What’s In a Name? Guest Post

We were teasing Ray for his penname being unpronounceable and, well, we shouldn’t have been. Once he’d explained, I’d asked a post of him. Also, his story in the anthology Can’t Go Home Again is brilliant. You should read it.

What’s In a Name?

As a fledgling author you finally have improved your craft and you reach an inevitable decision point. It’s time to venture off into the wide world of publishing. Do you, as a new author, want to put your real name out there for the whole world to see? For some, it might be a point of pride to see one’s own name in print. For others who live in a world where security is a real concern, especially in this age of interconnectedness, a Nom De Plume may be the wiser choice. Consider that every county in American has Eparcels that allows landowners to be searched for if you have their first name and last name. See Also: Shia LeBeouf trying to hide his “He Will Not Divide Us” flag from 4Chan.

Now, it’s not an attempt at anonymity. It’s not because I don’t care. I love you all, dear readers. I’ll respond to your comments, if made politely. But, please, don’t show up on my doorstep. It would be awkward.

So, having decided to pick a pen name, what to choose? Something that pays homage to your personal favorite fiction writers? Heinlein would be too close, but perhaps you could choose Anson as a last name? Clarke is nice, generic enough to perhaps be coincidental. Asimov would be telling. But there are manifold science fiction author names that would also tip your hand; Gernsback, Bester, Ellison, Norton, Dick, Vonnegut, Shelley, Welles, Zelazny, and many others deserve pedestals of their own in Science Fiction’s pantheon, and are therefore too recognizable. When fandom cannot provide, it’s time to turn back home.

My godparents, Stella and Roch, were from Poland. Being unfortunate to be there in 1939 when the Nazis invaded. They found themselves, along with so many other Poles, consigned to a Nazi ‘work camp’. Where, while they would not be euthanized en masse, would instead be worked to death. They managed to endure the camps and the tortures and deprivations visited upon them there. But, as a child in the 1970s, I remember hearing Roch through the walls of the duplex my family rented from them, in the dead of night, while he relived what he went through.

Their son, Jan, was born in 1946 in Germany while they were displaced persons and the Allies fumbled with what was to be done with the millions of people uprooted from their home countries by the Nazis. Their daughter, Barbara was born in 1948, while they were in a camp for displaced persons in Belgium. Which illustrates the duration of the displaced persons problem in Europe. The end of the war found them in the west and the Iron Curtain descended between them and their home in Poland.

Sometimes, life hands you a left-handed blessing. Stella, Roch, Jan, and Barbara found their way to the United States. Specifically, to our little New England hometown. Jobs were plentiful and it must have truly seemed like a land of opportunity. Our town had a strong Polish-Catholic community, with a church that gave masses in Polish. Eventually, they purchased a former mill home. A tiny duplex with two rooms on the first floor, three rooms on the second floor and no running water. A shed addition was added on to both sides in the 1960s by Roch, with a kitchen and full bath for each side of the duplex.

Stella and Roch’s side of the duplex was like a European cottage transplanted across the ocean. They lived productive, if frugal lives. Roch laid walkways of herringboned brick with leaning tombstone edgers. Stella tended a vegetable and herb garden, and the flower beds at the front of the house were an explosion of colorful flowers in the warmer months. Out back, they kept rabbits in a hutch for meat and rhubarb growing in the cellar window wells.

Inside, Stella’s kitchen was a haven of stability for me and my sisters. I can recall them operating the treadle beneath Stella’s Singer sewing machine. Stella had an enormous gas and kerosene-fired kitchen stove. She always had a basket of rags in the living room. She would tear these into strips, sew the strips together and braid them into a long skein. She would then coil and stitch the skein together into large, soft braided rugs. Modern manufactured rugs can’t compare. Stella would frequently make a huge batch of golabki in a turkey roasting pan. Freezing some for later, and feed the whole duplex with the batch made fresh that day.

But their house saw their share of tragedies too. Their son, Jan, joined the Marines and was sent to Vietnam. He died there, at Camp Carroll near the DMZ, September 24th, 1967. Stella passed in 1979, Roch lived until his nineties, passing away in 2013. Barbara was the last of them to go, passing in 2019.

Since I must have a pen name, I’d prefer one with meaning. And if I must use it to remember and honor someone, I’d rather it was personal. My pen name, Ray Krawczyk, is my way of keeping a candle lit in the window for all the Krawczyks.

And, for those unfamiliar with Polish names, it’s pronounced Crawf-Check.

14 comments

  1. That’s an awesome story and your pen name is a moving tribute to their memory. Thank you for sharing it.

  2. And that obeys the great rule of pen names: don’t name yourself as if you were a character in a fantastic setting.

  3. Thank you, Ray, for the reminder, and the reason for the name.

    I had a pen name planned, because I also write academic articles and didn’t want readers getting confused. My first choice turned out to be in use—by a personal injury and torte lawyer with a major NY and DC law firm. Nope!

    Re. Polish. I wrote the name of the Polish coronation sword on the board when we were talking in class about languages. The students boggled. “Szczerbiec.” But they had no problem with Krzyzewski. Odd, that. 😉

  4. It did throw me the first time I saw it on good old Faceplant but once I saw the picture I figured out who it was. That’s one incredible story, though, and he told it quite well here. The anthology is definitely going to be a part of my next Amazon order regardless and I’m looking forward to reading his and everyone else’s works!

Comments are closed.