Content warning: Child Abuse
I am not a fan in any way of my government name. It was given to me by my parents, and I have pretty much not used it since I turned 15 outside of situations where I am officially required to do so. Nobody who I consider a friend calls me that name, and if I hear it on a phone line, I know I am dealing with a government system, someone who bought my data from a credit card company, or my parents. It is, for all intents and purposes, though by no means with the same severity, a deadname.
Part of this is because the name’s origin, in my family, is tied to someone else. I was named after a relative, and it was important to do so. The name had legacy. The name had heritage. There are churches in Australia with my name on them, inscribed on little metal plaques, dedications to a time well before I was born. It is a name with meaning, a name with history, a name that, once, my Grandmother was proud to tell me, it was my obligation to continue. I needed to have kids, and I needed to make my forebears proud.
It is a name associated in my mind, with the life I had that was out of my control. A life where I got hit a lot, a life where I learned to respond to violence with violence, a life where I could sit in a corner, neglected, and wonder what I was going to do if the injury wasn’t obvious enough that an adult would intervene. Wonder about the people who were supposed to keep me safe, and what I’d done wrong that they never did.
This is, in part, why as soon as I could, I chose to be known by a different name.
When I got onto the internet, there was a rule; you didn’t use your real name there. No matter what. It wasn’t safe. You got yourself a name you could use, for the internet. I used a couple, but one thing I knew I wanted, all the time, was a name I’d always use. If I ever did something cool on the internet, I wanted someone ten years later to see my name and go ‘oh dang, you did that cool thing I like.’ This, ironically, happened to me the other way around – I found that two things I like were made by the same person, because they used the same handle.
One was a pong parody. The other was a City of Heroes story arc.
Anyway, the way I got the name I have is I read a newsgroup for a fantasy book series I liked, alt.fan.eddings. There, the small cadre of posters mostly used handles relating to either generic fantasy stuff (hi, if you’re out there, gilmae), and some used characters from the books. I thought that was neat, and posted with the energy of a child, and so, the much more mature adults of the group bequeathed on me the handle Talen, after a character from that book series. This worked out great for me – he was my favourite character after all, but I couldn’t just choose to be named after him. A name had to be given, right?
That’s how it worked, in my head.
Talen in the David Eddings books was a ten year old boy, a clever thief, and the illegitimate son of a knight’s squire. In that first story, he has this arc of being found by his father, accepted into his family, and when that father dies, he avenges him. Then, in the sequel story, a sixteen year old Talen shows a blending of thiefly cunning with knight’s training, and… doesn’t do much in that story, but whatever. He was near my age, he was clever and sly, and he was unattached from family concerns. Yeah, things got weird in the story, when a Precocious Child Goddess decided she wanted to marry him and started pursuing him when she was…
I have worn the name Talen now for over twenty years. I have published books under it. And I was always fond, in a weird way, of the character of Talen, as written by David and Leigh Eddings, a pair of authors who I thought of as a bit weird, a bit hackish, a bit weak as writers now I know better, but generally okay. Like David Eddings was born in the 1930s, I wouldn’t expect him to be on the right side of trans rights, for example. Hell, the fact that Leigh Eddings wasn’t credited on most of the work she helped him with until right towards the end was a bummer.
I like the name, and I liked, within reason, the very middle-of-the-road, low-quality-but-enjoyable fantasy universe it was from and had a sort of jocular dismissal of its author, who I thought was a bit of a weirdo who wore his kinks for things like age gaps on his sleeve.
This year, I had reason to check up on his wikipedia page. I think I wanted to check his birth or death date, one or the other. And there, entry 1.2 on that list was something I wasn’t expecting to see: Child Abuse.
In 1966, David and Leigh Eddings adopted a child, and later another. Within four years, both of the children would be taken away from them and both of the authors served a year in prison for physically abusing the children. There’s a lot of detail if you want to go read the newspaper records.
Which I did.
Which was stupid of me.
It’s a grim story, not one I recommend, and it involves even in its 1970s careful phrasing, a description of a dark cage, which was kept sealed shut with a screwdriver, and multiple bruises on a child’s body.
David Eddings, an author I used to think of as a bit of crap author but still, you know, decent, had his charms, was also someone who I can now only think of as a monster. As someone who should have done better, known better, who didn’t deserve his success and his sports car and his millions and his long life and his career and even my deference and respect at one point in my life.
They had adopted him.
And now, I don’t know what to do with this.
I don’t want to do anything with this, really.
Part of me is just glumly amused that my efforts to flee one name because of how it associates in my mind with an unhappy child who knew what it meant to get hit to solve problems involved fleeing to another name, which now… I mean, did they see their son, in their own fanciful visions of what good parents they were in Talen? Did they think they were unfairly maligned for their parenting methods, and that’s why they wrote about a child separated from his father, who loved him anyway and got revenge when he suffered?
I’m not about to change my name. It’s my name. Just feels to me like a sort of cruel joke that I’d find this jagged truth waiting for me at some point, eventually, when I finally got around to checking a wiki-bloody-pedia article. I hope I can do better with this name.
And man, the Eddingses were arseholes.
I learned this like, I want to say, in February and it’s been messing with my head since.