There is a Latin saying that sticks in my head these days: Nomen est omen.
The name is the sign.
I suppose it is old school, the idea that your name given at birth can influence your entire destiny. That your name can determine your job, socioeconomic status, your friends, where you live. The theory is dismissed these days as being just more mid-century claptrap, outmoded as Freud or phrenology. But it does seem to be true that one’s name does send out a signal into the world, full of projections, implications, and associations.
I am in the process of changing my surname to my new husband’s: Quackenbush. An Americanized name of Dutch heritage that originally meant, “one who dwells by the croaking forest.” Which I find incredibly compelling, evocative of the rich life of the underbrush, the mysterious creatures that dwell in the night…
I don’t always explain this to the people who do a double take when I tell them what my new name will be. Sometimes there is a blinking and stammering, “Well isn’t that interesting?” Sometimes they will simply suggest, “You can always just keep it Erickson, dear,” and give me a conciliatory pat on the back.
But the thing is, changing it feels deeply right to me. I’m not doing it to be in keeping with patriarchal norms. I kept my maiden name when I married the first time. This would be a free choice, not an obligation. To me it seems appropriate to the profound change in my life that I have a new name. Marrying my husband was like walking through a doorway from one life to another. It feels like a rebirth. The new name feels like a christening.
It has been a very hectic time in my personal life since my last book was out. I was divorced and remarried in quick succession and went through a massive restructuring of my life. My new book, “The Vesper Bell,” was written half in my old life and half in my new one. And now I’m relearning how to do certain things (like book promotion!) and sometimes it feels like learning to eat, talk and walk all over again. It comes slowly at the beginning, then begins to feel natural.
The odd thing is, for such a fraught time in my life, this is my most humorous book, meaning I wrote it to make myself laugh. It seems sometimes that writers can think you can’t be funny and make serious art at the same time. But sometimes laughter is so cathartic, almost orgasmic. It can be a way to get inside through the back way, where there are no defenses. As I get older I value laughter more than most other things.
Anyway. It’s about a Cosima, a young girl who lives in a trailer on a half-developed, abandoned golf course in the middle of a desert with her family. Her mother, Brooke, is a rebellious socialite on the outs with her wealthy family. Her stepfather, Eddie, is a former actor in a B-movie vampire franchise who makes his living attending horror conventions. Cosima dreams of escape, but at the same time feels responsible for her child-like parents.
Life changes irrevocably when the family inherits a storm-damaged vacation house on the tropical island of St. Aurea, and makes a go at living in it full-time. Brooke and Eddie find that life on the island is not as idyllic as they thought it would be. And Cosima finds refuge from family chaos when she becomes involved with a mysterious order of nuns called the Handmaidens of St. Mary, who have a bad reputation on the island. She is welcomed into the convent, which feels like a respite at first, until the dysfunction THERE feels like it hits a little too close to home…
Anyway, it was not easy writing and editing with so much big stuff going on in my life, but I laughed out loud more often writing this book more than any other I had done. And that, to me, seems to have imbued it with life. I am keeping my maiden name on my books, but other than that, I am now Mrs. Quackenbush, which I am very happy about. Your name can be given to you by another, but who you become is up to you.
You can find “The Vesper Bell” in paperback and ebook here: