In this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge from the Daily Post, we were asked to discuss the power of a name.
So first, I’m going to give you a little about my background, because it is relevant here. My last name, Friese (pronounced [freez]), is really well-known in my area. It’s a small town and a big family. I’ve been surrounded by extended family my whole life. My cousins are my best friends.
And for those who are curious, here is the whole Friese side (circa about 2000)
Click on it to really get the full force.
So my dad and his three brothers raised us kids on our family’s cattle ranch. The two older sisters moved away (the furthest is about a half an hour away so basically they just moved off the ranch). I grew up in the house that my grandparents raised their kids in. It was built in the 1890s. We had a picture hanging up above the stove of our house when it was new — with two horses in the driveway — no cars. (Sorry I don’t have it uploaded onto my computer!)
My dad’s grandpa, Al, is my namesake. Not identically, obviously, but my dad wanted to be able to call one of his kids “Al.” In doing my genealogy a year or so ago, I got really into my ancestry. I found out that my Great-Grandpa Al was born in the US, but the rest of his siblings were born in Germany. He was born in Iowa in 1896, and moved to my hometown in 1935, the height of the Depression, and bought up the 2,500 acres on which my family still lives.
My dad’s backyard
You can probably tell how proud I am to be part of my family. I am. But it’s obviously less about the name than the representation behind it. When people from around my hometown meet me, they know I come from a good family. My family works hard (and play hard!), and they raised us kids to know that. You work for everything.
Halfmoon Ranch cattle brand
So, why am I telling you all this? Right. The power of a name. I wrote a piece in my last writing class that I didn’t particularly want my family to read — it was a little too personal — but it was a final piece and was going to be published by our school’s literary publication. I decided that I should create a pen name under which it could be published. Some of the greatest have done that, right?
I had a pen name in the past. Sydney Black. But she was also an alter-ego. Now, I was tasked with creating a name that represents me and who I really am. That’s when I began to fully grasp how my name is a part of my identity. So, these were the requirements for my pen name that I came up with.
1. First name must begin with “Al”
2. First name must be long and be able to be shortened (Allison-Allie)
3. Surname must be German
Shouldn’t be too hard, I figured. I started scouring names. Allison, Alison, Alexandria, Alice, Alita, Alisha, Alanis, Alaina.
German surnames: Huber (relatives of mine), Adler, Braun, Eichmann, Faust, Krueger (other relatives of mine), Meister, Oster, Schneider, Vogel.
After looking through hundreds of first and last names, I settled. Alexis Otto. Partly because it sounded nice, partly because it fit my rules, and partly because I love the character Otto in “A Fish Called Wanda.”
In the end, after all the obsessing and agonizing. I published it under my real name.