Some time ago I wrote a post about why The Phoenix Desertsong website exists, and why it has that name. It wasn’t a particularly good piece of writing, and it didn’t really explain much besides the fact that it was a pen name with several different influences. That post no longer exists in any way shape or form as I’m currently aware, so I finally decided to revisit the subject.
When I officially and legally changed my name in 2021, it was a long time coming. To many of my family and friends, it seemed to come as an utter and complete shock, but apparently, people simply weren’t paying attention. My legal name is, in fact, Amelia Phoenix Desertsong, which yes, is quite obviously not the name I was given at birth. The name I chose was meant to feel chosen to those who heard it, because that was the entire point.
Actually, “The Phoenix” is a character that existed in my mind since at least my early high school days. It represented my true self, the one that I mostly hid from the world while I played the role that was expected of me. So, when I began to fully re-brand myself starting during the pandemic chaos of 2020, the Phoenix was still a character, an over the top, highly self-confident, and at times a bit too boisterous.
I used the Phoenix to try and break out of my shell. Eventually, some lovely people on the internet decided to try and purge me because they simply didn’t think I should exist in this universe. They obviously failed, but oh did they try! Finally, I admitted that the Phoenix that was portrayed online was, in fact, an act of someone who was desperate to leave her old, failed existence behind and move on to a brighter future. The Phoenix Desertsong that exists on this website today is the actual me that persists in real life.
And, no, my first name was never “The,” although that’s hilarious. If you’ve ever seen the Chevy Chase film Funny Farm, you’d know why. In that film, Chase’s character is a writer (because of course he is) and begins to write a novel. He types up his title page and the chapter heading. Then, at first, all he can write is “the.” That’s all he writes for quite a while. Of course, eventually he writes more, and it sucks. Go watch the movie, but that’s still my favorite scene in the whole thing just because if you’re a writer, you’ve literally been staring at a page with a single word, and it’s usually something as innocuous and bland as “the.”
The reason that the Phoenix Desertsong exists as a website is that it was a declaration to the world that this is who I am now. I renounced my birth name and took on this chosen name for myself. It turns out when you legally change your name, living for a year by that name is a really good idea. But, if we go back to 2018, I’d already made my mind up to change my name to Phoenix Desertsong. There are several reasons for this.
First off, I don’t actually hate my birth-name. It’s a relative’s name, mostly, with one of my parent’s names as my middle name. I mean no disrespect to anyone in my family. No, from a very young age, I seem to recall about four, I desperately wanted to change my name to Amelia. I kept this a secret, though. In a devout Christian household, your given name is practically sacred as much as the Lord Himself. To deny it would be to disrespect my elders and so on and so forth. But, my first name was common enough that it annoyed me. I simply wanted to have my own identity, and while Amelia was a common name back in Miz Earhart’s day (yes, she really was the name’s inspiration) it wasn’t by the 1990’s.
I truly wish I’d been born into a culture where the child can choose their name when they reach adulthood. Alas, this simply isn’t true for much of the modern world, and honestly, I think we should be a lot more open to legal name changes, as long as you only get to do it once. You’d be amazed how many cisgender, heterosexual people would jump at the chance for this one thing.
Anyway, when I finally discovered the internet in the mid to late 90’s, I searched my birth name just to see what came up. I was absolutely floored by the dozens of people who shared my birth name and surname. Once I became a “professional” marketer, each year when I would do branding work to get “my name” out there more, I’d search my birth-name again, and even more results popped up. All these people had “my name” which even further eroded my own sense of identity and was actually quite a bad thing for personal branding. I eventually discovered at least one of these results was a distant cousin, who I spoke to briefly. It was after a short conversation with this fellow that I finally resolved to permanently, legally, and dramatically change my name.
The name Phoenix always figured into the decision somehow. After all, I’ve overcome suicidal level depression on at least a dozen occasions and have been homeless twice, both times during my time in Colorado. I watched the career I built over twelve years come crashing down with the pandemic and fake people pick away at me until I had only a single client left. I was immensely fortunate that the lone client was Tom Slatin, who is today my wife. Had I not been so fortunate I wouldn’t be writing these words today; I can tell you that much. Truly, I am a Phoenix of sorts, rising from the ashes of a very broken person with a very broken life.
