What’s In a Name?

Three of the songs featured in my book, Sisters in Song, addressed the importance of names, in particular, the name of Jesus. Lydia Baxter wrote “Precious Name” emphasizing the need to “take the name of Jesus with you.” Naida Hearn of New Zealand made a list of all the names of Christ that she know from the Bible and eventually wrote “Jesus, Name Above All Names.” And Audrey Meier became intrigued by the many names for Christ one Christmas and was inspired to write “His Name Is Wonderful” listing the names to a lilting beat.

Names take on a new light when they come to the authors themselves. Many of the hymn writers in my book, Sisters in Song, and those featured in my blog, used pen names. Why? Often it was used to mask gender, for in the past, women weren’t as highly regarded as men. Married women in many cases couldn’t own property. A male name helped to thwart that and could be used establish credibility. Once established, some could begin to adopt their own names. A pen name could also be used to mask identity when the writer had a different career. Katherine Kennicott Davis, a professor, wrote “The Little Drummer Boy” under the pseudonym of C.R.W. Robertson and “Let All Things Now Living” as John Crowley. I don’t know if her motivation was to be taken more seriously or to avoid problems with her employer.

Some women were established in the entertainment world and adopted pseudonyms to be more marketable. Lucille Wood Smith became Dale Evans. Jeanine Deckers became Soeur Sourire, the singing nun. Joyce Luttrell became Dottie Rambo. Irene Amburgey became Martha Carson. Zoe Parenteau became Joan Whitney. Evelyn Merchant became Jill Jackson Miller. And Joyce Steinhardt became Darlene Zschech.

Some just wanted anonymity either for modesty’s sake, or to put the emphasis on the subject of their songs, generally Jesus. Anonymous writers include Anna Coghill, Jeanette Threfall, Dorothy Thrupp, and Elizabeth Clephane. Julia Ward Howe began writing anonymously in order to avoid her husband’s disapproval.

But many women also used female pen names. In my search of women writers, I was sometimes taken off track by this. Eliza Hewitt, a well-regarded writer in the nineteenth century, occasionally wrote under Lidie Edmunds. It took a while to realize the two were the same person. A few women used various names because publishers didn’t want to publish too many hymns by the same person in compilations or hymn books. Some hymn book publishers would only pay for a set number, such as two, from any one writer. Such was the case with Hewitt, a friend of the most prolific pseudonymous writer of all, Fanny Crosby. Fanny was forced to use over 200 pen names covering her 8000+ hymns lest hymnals be filled with her name much more than others. The publishers certainly knew who wrote her hymns, but asked her to use other names. I indeed found some of her songs under other names in the older hymn books in my library. These include male and female names, her married name, Van Alstyne, and punctuation marks. As the first hash tagger, her name was sometimes ##. Others were ###, ‘*’, and ***. When Crosby died, Hewitt memorialized Crosby with a poem at her funeral. How appropriate.

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