Recently, someone asked if it was strange for me when people address me by my pen name. My answer was “no.” There are a couple reasons for this, the first being that I chose that pen name at the tender age of ten, so I’ve had thirty years to get used to the idea. The second reason is that I haven’t gone by my real name for years. For some unknown reason, I feel the urge to tell the story behind this.
Back in 1987, when the Earth was still cooling and mutant shoulder pads were threatening to take over the universe, I was becoming fast friends with a wonderful person who remains my closest friend to this day, despite our many attempts to throttle each other. When we met, I was in possession of a library book entitled The Maverick Guide to Australia. This book began, predictably, with the definition of “maverick,” which is, according to Merriam-Webster’s handy online dictionary, “an independent individual who does not go along with a group or party.” My friend thought that this was an excellent description of my fundamental personality, and a nickname was born.
Being at that time teenage girls, we had frequent bouts of laziness, and a three-syllable nickname quickly became onerous. It was shortened to Mavvy, and then Mav. When she was angry with me, my friend would even give me her version of the motherly middle-naming: Maverick Dammit.
Throughout high school, I was introduced to more and more new friends by this nickname. It had become my identity so, when I went away to college, I continued to introduce myself as Mavvy. By the time I married, the only people still using my real name were my parents. I decided that it would not work for getting a job, so I did use my real name with employers and co-workers, but even they were aware of the nickname from meeting my husband at office parties and my compulsion to over-share.
My mother now insists that it is silly for me to continue to use the nickname, since a 40-year-old married mother of two could not possibly be a maverick. I think she misunderstands the truth that lies behind the name and the reason why I still use it.
I am not attempting to prove to the world that I am different, edgier, rebellious, or ostentatiously counter-culture. I’m not really trying to prove anything.
The nickname fits my identity because I have never fit in and am able to feel the blessing of it. It is me because I have never been able to subjugate my true self to the will or expectation of others, no matter how much pressure was put on me to do so. I am simply myself, and any attempt on my part to stray from that truth results in abysmal failure. In other words, I completely lack the ability to be anything other than genuine.
As I have mentioned in other blog posts, being on the outside can be an asset for a creative person. It allows me to have a unique perspective of the world and the people in it. I understand human beings in converse proportion to my ability to interact with them without awkwardness. Being an outsider has also made it possible for me to relate to my autistic son. He can tell me honestly about how he sees the world around him, and he knows that I will understand. His little brother, who has something of a reputation for hilarious eccentricity amongst my Facebook friends, is also an unbridled individualist. I believe that one of my jobs as their mother is to protect those identities and teach them to embrace who they are, try to do good in the world, and never let anyone take away their joy.
My mother has a hard time grappling with a lot of the choices I make, so it is not particularly surprising that she doesn’t understand why an old childhood nickname still overshadows the name she picked for me. That’s okay; I know enough of her story to appreciate why she has the perspective she does. But in our society as a whole, we allow other people to label us too often. Labels such as gender, race, sexuality, build, socioeconomic status, and even hair color put each of us into categories that don’t necessarily reflect who we really are as individuals.
I did not choose my nickname, but it was chosen for me by someone who understood me and knew my heart. I chose my pen name for myself. When I married, I chose to take my husband’s last name. One day, my children may come home and tell me they now want to be called Colander and Catharsis.
All I care about is that, when they’re both grown and off living their lives, they will only care about the labels they choose for themselves and the ones that are offered to them out of love by those who really know their hearts. I already know those hearts are good, and that's all I need to know. Everything else is just names.