I was born David Frank Phillips II – the second because my grandfather was named David Frank Phillips, but my father was not David Frank Phillips Junior, so I was not III but II. I have not used the II after my name since childhood, except for a few formal occasions like my Will and the diploma creating me a Knight of the Compassionate Heart.1
Ordinarily in life I never use my middle name, except for documents like my passport and my driver’s license that require it. But I do often use the middle initial F. David Phillips turns out to be a fairly common name. Phillips was the 49th most common name in the United States according to the 1990 census, 43rd in the United Kingdom. David has been in the top 20 boys’ names most decades since the 1880s, according to the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Chief Actuary. It was sixth the year I was born (1944) and 19th in 2011.
The last time I checked, twelve David Phillipses were notable enough to have their own Wikipedia entries, including three scientists, two actors, three athletes, a writer and a CIA agent. I have encountered many others. Indeed, when I was a lawyer in San Francisco there was another lawyer in town named David Phillips, with a different middle initial. I used to get calls for him – he represented rock musicians and other famous people, which I didn’t. One time an old girlfriend came to town, looked me up, found the other David Phillips’ law office, and spent the weekend with him instead of with me. O, the injustice of it! So I use David F. Phillips now for professional purposes – legal work, publications, and the like.
In theory I am entitled as a lawyer to put Esq. after my name as a courtesy title, but I never do that because it seems tacky.2 In the firm where I worked as a lawyer, I used my initials DFP for internal routing of memos and office mail. I often just use just Phillips for signing in on appointment sheets, for laundry tickets, and so on.
So that’s quite a lot of variations, but none of them are exactly pseudonyms. I had a fantasy character as a child who was my alter ego, and he had a name I will not disclose. But that wasn’t really a pseudonym either.
In 1970, after my second year of law school, I was working as a summer associate in Michael Kennedy’s elegant San Francisco law office. Michael had a left-wing political practice, which is why I wanted to work there, but the Mitchell Brothers, Jim and Artie, San Francisco’s premier pornographers, were the anchor fee-paying clients who helped support the mostly pro bono political work. Their O’Farrell Theatre on O’Farrell and Polk Streets was the center of the pornographic film industry just emerging from the discredited régime of censorship. We defended their films, and I worked on those cases and grew to know both Jim and Artie fairly well.3
Artie offered me a part in one of his films. It was to be a character part, that is, a “non-balling” role. But then Artie asked me if I would prefer a “balling” role. What red-blooded American male in 1970 would prefer a non-balling role in a pornographic film? So I said balling please, and thus it was done.4 But how was I to appear in the credits? I considered using my real name – this was, after all, the let-it-all-hang-out 70s – but I decided that on balance I had already let quite enough hang out on this project. Instead of my real name I used Hadley V. Baxendale, which any lawyer will recognize as a famous 19th century English decision we all had to study in first year contracts.5 I have since used this pseudonym for many purposes – signing registers and visitor books, holding my place in line in crowded restaurants, signing letters and e-mails to people who know who I am, for Internet posts, and much more. Sometimes I just keep it to Baxendale in the 19th century style.
My next real pseudonym came in 1975, when I was given an appointment to teach English at a college in Taiwan. The college sent me a contract, all in Chinese. They had selected a Chinese name for me – it was 費利普 (Fei Li-P’u in the Wade-Giles transcription then in common use), an approximation of Phillips. Accent marks were not used in writing Wade-Giles, but could be used to indicate the tones – fourth (falling) tone on the first two syllables, third (falling-then-rising) on the third (Fèi Lì P’ŭ).6
These characters were not entirely satisfactory. The original fei character was not really a genuine Chinese word, but was mostly used just for transliterating foreign names. I substituted a fei that meant flight (through the air, not flight to escape). The original li character meant profit; I substituted a handsome two-stroke character (a radical) meaning strength).7 Now it read 飛力普.
My Okinawan friend Makiko Wisner read my Chinese name in Japanese, where the characters have an entirely different sound. In Japanese my name read He Likihu, so that became a sort of pseudonym too, although I never used it outside her presence.
In Taiwan language students are given a syllabary called bopomofo,8 or zhuyin fuhao, for rendering Chinese characters by sound. In bopomofo my Chinese name comes out as ㄈㄟˋ ㄌㄧˋ ㄆㄨˇ . The formally correct way to write this is vertically along the right side of the Chinese characters, also arranged vertically, but that seems too baroque to bother formatting here as I never use it.
