What’s in a Pen Name? (secret origin of Firewater)

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

My real name isn’t Firewater.

Shocker. I know.

What’s more, it’s not even close to Firewater. You’d be hard put to deduce my given name from my chosen nom de guerre. What I’m saying is my real name isn’t Fred Waterman or Sapphire Waters, or anything that could be twisted into Firewater like some funky balloon animal.

Firewater isn’t even my alter ego. Every other thing I write about myself on these pages is true-to-life. I’m a married older man who spent three decades working in retail management, for several companies, and, after a single year of “retirement,” I became a clerk for the U.S. Postal Service, where I’ve worked for the past seven years. I’ve been married twice. I’ve visited every state in these United States except for Alaska. I believe that I’ve been a writer since before I could write, making up stories for my toys and stuffed animals even before attending kindergarten. I took typing in high school because Writer’s Digest told me all writers should know how to type. Seriously, typing wasn’t as common a skill in those days before personal computers, and I was doing most of my writing in longhand, using a Faber-Castell Velvet No. 2 lead pencil (don’t ask me why I fetishized this particular brand and style of pencil in those early days, but I did) and, generally, a three-to-five-subject spiralbound notebook. But, I digress—

If I’m not going to try to disguise anything else about me, why do I bother to hide behind a fake name? That’s a fair question. I’m going to attempt to answer it honestly.

I don’t know.

Okay, maybe that’s not completely honest. It would be better put this way:

I’m not sure.

Some of it may have something to do with privacy concerns. I don’t think I ever write anything controversial. Not really. I’m not particularly political or evangelically religious. I don’t believe I’m racist, sexist or biased against any groups that I don’t belong to, although I may yet retain some outmoded ways of thinking that I’m not always aware of. I don’t even spend time trashing my co-workers or the USPS, or—in fact—any company I’ve ever worked for. By nature, I tend not to dwell upon negative experiences.

I’m genetically predisposed to being sarcastic and irreverent. I try to put a positive spin on sarcasm and irreverence, though. Sometimes it’s a struggle.

The only posts I would be embarrassed by anyone reading would have little to do with their content, and everything to do with how well (or not so well) they are written.

And yet, I don’t like the idea of everyone who knows me being able to type my name into a search engine and being able to read my stuff without my knowledge. My wife and a few others have access to my website. I don’t worry about them being able to read what I’ve produced. They probably never will, of course, because we don’t share all of the same interests. But, they could, and that doesn’t bother me.

I have a Facebook account, under my real name. I rarely write anything on Facebook. I seldom want to write anything on Facebook. The last thing I threw onto Facebook was an RIP for Dwayne Haskins, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback who was struck and killed by a dump truck in Florida during the off-season. That’s about as deep and emotional as my brief sentences on Facebook get.

I feel more free to write the things I’m thinking about under the name Firewater. I’m not sure why this is so, but it is.

Plus, who doesn’t like the idea of having a secret identity? Right? If you’re old enough to remember the citizen band radio craze (think: Smokey and the Bandit and the song “Convoy”), you know how important it was to have a “handle.” No one used their real names over the CB.

“Breaker 1-9, this is LonghaulLover calling out for TexasToast. Tex, you got your ears on?”

That was fun for a minute. Then, when computers became more commonplace, many of us adopted computer monikers that were different from our real names because we were writing things on message boards or in chat rooms that we didn’t want our bosses reading. I hid behind a pseudonym on a website that used to exist called Targetsucks.com. I learned a lot of things from other Target employees on the site, which is why I was there, not because I thought Target sucked. It was a type of networking. But, I wouldn’t want my district manager to know that I was on that particular website, for obvious reasons.

After I separated from my first wife, and I moved alone to another state, I spent some lonely times in social chat rooms, just to connect with other humans. A mnemonic trick I use to remember numbers (learned from a book whose title I don’t remember, ironically), turned my phone number into the following string of letters: MFNPFFR. So, my first digital pseudonym became MuffinPuffer, which I thought was funny. Oddly enough, no one else had used that one. Like, ever.

The woman who later became my wife was the one who told me that MuffinPuffer sounded overtly sexual and vulgar. I’m not sure she ever believed it was just my way of remembering my phone number. It does explain why I received all of those “a/s/l?” direct messages while I was in the chatroom. I just wanted to talk about Star Wars and hard rock music.

I didn’t want to send the wrong message. So, when I began posting reviews on the Netflix site (they have since disappeared into the ether, by the way), I chose a different name. I went with ForeverMan, after an Eric Clapton song. I picked the name Firewater when I began posting on the now-defunct free blogging site, Thoughts.com.

Firewater wasn’t intended to express my love for alcohol. Booze and I have a casual acquaintanceship, but we’re not joined at the hip or anything. Nor was the name intended as a culturally insensitive reference to Native Americans. No, not at all.

This is a chicken-or-the-egg scenario. What came first was this image, the one I use as my author photo.

It was the first digital art project that I ever attempted. I used the MS Paint program, I think, to merge a photo image of the sun with an image of a lake. I added the silhouetted mountains and much of the sun’s reflection in the water. As a lifelong science-fiction fan, I loved the resulting image. And it inspired the name. The fiery closeup of the sun sinking into the water. Fire & Water. Firewater.

It’s sort of like learning the secret to a magic trick, isn’t it? The illusion isn’t so great when you know how it’s done. The secret origin of Firewater isn’t that exciting or revelatory. Like most parts of my quotidian existence, the selection of my nom de plume was rather ordinary, unremarkable.

And yet, Firewater, c’est moi.

Maybe I should have stuck with MuffinPuffer.

Photo by Anete Lusina on Pexels.com

3 thoughts on “What’s in a Pen Name? (secret origin of Firewater)

  1. Would you be surprised to know that Bookstooge IS my real name? So would I! 😉

    Some us still believe in the power of privacy and anonymity. There doesn’t have to be a “reason” for the pseudonym. But with all the crazies out there, it is always better to be safe than sorry.

    Liked by 1 person

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