Friday, March 25, 2005

The Trifling Trinomial: In Which the Author Discloses How Arbitrary One’s Own Sobriquet Can Be

You might have noticed I publish under the slightly cryptic author name of “M. Allen Cunningham,” and you wouldn’t be the first if you happened to wonder why I went with this moniker.

The nom de plume is a funny thing. Back in 2002 my first published short story appeared (in Alaska Quarterly Review) under the name “Mark Cunningham,” and I was plenty comfortable with that designation (it’s my name after all) until two things came to my attention while perusing a handful of new literary magazines:

1. I already existed in different physical form.
2. I was apparently publishing poetry on a prolific scale.

Figuring that I wanted to continue publishing in literary magazines myself (as myself), I began to contemplate a nom de plume. My wife and I discussed it and together decided it'd be a good idea (that other guy is a really good poet. Read some of his work here). This was during a road trip around the National Parks of the western U.S. two summers ago, just after I’d received my second short fiction acceptance, so we had plenty of road-time to ponder such trifles.

How about “Marcus Cunningham”? Hmmm...would I be comfortable with people calling me Marcus?

I had a great, great grandfather named Matthias: why not just change the whole era-specific nature of my name? But Matthias wasn’t my name either, and I'd probably end up being called “Matt” anyway.

We briefly considered something like “Artist Formerly Known as Mark Cunningham,” then luckily it occured to us that we might somehow employ my middle name.

So, how about Allen? “Allen Cunningham.” Hmmm. Sounds slightly professorial.

“Mark Allen Cunningham”?—Too long.

“M. Allen Cunningham”?—Too pretentious.

Yes, pretentious. Really, how could I presume to join the legendary initialed ranks whose members included:

F. Scott Fitzgerald
T.S. Eliot
H.G. Wells
E.M. Forester
D.H. Lawrence
C.S. Lewis
W.H. Auden
J.D. Salinger
J.M. Barrie
…and the poet H.D.

Not to mention those lauded contemporary authors whose surnames are preceded by something-dot-something-or-other:

J.M. Coetzee
J.G. Ballard
T.C. Boyle…

So at some point out on Montana’s Highway 90 the vistas got the better of us and my wife and I just stopped thinking about it. A few weeks later, back at home, she approached me out of the blue and said: “I like M. Allen Cunningham.” And I said okay.

So it’s her fault, I guess is what I’m saying; I just write the fiction.

But if only she or I had had the foresight to consider the possibility of eventual book publication, the interpersonal nature of book promotion, and the incalculable number of occasions I'd have to say something like this:

“The M. is for Mark, please call me Mark. Except when it’s in print. Then use ‘M. Allen’. But I can answer to ‘Allen’ too if that’s easier for you. Ah, hell, just introduce me as ‘Mark Allen Cunningham’—-and you can drop the ‘Allen’ if you want. Or the ‘Mark.’ ”