For the first eight years of my writing career, I wrote as Karen Marston. Now, as you may have guessed from the giant header or my new URL, I’m switching to Kaz Marston – even though I’m not sure it’s the best idea. I mean, isn’t it less professional?
After all, the people who call me Kaz are the ones I’ve slinked into London casinos with at 2am after repairing the rips in our jeans with super glue and safety pins. They’re the ones I’ve smoked pot with on car bonnets while we marvelled at the dusty red haze of Mars low on the horizon. I was most commonly Kaz when I was a rebellious teenager wearing a too-tight fake-leather jacket and making punk-rock mixtapes instead of doing homework.
But I have always felt like more of a Kaz than a Karen – more like myself when I go by my nickname – and never more so than now, when my name has been commandeered by the internet and repurposed as shorthand for entitled white women whose favourite pastime is complaining to the manager.
Speaking of, did you know there’s now a judge in the US called Karen Marston – and that she was appointed by Donald Fucking Trump? Now there’s an association I don’t want. She’s not the only other Karen Marston either. A New York artist has owned karenmarston.com since I was barely old enough to own a credit card. Someone else, a translator, owns karenmarston.co.uk. There are countless Karen Marstons on Twitter. (Okay, fine, there are 22 – but that’s 21 too many if you ask me.) Yet there are no other Kaz Marstons.
Karen Marston is not an exciting name. It’s not lyrical to the ear or particularly fun to say. It becomes a mumble in your mouth, flat consonants rubbing up against each other. It is the missionary position of names. But throw Kaz in there instead and it becomes something else. The letter Z is a good one, isn’t it? It’s worth ten points in Scrabble, so it must be. With a Z, a name is suddenly memorable. Unusual. It is the Tominagi. (Did I just google sex positions that contort you into the letter Z? That is none of your business, but also did you know it’s the perfect position for the less endowed man?)
In thinking about all this, I’ve come to realise that the name isn’t the problem. Nobody will think I’m unprofessional just because of a name. They’ll think it because I make too many sex jokes or because I say fuck too much or because of that photo I posted on Instagram of a Bloody Mary I stuffed full of meat and pickles. (No, it wasn’t good. Never put ham in your cocktails.)
The problem is my preconception of what it means to be professional. Professional doesn’t have to mean wearing pantsuits. (I’m still not entirely sure what a pantsuit is. Is it just the same as a regular suit, but for women? Never mind, never mind. That’s beside the point.) It doesn’t mean signing off emails with Regards or calling people Sir (which I have never done, not even when – especially not when – I was a bartender serving pints of bitter and glasses of brandy to the old boys’ club). Professional means showing up on time. It means creating good work. Doing what you say you will. Professional means giving a shit.
And why the obsession with seeming professional anyway? The only thing striving to be professional above all else accomplishes, especially as a writer, is a repression of your work. Inhibiting yourself for fear of how you may come across – of what others will think. Inhibited writing is sterile, lifeless. It’s safe. Predictable. It’s the same thing that’s been said a million times before and immediately forgotten. It’s the Regards at the end of your emails.
Truly great writing is uninhibited. It is fearless. Surprising – and powerful because it’s surprising. A joke is only funny if you can’t guess the punchline, and words can only punch you in the gut if you weren’t expecting them to say that.
So, sure, maybe Kaz seems less professional than Karen. But who gives a fuck about seeming professional when so much else is at stake? I’d rather be unforgettable. Unusual and unique and unexpected. Surprising. I would rather be powerful. Would rather hit you where it hurts. And most of all?
I’d rather be me.