Friday, 7 August 2015

GUEST POST: What's In A Name? Changing Perspectives

Continuing on our little impromptu series, here's the perspective of an upcoming writer. Nicole Lavigne is very active in the community and she's hardworking and very ambitious. Keep an eye out for her name, coming in bookstores everywhere soon, I've no doubt!  

Speaking of names (ha), I was stunned to learn that my SF Signal blog post had made such an impact on her, especially knowing that she tends to think things through. This is a perfect example of how what we do now, as authors, can impact future authors. Small ripples in a large ocean. But every little bit makes a difference. Words are power. We're authors, so let's reclaim that power. (Damn it.)

I've wanted to be a writer for pretty much forever (aside from that blip in grade one when I wanted to be a French teacher) and for all that time the name that I envisioned on those future book covers was N.L. Lavigne. My reasons for imagining my initials instead of my first name though had absolutely nothing to do with the bias against women writers that everyone is talking about. Not because that issue didn't exist but ten year-old me wasn't aware of it. It was only in the last couple of years that I even started to think about the outside perception of what name I choose to publish under.

I pictured my name using initials because it was familiar. Some of the authors that I remember best from my youth used their initials: R.L. Stine, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and J.K. Rowling. Only one of those is a woman so it wasn't associated for me with how women are published. I think the initials stood out more as an author name than an everyday name.

There was another reason for the initials. As a kid, I wasn't a big fan of my name. I thought it was common, a little boring. I was always meeting other Nicole's. Even the combination of my first and last name is not unique. Trust me, it's really annoying when your doctor swaps your files and asks about a surgery you never had, or when your university library says you have an overdue book on quantum physics when you are an English Lit major. I spent a fair chunk of time as a kid and even through high school thinking about what name I would pick for myself when I changed it. So not liking the name Nicole, but not knowing yet what I wanted to change it to, I needed something to picture on the cover of those future books (visualizing your goals is important after all). N.L. Lavigne was it until I made that name change.

The very first time I submitted a story, I had to stop and think about what to put as my by line. I had always intended to change my name but still hadn't picked something. Should I use Nicole or N.L.? I had always thought I would have settled my name before trying to get published. My first submissions went out under N.L. Lavigne, defaulting on the tradition of initials set in my mind by Lewis, Tolkien and others.

Talking to Marie and her own decisions about using her name was when I actually started to think about the impact of the name I published under. I was never motivated to use initials for gender anonymity and improved sales. That wasn't my intention. The more I thought about it the more I realized that I would be perceived by many that way. I realized that I had a choice, not just a personal choice about how I see myself but also about what potential impact I can have in the community just with my name. I also realized that I hadn't really thought about changing my name in years, aside from as that thing I had intended to do. My non-unique name doesn't bother me anymore; it does have the coolest meaning (victory of the people) and I like that it is bilingual and reflects my French and English family.

So I stopped submitting under N.L. Lavigne and started submitting as Nicole Lavigne. (I checked. One other person has published under that name: a few books in French and the last was in 2000, so it shouldn't be too hard to keep us separate.) I was inspired by Marie's decision and others like her to publish under her own name in spite of the potential difference in sales that could come with a male pseudonym. I decided that I wanted to lend my weight in the struggle against the bias against women writers. It won't make things any easier, but I don't write because it's easy, and in the end I think the more challenging choice will be more satisfying. How can I expect things to improve if I won't work for it too?


Nicole Lavigne has a BA in English and Theatre from the University of Ottawa. She still lives in Ottawa but considers all of Canada her home after bouncing across the country as a military brat during her childhood. She is a professional storyteller, published writer, Can-Con web monkey, Editorial Assistant for Beneath Ceaseless Skies magazine, Co-Chair for the Ottawa ChiSeries, and daylights as an administrative assistant for the government. She is a member of the Scrawling Narwhals critiquing group. Her fiction has appeared in Of Airships and Automatons and will be appearing in Second Contacts by Bundoran Press this fall. Check out her website at