I was born Jennifer Becker, but I have never felt like a Jennifer. In another context, it would have been a lovely name. After all, Jennifer is a form of Guinevere. But in my generation, there were Jennifers everywhere. In high school, I had an advanced-level French class with five students in it—and three of us were Jennifers! I got tired of turning my head every time someone said “Jennifer” or “Jenny.” They usually weren’t talking about me. I was an individual. I wanted a unique name that reflected that.
So when I was fourteen years old, I started going by my pen name, which at the time was Elyse. (It’s pronounced EH-LEES, not EL-SEE, thank you.) For most people, using a pen name is about anonymity, so this choice may seem counter-intuitive. But for me, using a pen name is about expressing my true self.
I still go by Elyse in my daily life, though I later revised my pen name to Elizabeth Bell. Elyse is a diminutive of Elizabeth, and I decided the original sounded more dignified. Unlike Elyse, Elizabeth Bell is easy to pronounce and spell, which are important in the publishing world.
I’ve always been an Anglophile and in love with 19th-century literature in particular. The name Elizabeth honors the Victorian romantic poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, whose work I use in a few epigraphs. The name also recalls Elizabeth Bennet, Jane Austen’s heroine in Pride and Prejudice. Bell was the pen name used by the Brontë sisters and was also the maternal surname of Charlotte’s eventual husband, Arthur Bell Nicholls. If I had to choose a single favorite novel, it would be Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.
I suppose I am hoping a little of that Elizabeth/Bell goodness will rub off on me.