not quite.

Now I'm met with people who, after speaking to me for a while say things like "Oh, you're Lynne Wilson... I thought she had died" or "I wondered what happened to her" and in some situations I am more likely to get work if people know who I was, rather than who I am.

(In the last, particularly awful years of my first marriage I began only using my first name, but beaurocracy made that totally impractical).

So, what to do?

I decided to add the Wilson to my email signature so that people would know who I was, but that was complicated in itself. I couldn't say "nee Wilson" because it wasn't a maiden name (even though Mr Wilson seemed to believe that me and Mary were sisters in the immaculate conception thing, especially when it came to child maintenance). So I decided to put (previously Wilson) in brackets after my name.

Problem solved, or so I thought.

After coming home from holiday to over 600 emails, I decided to cut down on some of my newsletter subscriptions and, very reluctantly, included IRIN in the purge. Unusually, I recieved a reply from a real person, who then went on to ask me what "previously Wilson" meant. Turns out she thought I was being terribly brave and had had a sex change.

Now, while I love the thought of being terribly brave (mostly because I am much braver in thought than in deed) I am left with a new dilemma.

How many of my clients and contacts meet me and think "yoh! those sex change drugs really add on the curves."

How many are surreptitiously looking for my Adam's apple?

So now I am appealing to you...any suggestions? Please??


Anonymous said…
Lynne Smit
(Previously known as Lynne Wilson)
kristina said…
the "previously wilson" is rather funny :-) but I do see your problem. anonymous above made a good suggestion: Lynne Smit (Previously Lynne Wilson). I suppose you couldn't keep Wilson and be called Lynne Wilson Smit? that's what I did when I got married.
Meri said…
Merciful heavens -- what social problems our divorces and remarriages bring. First you get away from having people snicker about your knickers, then they think you've had a sex change. Could you use Smit socially and Wilson professionally, or would that still result in Mr. Smit being called "Mr Wilson?" Or could you have your email address be Lynne Wilson, then sign the body Lynne Wilson Smit?
Skoorby said…
These are your apparent objectives or constraints:
1. To distance yourself from some unhappy memories and associations by eliminating the name “Wilson”
2. To accommodate the sensitivities of your current spouse
3. To be in a position to draw from your brand equity as “Lynne Wilson”
4. To avoid creating the mistaken impression that you have undergone a sex change
5. To establish and maintain a persona that is most advantageous professionally.

The last may seem redundant given the third consideration. However, I’m referring here to two other aspects of the name “Lynne Smit” that you didn’t address. First is the incongruity of a First name of robustly British/Gaelic origin, and a surname of clearly Dutch/Continental origin. Lynne is no generic “Linda” or “Lynnette”. It is assertively West British. On the other hand, Smit, while clearly associated with the Afrikaans-speaking segment of the South African population, has one interesting attribute. It is not “Smith”. So Lynne Smith might roll a little more smoothly off the tongue than does Lynne Smit. As I said, this is a minor point.

The other aspect to the persona objective is that people may take professional cues from names. In the New South Africa, the English language has enjoyed greater prominence, and Afrikaans less. When people consider employing someone or some firm to provide a language-intensive service, they are likely (however unfairly) to take some competence cues from the name proffered. Lynne Wilson will have clear advantages over Lynne Smit.

You don’t say which name you personally like best. You also don’t say whether your husband really was unhappy with being mistakenly called Mr. Wilson, or whether he cares much whether you are known professionally as Ms. Wilson or Ms. Smit. If he wasn’t and doesn’t, or if he doesn’t anymore, this may be one of the many untested constraints we impose on ourselves.

So, given your objectives, these are your options:
- Go with Anonymous’s suggestion and say you’re Lynne Smit, previously known as Lynne Wilson. Or maybe wear purple and introduce yourself as “The Journalist Previously Known as Lynne Wilson.”?
- Stay with Lynne Smit, but just make a point of bringing up the fact that you are the writer previously known as Lynne Wilson, either in conversation, or by referring to things you have written with a note of explanation. Maybe wear a nametag around your neck saying “Ask me about my previous identities.”
- Quite popular in the US is the use of hyphenated names. You would be Lynne Wilson-Smit. Some people even do anagram mashups. So maybe Lynne Slowmistin’.
- Keep doing what you’re doing – “previously Wilson” – but add a tag line like “Still female, after all these years” to clarify the sex-change point.
- Since just “Lynne” didn’t work, consider going by just “Wilson”. The downside here is that some people may think that you’re a deflated soccer ball.

Hope that helps.

p.s. I totally sympathise with the “underpants” thing.
Skoorby said…
I just thought of another angle. As I recall, baby-naming experts advise against first and last names with the same number of syllables. A one-syllable first name goes with a multi-syllable last name. Two one syllable names don’t have good cadence. So Lynne Wilson would be better. Or switch to Rowena Smit.
Lynne said…
Thanks for all the suggestions!

I'm going to "out" anonymous here... he's my "current spouse" so now we know what his preference is. (He's fairly traditional and, I think, likes the idea of me taking his name. He was certainly less keen on the idea of taking mine)

I have found it very difficult to adapt to being a Smit... its taken 8 years for it to begin to feel like me. And I do still prefer the Englishness of Wilson (especially living in a town of aggessively exclusionist Afrikaaners as I do... I feel a need to declare my identity as English)

Kristina and Skoorby... I think your suggestion of Wilson-Smit is probably the best... especially in the light of Skoorby's very relevant comments about the implivations of an Afrikaans surname. And I have noticed that most people say "Smith" anyway, which bears out your point, Skoorby.

