pseudonymity and the bibliography

My research is on authorship, and specifically on varied practices of writing and ways that authorship is performed.

For my study – that is, late 19th-century Japan – the practice of using pseudonyms, multiple and various, is extremely common. It’s an issue that I consider quite a bit, and a practice that I personally find simultaneously playful and liberating. It’s the ultimate in creativity: creating not just a work but one’s authorship, and one’s authorial name, every time.

This does raise a practical issue, however, that leads me to think even more about the meaning and implications of using a pseudonym.

How does one create a bibliography of works written under pen names?

The easy version of the problem is this: I have a choice when making my master dissertation bibliography of citing works in a number of ways. I can cite them with that instance’s pen name, then the most commonly known pen or given name in brackets afterward. I can do the reverse. Or I can be troublesome and only cite the pen name. Then again, I could adopt the practice that is the current default – born of now attributing works solely to the most commonly known name rather than to the name originally on the work – that is to not bother with the original pen name, obscuring the original publication context entirely. I can pretend, for example, that Maihime was written by Mori Ogai, and not Mori Rintaro. This flies in the face of convention but is the only way that I can cite the work and remain consistent with the overarching argument that I make in my dissertation: that is, use of and attribution to specific, variable pen names matters, both for understanding context and also understanding the work itself. It goes without saying that this is crucial for understanding authorship itself.

But there is another issue, and it goes hand-in-hand with citing works by writers whose name does not follow Western convention of given name first, last name second. Of having two names at all. The issue comes in the form of citation managers.

I’ve been giving Zotero a go lately and quite enjoying it. But I find myself making constant workarounds because of most of my sources being by Japanese writers, and the writers of my primary sources not only being Japanese but also using pen names. My workaround is to treat the entire name as one single last name, so I can write it in the proper order and not have it wrangled back into “last name”, “first name” – both of those being not quite true here. For citing a Japanese writer, I’d want to retain the last name then given name order; for someone using a pen name, the issue is that no part of the name is a last or given name. It’s what I’d like to call an acquired name.

Mori Ogai is now the most commonly used name of the writer Mori Rintaro (Mori being the last name, Rintaro being his given name). Ogai is a shortened version of his early pen name Ogai Gyoshi. Ogai Gyoshi isn’t a false last plus given name. It’s always in the order Ogai Gyoshi, neither of them is a “real” name, and it is a phrase, not a name. It’s as though he’s using a word that happens to have a space in it.

So when I put some of Mori Rintaro’s writing into Zotero, I put in “Mori Rintaro” as the last name. Sometimes I just put in “Ogai” as the name, when he signs a piece that way. Occasionally it’s “Ogai Mori Rintaro” (this is, in fact, the author of Maihime – I made a shortcut above in my example). And then there are some pieces in which the last name in Zotero is “Ogai Gyoshi.”

I don’t know how to go about this any other way, but it’s less about me having be a little hacky to get it to do what I want, and much more of a constant reminder of our current (Western) assumptions about names, authorship, and naming conventions. It’s a reminder of how different the time and place that I study is, and how much more dynamic and, frankly, fun it was to write in the late 19th century in Japan than it is now, either here as an American or even in Japan. Names are taken a bit more seriously now, I’d argue, and more literally. It’s a little harder to play with one’s name, to make one up entirely for a one-off use, at this point – and I think it’s for the worse.

(Obviously, there are exceptions: musicians come immediately to mind. And it’s not as though writers do not adopt pen names now. But it’s not in the same way. And this, incidentally, is something I love about the early Internet – I’m referring to the nineties in particular. Fun with handles, fun with names, all pseudonymous, and all about fluid, multiple identity.)

One thought on “pseudonymity and the bibliography”

  1. I’ve never really gotten too deep into it myself, but I am sure that all of these issues with pseudonyms apply equally to ukiyo-e artists (for example). I assume you’ve looked into pre-Meiji attitudes about art-names plenty – probably know more about it than me.

    It reminds me of back when I was more actively involved in editing Wikipedia (I was really active for a few years, from maybe around 2005-2008 or so). I went on kind of a crusade trying to get certain types of figures to have their names given in traditional naming order, arguing that as an art-name, or a pseudonym, it’s not a false surname and given name, but rather should be taken as a unit. Or, even if not, then still, it represents the name someone is marketed under, their stage name or the name associated with their public image.

    I don’t know the extent to which we can really convincingly argue that, for example, Utada Hikaru is not Hikaru Utada, that “Utada Hikaru” as a unit is a single stage-name. But I sure would like to.

    It bugs me when people call out Yamaguchi Akira as an exception, saying that he explicitly demands (or prefers) to have his name given in traditional order. I really don’t see the need to emphasize this. Just put everyone else in your exhibition or catalog or article in traditional order too (as they should be), and forget about it.

    Getting back to the Wikipedia thing, the policy that was put into place back when I was super active over there, and which still stands I believe is that anyone born in Meiji or afterwards is rendered in Western name order as the main title of that article, and anyone born earlier is rendered in traditional name order. While you can have redirects (type in Koizumi Junichiro and it’ll auto-redirect you to Junichiro Koizumi), you can only have one title for an article to which other “secondary” ways of referring to the topic will redirect.

    So, I fought hard to get (for example) Bandô Tamasaburô and Ichikawa Danjûrô to be out there in traditional order. Not only are they practitioners of a traditional art, and so (a) the conventions of that art should be respected, and (b) the name sounds more ‘traditional’ this way, but beyond that, it’s inconsistent to have an Ichikawa Danjûrô XIII, and then a Danjûrô Ichikawa IX. Plus, it just sounds weird. Really weird. So, anyway, I tried to get a ‘stage-name’ or pseudonym clause stuck in there, and so far as I know it still stands in the policy statements under WikiProject:Japan Naming Conventions. But convincing editors to adhere to it, i.e. to understand that this article or that article, is a stage-name and shouldn’t be moved to Western name order, was a nightmare. Honestly, it’s one of the reasons I stopped editing Wikipedia.

    I think that issues of pseudonyms and art-names, the social/cultural meanings behind when and why different names were taken on, is really interesting. The flavor of it seems quite different to my mind for Meiji novelists as for Edo period ukiyo-e artists, but nevertheless, I definitely support your plan to go against convention and use the pseudonyms, rather than anachronistically imposing the most-common-known name onto works that were authored under a different pseudonym – that is, so long as the reader knows who it is you’re talking about.

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