In my 20s, one of my sisters congratulated me on my published book of poems. I was confused. I soon learned the book was written by another Alice Walker, an African-American who later wrote The Color Purple. If you Google Alice Walker in the United States, 5,840,000 appear, many added when Google included Ancestry.com’s database.
Walker was once the 19th most popular surname in the United States. I intended to be a famous writer too. Alice Walker, the Black and Alice Walker, the White?
I invented my first pen name using my mother’s maiden name: A. Delaney Walker. I hid Alice because, in the early 70s, few women were published.
When I moved to Vancouver, Canada for graduate school, I used Delaney as my first name. Delaney was free of negative emotions which littered my childhood.
Later, in Los Angeles, a three-syllable first name seemed excessive. I then invented Dana. When I worked overseas in the Middle East this was an excellent first name. Dana meant the best pearl from the Gulf.
A more secretive pen name was essential for publishing my books while working in Oman. Men as Virgins and The Guitar Player & The Lady Killer are brimming with sex. If my employers, students or colleagues ever discovered A. Delaney Walker was me, I would lose my job in conservative Oman, then later in Turkey.
When young, I loved D. H. Lawrence and Emile Zola. I invented Zola Lawrence. Fortunately, for many years, the only other Zola Lawrence in the States was a New York veterinarian. Then a college football player appeared with that name.
In Turkey, the first year I used Delaney. Colleagues rarely called me by name. Perhaps it was too long? The second year at a new university in a new city, I tried Dana. However, Dana means cow in Turkish. Reluctantly, I returned to Alice.
Once retired in Portugal, I revived Dana. I soon learned that Alice was a common Portuguese name. Now at 68, I am far removed from my childhood. I don’t mind, too much, using the name Alice. Sadly, a small part of me sometimes shudders at the sound of that name.
By changing my name and how I relate to myself with various names helped me create layers of consciousness within myself. It’s not multiple personalities – because I remain the same. It’s just different realities go with the different names and places I’ve experienced and people I’ve loved.
Retired in Portugal, I added A. Delaney Walker to the cover of Men as Virgins. Virgins has been described as “brutally honest”, and like the Greek meaning of my birth name, ‘truth’.