Talmudic students call great rabbis by acronyms of their names – thus Maimonides, Rav Moshe ben Maimon, was the Rambam, Rav Shlomo Itzakhi was Rashi, and so on. I have given myself an acronym like this, and call myself the Radbash (Rav Dovid ben Shmuel = Rav David, son of Samuel), in Hebrew רדב״ש. The name of this website has its origin in this pseudonym, which I use for many purposes. The word Rav (רב) is an honorific title not limited to ordained rabbis.9
My Hebrew name, from which the acronym is derived, should have been Dovid Ephraim ben Shmuel, דוד אפרים בן שמואל. I say should have been because I was never formally given a Hebrew name, and only know that Frank stands for the Hebrew Ephraim because my brother Christopher read the carving on the tomb of my grandfather, for whom I was named. I never use my genuine Hebrew name, even though I freely use the somewhat ersatz acronym derived from it.
In one of my fictional letters I sign my name in Arabic al-Filipi, ال فِلِبِ . Is that a pseudonym?
In a romance some years ago it amused my girlfriend and me to assume artiodactylic identities – I as a buffalo, she as a doe.10 I will not elaborate on how we came by these personae, but they remain very satisfying.
We adopted many conventions based on these identities – she was Jane Doe, of course, and I was Joe Buffalo, CEO of Buffalo Solutions llc. In time I felt myself almost becoming a buffalo – certainly the American buffalo is now my totem animal, and even the thought of eating a buffalo stew, which once I enjoyed doing, is now very disturbing (likewise venison). I guess Joe Buffalo is a pseudonym – although I mostly use it with Jane, I have used it elsewhere too, signing registers, leaving phone messages, and so on. I have written a number of poems in this persona (see here and here). Sometimes, when I think it is Jane calling, I answer the phone with a gruff “Buffalo!” This makes for a strange contretemps when really it is someone else calling. Sometimes when I write to Jane in this persona I cast my message in the form of a note from my assistant at Buffalo Solutions, Philomena Bison-Bison.
What with the Chinese and Hebrew names, when my brother Adam married Christina Lazaridi, who is Greek, I thought I should have a Greek name too. Christina kindly translated my name as Ντέιβιντ Φράνκ Φίλλιπς, adding ο δεύτερος in place of II. I like this very much, especially ο δεύτερος, but have not used it yet as a pseudonym. Maybe soon.
In 2016 I attended a conference in Tbilisi in the Republic of Georgia. They gave me a name tag with my name spelled დევიდ ფილიპსი. This so delighted me that when I left Georgia for Armenia I asked to have my name spelled in Armenian too, which came out Դավիդ Ֆիլիփս. That looks like it should read Fwypn Spipipu, but actually it doesn’t, not even close. Both these names are transliterations and sound just like my name in English, but I am counting them as pseudonyms anyway, because if I signed a document like that almost no one would know who it was.11
My father’s grandfather’s family came from a town in Poland called Filipow.12 It was pronounced Filipov, the Polish w sounding as v. Although our name became Phillips, it is not clear just how, many Jews from this town used the surname Filipower when they came to America. I had the idea of using David von Filipow as an aristocratic-sounding translation of Filipower – it means the same thing (from Filipow) but the von is also a German nobiliary particle.
But why stop there? Add a French nobiliary particle too, and become David von Filipow de Pologne (David from Filipow of Poland). Now that, I thought, is a handle worth listing in the Almanach de Gotha!13 In fact, being as noted above a Knight of the Compassionate Heart, I could even stretch a point and call myself David, Edler von Filipow de Pologne, as Edler is a title reserved for the lowest rank of German and Austrian nobility, available to those who had achieved a lesser grade of a chivalric order.14 I have not had the brass to use any version of this pseudonym except in an ironic context.
While we’re on the subject of faux nobility, I sometimes sign myself David P. Actually, outwardly, the P. is only an abbreviation of my surname. But just as kings sign R. after their names, for rex, princes use P., for princeps. I can therefore pretend I am a prince wandering around incognito, but signing with my title anyway. The joke is that I am a Jewish-American princeps.15
Is this the place to add that, in my persistent ambition of being elected Pope, I have decided to take the name Alexander IX, in compliment to that great Renaissance prince Roderigo de Borja, Pope Alexander VI? Annuntio tibi gaudium magnum: habemus papam!16 I do not use this as a pseudonym, though, because if I did I would become an antipope and subject to anathema, something I always try to avoid.
Sometimes, in fulfillment of a vow to Him or otherwise, I give money to charity under Sri Lord Ganesha‘s holy name. Although I’ll take the tax deduction, I’d like Him to get the credit, and the public listing, for example in a theatre program. But although I always request this on the credit line of the donation form, it never happens. So this is only a virtual pseudonym, so far.
