You ever think about your name and wonder how many other people have your exact same name? Of course not. That’s because you’ve probably got some cool ass name like Bubba Vanzetti, or Emanuel Xavier, or Tupac Shakur, and the last thing you have to worry about is getting mistaken for someone else—at least not on paper. Or you just don’t care.
I fucked up.
Way back at the very beginning when I first started getting published I used my truncated given name, Patrick O’Neil. Because. Well. That’s my name. It’s what I’ve always used. Besides it felt too formal to use my full name, Patrick Sean O’Neil. Although I’m not really sure why?
Yet I’m not an initials, P.S. O’Neil, kind of guy. I sure as hell wasn’t going to us a fake name. And I’m definitely not a Pat O’Neil (pat is what you do to dogs and little kids’ heads). But back in those early days I had no idea what I was fucking doing. I just wanted to write. I though slapping my name on the final product was just what writers do. I never really thought about it.
But it turns out names are really important. Or more to the point the more unique they are, the more they help a writer. Because names are your “brand.” They are how you get recognized. A mediocre name can make or break a writer’s career. If you sound too much like everyone else no one really remembers you. You blend in. Goodbye.
Or if there’s more than one of you with the same name the reader gets confused, and that’s exactly what’s happening to me. Now here I am twenty plus years into a writing “career” and I’m getting lost in the crowd. I’m just another Patrick O’Neil in a multitude of other authors named Patrick O’Neil. All of whom come up when you Google search my name. And worse, on sites like Amazon, Goodreads, and Barnes & Noble, my work gets attributed to any one of these other Patrick O’Neils. Most notably Patrick O’Neil, a professor of political science with multiple textbooks on Comparative Politics. Although given the subject matter of my books I am pretty sure Professor O’Neil is not too overly thrilled to be associated with a book written by a “former junkie bank robber.”
Then there’s Patrick O’Neil, author of the travel book, Sideways – Travels With Kafka, Hunter S. and Kerouac. Patrick O’Neil that wrote, Cowboy Movies & American Culture: Understanding the Invasion of Iraq. Patrick O’Neil, a professor of computer science with numerous published books on computer databases. Comic collector Patrick O’Neil, best known for his in-depth treatise on Beavis and Butthead. Patrick O’Neil, tech manual author and computer programmer. Patrick O’Neil and his illustrated reference books for junior high school students. And a whole herd of Patrick O’Neills that I’m not even going to bother with (mainly because they don’t know how to spell our last name).
So yeah. I think it’s safe to say that there are a shit-ton of Patrick O’Neils out there. We’re like the Joe Average of the Irish world. I can remember back when there were actual phone books and whenever I was traveling I’d open one up and look for my name and given the city there would be literally hundreds of us. Yet knowing all that I still thought it a good idea to just use plain old Patrick O’Neil. And now years later I’m having to contend with name recognition and being confused with all the other Patrick O’Neils.
Sadly I wasn’t present enough to this dilemma when a prophetic warning sign presented itself. I had submitted a piece that would later be a part of my memoir, Anarchy At The Circle K, to the literary journal 14 Hills. The poet Hollie Hardy was the editor and because my email was my full name—partickoneil was taken, as was partickoneil1 to 100—another sign I completely ignored. She assumed that I used my full name and when the journal came out in print there I was Patrick Sean O’Neil. What the fuck! I thought. Yet had I known then what I know now I could have started out as Patrick Sean O’Neil, saved myself a bit of confusion, and slightly removed myself from the pack.
So herein lies the whole purpose of this self-absorbed diatribe. I’m thinking of jumping ship and going full name from here on out. I know, I know… like what the fuck Patrick Sean O’Neil!? And yes, I can hear you all saying, “No one really cares.” Or worse, “Stop whining, no one even knows you exist.” And then there’s the issue of what about my previous books? Will they now be confused as yet another author named Patrick O’Neil?
My new novel is about to be publish. So far I’ve only really published nonfiction. My thinking is that because it’s another genre this could be a good time to venture into full name. But I could be wrong. Have there been other writers that changed names mid-career? Did it go well for them? Or did they slide off into the obscurity of new writer status, once again scrambling to gain notoriety?
Hmmm, why oh why didn’t my parents name me Moon Unit?
So, I’m asking for your help here. Should I make the move to Patrick Sean O’Neil? Or stay Patrick O’Neil?
Many thanks in advance.
Sadly this may also prove how few people actually read my posts…
Oh the irony.