Thanks to the intervention of who I can only refer to as my angel, Tom gave me the means and support to go through with my legal name change. It was a fortunate happenstance that she was already moving to Vermont; one may say it was coincidence, but I prefer to call it Fate. Vermont is a very easy place to change your name as long as you’re not a convicted felon, which I’m very much not. When I decided on the name Amelia Phoenix Desertsong, it wasn’t just a snap decision. After all, Amelia had been my chosen name for nearly thirty years, silently, but still very much so.
So, how did this name come together? Well, as I tell it to Tom, I took the name I always wanted to be referred to by, took my pen name, and smashed them together. It’s a crude way of putting it, but it’s relatively true.
The name Amelia means “industrious” and “fertile.” These are two very nice qualities to have. I like to think that I am living up to my chosen name in both respects. Also, considering that I birthed three children, I’d also say I’m rather in the second part, too. I certainly consider myself a rather “industrious” sort, as I never stop writing, even when there are plenty of folks out there who have time and again tried to force me to quit. For all the good it might do me, at least I am consistent and diligent with my industry. After all, I made a career out of writing, sadly ghost writing mostly.
Some people are of the belief that I write strangely. Yet, I don’t know how else it is to properly go about practicing my craft. I am greatly mindful of grammar and sentence structure. While I take my artistic license with language every once and awhile, I don’t think there’s anything technically wrong with anything that I right. But, my style is, I will admit, a bit out of the ordinary in our day and age. I don’t plan on changing it, though. It is my voice, and I like it just fine.
Therefore, someone with a particularly off-beat voice like mine deserved to be known by a name that was unordinary. I decided that Phoenix would make a fine middle name, and I even waffled for a bit whether I would go mostly by Phoenix or mostly by Amelia, eventually choosing the latter, although I’ll admit the decision was close. Desertsong, on the other hand, is partially inspired by my own Native American heritage, albeit somewhat distant at this point, but still relevant. You could say I embraced my Native heritage and eschewed my “white” lineage, and while that might be true in a very small part, it certainly only helped in my decision making process.
The name Phoenix Desertsong, hilariously, was suggested by a name generator when I was seeking a new pen name in the mid 2010’s. Actually, the name it threw out at me was Phoenix Desertstorm. Since I was already fond of Phoenix, and I consider myself quite the popular music aficionado, I altered the surname to Desertsong. After all, for many years I felt like I was singing my own song in a desert where only little sand-dwelling critters could hear me. I began using the pen name on several Magic the Gathering articles and it stuck.
(There are Wiccan influences for this name, too, but I don’t need to get into those here and now. I prefer to offer the simplest explanation for now and leave the spiritual connotations out of this particular essay.)
Now, I’ll finally tell you why the website is “The Phoenix Desertsong” and not simply Phoenix Desertsong or something a bit less grandiose. There’s actually nothing more to it than putting “the” before a title gives it more authority. It’s not an act of pretentiousness. I simply wanted to make it clear that this is my work and that it’s not going anywhere, as much as certain people wanted it to be erased from all existence.
Sure, the early posts on this site were manic ramblings of someone who desperately needed to break free of a sad, miserable life that was forced upon her by people who thought they meant well and wanted the best for me, only to leave me broken and lost. Most of those writings are purged now, or otherwise repurposed for future musings.
In essence, the name I chose was purely for my own sense of identity. I needed to have a name that was clearly chosen, described me much more accurately, and was unique enough to stand out as a personal brand. I believe that I hit all three of these marks in the bullseye. The names I chose for my own children are also relatively unusual, but not far out enough to confound people. I believe in giving a child a name that is both entirely meaningful and something to be proud of, without it being something you want to ditch as soon as you’re legally able.
You may ask, then, why didn’t I change my name sooner? Well, to be honest, I didn’t really know who I exactly was until 2020, and that’s why the decision took so long. After all, I turned the age of eighteen in 2005, and it took me sixteen years to finally do the deed. Never choose your name lightly. I most certainly didn’t.
How do you feel about your own name? Would you change it, unofficially or legally? Do you feel your identity is properly described through your name? Why or why not?