Do you write under a pseudonym? If so, why? If not, would you ever consider it?
Well, yes and no. Lyndell is my name, but not totally. My family’s last name is Williams, and I grew up Lyndell.
There are other Lyndells out there, but the old English name is rare. Unlike my sister, Deborah and brothers, Barry and Dwayne, I never saw my name in a store on a shelf with novelty items garnishing their more common names. It irritated the hell out of me. I spent my childhood and teen years correcting teachers, doctors, anyone who struggled with my unusual name and couldn’t stand whenever someone tried to shorten it to something like Lynn.
When I converted to Islam at age eighteen, people encouraged me to change my name. At that time in American Muslim culture, a new moniker came with one’s new faith. I was a little excited about the change. I scoured a list of names beginning with ‘L’ (I mean, I wasn’t going to get too crazy and pick another letter), “Layla” jumped out at me. When someone told me that it was one of the most common names in the Muslim world, I jumped back at it. Finally, I could blend. No more cringing at the butchering of my name. I was wrong, of course. While most Muslims called me with ease, many non-Muslims sliced and diced my name with pronuciations like “Leela,” “Lilia” and “Laaa-eee-la,” ugh!
Really? We live in a pluralistic society. Why is it so friggin’ hard for some people to take the time and energy to properly say a name, especially those of People of Color? Y’all can say Leonardo DiCaprio, but somehow Lyndell, Layla, Muhammad or Mateo is just too much of a tongue twister? Give me a break.
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Anyway, I became known by the majority of people in my life as Layla. But my siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins still call me Lyndell, and now my readers do as well. I use the names in tandem because, despite Layla, I will always be Lyndell too. She survived a lot and shaped who I am. I’ll never let her go.
Under the name, Layla, I earned credibility as an academic, cultural critic, romance scholar, and anti-racism advocate. I created the NbA Muslims cultural platform and use Layla when I professionally content edit and contribute to multiple media platforms. Layla works her butt off!
When I decided to write my first romance, I realized that I needed a way to keep my novel writing voice distinct from the one I developed as a journalist, academic and thought influencer. I wanted to avoid worlds colliding as much as possible and focus on social issues under one name while engaging in conversations about characters and plots with the other. It did not take me long to choose a pseudonym—Lyndell Williams.
I first picked up a romance and got hooked on the genre when I was Lyndell. So, it made perfect sense to place my birth name on my book covers. I also get to honor my mother. She chose the name Lyndell for me and encouraged me to achieve whatever I wanted. Although she died years before I wrote my first novel, I love thinking that her Lyndell accomplished a lot.
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Unfortunately, I think saying someone’s name wrong over and over is a lack of respect. Or a lack of self-confidence. If you have to put someone else down to make yourself feel better, you have a problem.
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