“If we changed our name, things would be easier,” Reinhardt insisted, wincing as his mother reapplied the washcloth to his neck.
“When it comes to choosing between right and easy, you must always choose what is right, regardless of how difficult it makes things.”
“Most Swabians have changed their names.”
Gertrude pressed the wet cloth against her son’s neck with so much force it made him flinch. She said, “If we changed our name, I would turn my back on tradition. I would hate myself. And what would I have left if I hated myself?”
As I was writing the City of Earthly Desire in 2010 and 2011, I briefly entertained the possibility of using a pseudonym when it came time to publish the book. The main reason I considered doing so was to avoid possible negative consequences of having my real name attached to a work of fiction that attacked liberalism and incorporated the pornography industry in its story.
To put things in perspective, I was still working as a high school teacher back then, and I remember the newspapers were full of articles about teachers being sacked for relatively trivial matters such facebook posts, online vacation photographs, misinterpreted Twitter remarks, and so forth. And there I was working on a novel outlining the pernicious rise of the pornography industry in Budapest! I knew beyond a doubt that any negative blowback from my novel could potentially end my career and put my wife and me at risk.
As I worked on the novel, I continued to think about publishing under a pseudonym to avoid this possible danger. Strangely enough, I ended up writing the subject of name changing into the novel itself as I thought about the topic, culminating in the lines I have shared. I based the scene on real life events within my own family history.
After the war, the communists urged my grandfather to drop the family name Berger and adopt a Hungarian one instead, to which my grandfather stoically responded, “You’ve taken everything from me and my family, but I will never let you have my name.” Once I had reflected upon this and had written the scene above, I rejected the notion of publishing under a pseudonym because I recognized it would be cowardly and hypocritical of me to do so.
I am not suggesting there was anything inherently heroic in my decision to publish my book under my own name, but it at least demonstrated my willingness to confront uncertainty and danger at a time when my family’s circumstances were rather vulnerable (my son had just been born, my wife was not working, and money was tight). I knew assigning myself a pseudonym would amount to little more than an act of cowardice, that employing a false name would represent a failure of my character in the face of challenge, that I had allowed fear and self-concern override right action. In essence, I understood that I would loathe myself if I used a pseudonym for my book.
I have not regretted the decision to publish the book under my real name, and I make a point of using my real name on this blog and during my other online activities (commenting, reviewing, writing, etc.). Using my name is a declaration, my way of reminding myself that I am choosing what is right over what is easy. If nothing else, it exhibits my willingness to put myself on the line, to back up my words with my physical reality and identity, to put my skin in the game, to expose myself to the possibility of mockery, ridicule, and vitriol. If I am wrong in what I write, I must admit it. If I am right, I must stand by it. Using my real name removes any chance at secrecy or sanctuary.
This brings me to the more general topic of pseudonyms, fake names, aliases, anonymity and the like. Although I respect medieval artists who purposefully chose anonymity as a way of glorifying God, the contemporary use of anonymity and aliases by artists, writers, and bloggers troubles me. I am not referring to individuals who use aliases but whose real names are publicly known, but to those secretive writers, thinkers, and bloggers who hide their authentic identities under noms de plume.
Of course, I understand the reasons why writers and bloggers use false names; many of them may hail from the academic world or some other vulnerable sector in which they cannot openly express their views for fear of censor, or even peril to their jobs. Yet, I cannot help pause for a moment and wonder, with the exception of whistleblowers, why do writers and bloggers bother making their views public if they lack the courage or the means to stand by their words? This applies especially to writers and bloggers who express anti-liberal, anti-leftist, and Christian views in their work. Perhaps I am being too harsh with this criticism and perhaps it is not my place to judge, but I believe this refusal to identify with these expressed ideas essentially reveals an immense failure of character and moral courage.
Put simply, those who rail against the evils of our modern world and make attempts to offer hope and guidance but refuse to put their names to their ideas are cowards. In my mind, their reluctance to stand by their words points to excessive self-concern, one that overrides the good they are saying or doing.
Their adversaries show no such self-concern. The secular/leftist/progressive types not only happily affix their names to every ridiculous and evil idea they generate, but are willing to go out in public and advocate vociferously for it. At the same time, many on the side of Truth, Beauty, Goodness, and Virtue are reluctant to make something as basic as their name publicly known. Instead, they fight the culture wars under noms de guerre, encouraging the rest of us to get on with it while they spinelessly cower in the shadows afraid to reveal themselves for fear of a missed mortgage payment or job promotion. And if they are in compromising positions – in circumstances in which they are curtailed, confined, and controlled – circumstances in which they have allowed the world to dominate them so utterly, are they not, essentially, nothing more than slaves, these noble brothers and sisters of ours?
Perhaps they believe they are like superheroes - incognito Bruce Waynes and Peter Parkers fighting evil through their secret identities and alter egos. It is a reassuring thought, but I offer a simple rebuttal - when Bruce Wayne and Peter Parker fight crime as Batman and Spiderman, their identities are hidden, but the individuals inside the costumes are still risking their bodies and their health. What exactly are the pseudonymous writers and bloggers putting at risk? The reputation of their fictitious names?
These pseudonymous writers, thinkers, and bloggers speak a great deal about spirit, but the cowering behind false names reveals spiritlessness to me.
Note: My criticism here may indeed be too harsh. I would welcome thoughts on the matter.