And by changing it to Wilson-Smit (even though it sounds a bit cumbersome)I am still making the point to people who I meet at functions and may not ever email.

Meri, the problem was that it is only in professional contexts that Greg is called Mr Wilson, but I suppose he can get used to being Wilson-Smit!

Rowena Smit is absolutely not me!

I'm quite taken with the idea of Slowmistin'... but it doesn't really solve the professional problem!

I do tend to wear a lot of purple anyway... but I don't want to be identified as a Prince (or whoever he is now) fan... I'm so much more into heavy metal.
Lali Fufu said…
:D Some good suggestions!

I hope Grandpa Tobinofsky wasn't inspired to adopt the surname because of Woodrow either.

Lynne Wilson-Smit is probably the best option... But if your professional life is really suffering that badly from them not knowing or recognising who you are, then would they know who this new double-barreled maiden is either? This is exactly the same dilemma that artists face - my sister is well established as her maiden name, so she signs her artwork under that surname even though she has been married for the past 10 years.
julochka said…
if i could stop laughing, i'd undoubtedly have a brilliant suggestion. i noticed that (formerly wilson) and never interpreted it as your first name.

can't you use wilson as a professional name and smit privately and officially?
Leonie e. Brown said…
Howzit Lynn, u r such a good writer!!! very funny.
Leonie e. Brown said…
PS, I quite like Wilson-Smith. It sounds like an uppity English drawing room kinda name. The type that used to open doors for others and take up watercolors, travel the world and took young ladies on on cruises around the world....hmmm definitely a writing kinda name. I can see it embossed in gold on one of those Britannica novels.
Lynne said…
Hey Leonie... Wilson-Smith sounds great... but it's Smit not Smith! See the problem? We've known each other for about 9 years and even you think of me as Smit (I'm so not Afrikaans, it seems!)

And Julie...glad you never thought of it as my first name. But having to hide the adam's apple seems like a good excuse for the double chin, so maybe I should just go with the sex change thing after all?
Lynne said…
Hey Leonie... Wilson-Smith sounds great... but it's Smit not Smith! See the problem? We've known each other for about 9 years and even you think of me as Smit (I'm so not Afrikaans, it seems!)

And Julie...glad you never thought of it as my first name. But having to hide the adam's apple seems like a good excuse for the double chin, so maybe I should just go with the sex change thing after all?
Lynne said…
leonie... I meant smith, of course.
Skoorby said…
As I lay in bed last night mulling over your problem, Lynne, I realized that we are not going to get anywhere unless we start thinking “outside the box”. So in that spirit, here are a few more options:
- Try desensitizing your husband to the name Wilson. You could do this by referring to him as Wilson at random moments, as in “Good morning, Wilson” or “Stop it, Wilson!” If you carefully time this to precede upcoming events, he may come to actually enjoy being addressed as Mister Wilson.
- Have the sex change. While this will be very confusing to at least one of your acquaintances, that will be a small price to pay for giving your husband something to take his mind off being called Mr. Wilson. And the first time someone at a cocktail party says to him: “Ah, you must be Mrs. Wilson, then,” he will reflect that being called Mr. Wilson wasn’t so bad after all.
- Mix and match. Trying different options simultaneously would have a better chance of meeting all of your objectives. And the interaction effects might be quite fun. For example, you could have the sex change and switch to Rowena Smit. In the end, your husband might be willing to settle for being taken for Mrs. Smit.

So there you go. Lots of ways to go on this. I would suggest taking notes, and putting it all into a book after the dust has settled.
Lynne said…
now why didn't I think of that? I'll start calling him Wilson today!

not sure about the sex change thing....but it would certainly be unexpected
marinik said…
hi Lynne, thanks for stopping over and suggesting a blog to me... i'm on my way over there right now...
Christina said…
I still think Lynne 'Smitten' Wilson covers all the bases.
Anonymous said…
My surname has always been Smit, due to people not listening, people say Smith as I speak english, even though I spell it and clearly say Smit.
The other name I get called is Smitty, no,I am not Smitty the blacksmith, sigh...
GalleySlave said…
Hi Lynne ...

"What's in a name ...?" An awful lot, it seems!

Vicki Bawcombe and I got married and each kept our own name for professional reasons (occasionally double-barreling them for effect, particularly when it comes to childrens' schooling matters). I got quite used to being called Mr Bawcombe, and would often answer in the affirmative. However there was a slight problem in that my late father-in-law, Philip Bawcombe - the artist - lived with us; there was quite a number of embarrassing incidents of mistaken identity.

Then, of course, there are the occasional infuriating situations when a minor functionary in the bank refuses to treat one's spouse as an adult, requiring the husband to sign documents on her behalf.

"Sorry, you have different surnames, you can't be married."

"Look, we're not trying to book a room for an illicit romp, we're trying to buy a car!"

Needless to say we had to get used to carrying around an authenticated copy of our marriage certificate (particularly after the original was lost in a bag-snatch following a bank visit, but that's another story).

By now we're each pretty much resigned to answering to the other's name without too much fuss, although when I'm introduced as "Adrian Bawcombe with his partner Vicki Galley ..." I really have to bite my tongue.

My only unresolved question now is, where is Mr Wheatlands?


Adrian Galley
liz warder said…
Sympathy for your problem lies in the fact that my Scottish grandmother, with the surname of Scott from an eminent family married a lowly Wilson(evidently a love match).So as not to lose the desirable connection the surnames became double-barreled. The other alternative is for you call yourself Lynnewilson Smit.

Popular posts from this blog

inspiration in a coffee shop

9 things

standing room only