Columbia College was founded in pre-Revolutionary times as King’s College. After closing during the Revolution, it reopened with its new post-royalist name, but kept the phrase formerly King’s as part of its formal style. So my college diploma, issued in Latin in the far-off year 1968, includes the phrase olim regalis (formerly King’s) in the heading. That phrase has been rolling around in my head for about 50 years, and recently I started trying it out as a pseudonym – I even autographed one of my books Best wishes, Olim Regalis. This might be confusing to people who don’t already know what it means and why I use it – we’ll have to see how it goes. I note that Olim Regalis backwards is Milo Silager, which would be another good pseudonym if pronounced C’est la guerre (meaning, with a Gallic shrug: That’s war).17 Milo Silager will be my nom de guerre if I should ever need one, for running guns, or leading a desperate band of irregulars on daring raids, or something, which seems unlikely but there’s always hope.
I am waiting for a chance to use Yokernkin G. Slakelas as a pseudonym. It is such a sturdy, solid-sounding name (see its origin here). I have been signing memos to the Webmistress of this website as Yokernkin G. Slakelas, or YGS, or sometimes your pal Yok.18 Editing French text, I sometimes sign Iocques. But a pseudonym this resonant needs wider exposure.
As the Editor of a scholarly publication series, I have written so many footnotes signed Ed. that I have begun to feel Ed is not even a pseudonym, but my real name. I can see Ed very clearly: slight of build, but with small paunch, wearing beach sandals and a Hawaiian shirt outside light poplin slacks. He has a 70s-style moustache and a short ponytail and has not shaved in a few days. Aviator shades cover bedroom eyes. To look at him, you would never suspect he writes such learned footnotes. Close observers of this website will have noticed an interactive county outline map of the United States, showing in white all the counties I have visited and in yellow the ones I have yet to see. To change an unvisited county to a visited one, I have to reach into the code and change small yellow to measle white. Doing this a few dozen times to log in new counties from a recent trip, I reflected on how nice a pseudonym Measle White would be. With that name I can now speak for the whole White family: Walter, Whizzer, Theodore, Bob, Vanna, Snow, China and of course my own self. It is hard to describe just how gratifying doing this has been.
In May 2015 I sent Senator Rand Paul, an extreme right-wing reactionary Republican presidential candidate from Kentucky, a letter praising his actions in the Senate to block extension of the Patriot Act. I signed it Thomas Paine but admitted I was using a pseudonym to keep him from publishing my real name as if I were a general supporter of his horrible candicacy. So this counts too, I guess.
Vladimir Nabakov sometimes gives fictional characters names that are anagrams of his own, such as Vivian Darkbloom and Blavdak Vinimori. Inspired by this example, I created in my mind Pipi van Firkhall, d.d.s., a world-famous dentist (and in her secret life what? A detective? A jewel thief? A spy? A masked crime-fighter?). I have not yet used this as a pseudonym, but I can hardly wait.
Finally there is my official alter ego, the North American Institute of Heraldic and Flag Studies. This is the name I have rather grandly given to my heraldic library, and had printed on my cards and stationery, adding on the cards my self-given title of Director. Well, who’s to say my library isn’t an Institute? And if I don’t direct it, who will?
Beyond all these names and pseudonyms is a hidden, secret name I cannot reveal. Here’s what T. S. Eliot says in his poem The Naming of Cats.19
The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter, It isn’t just one of your holiday games; You may think at first I’m as mad as a hatter When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES. First of all, there’s the name that the family use daily, Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James, Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey – All of them sensible everyday names. There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter, Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames: Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter – But all of them sensible everyday names. But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular, A name that’s peculiar, and more dignified, Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular, Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride? Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum, Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo, or Coricopat, Such as Bombalurina, or else Jellylorum – Names that never belong to more than one cat. But above and beyond there’s still one name left over, And that is the name that you never will guess; The name that no human research can discover – But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess. When you notice a cat in profound meditation, The reason, I tell you, is always the same: His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name: His ineffable effable Effanineffable Deep and inscrutable singular Name.
- The story of how I came to be a Knight of the Compassionate Heart is told in Chapter 27A.1 of my Autobiography. ↩
- In Latin America lawyers with a J.D. can call themselves Dr., but not in North America. If I really wanted to lay it on thick, though, I could use five sets of postnominal letters, too: B.A., J.D., M.S. (for my academic degrees), K.C.H. (as a Knight of the Compassionate Heart), S.H.A. (as a Craft Member of the (British) Society of Heraldic Arts). ↩
- This aspect of my service in Michael Kennedy’s law practice is discussed in Chapter 18.A of my Autobiography. ↩
- I will not tell more about that here – interested readers may consult Chapter 16 of my Autobiography. ↩
- It holds that remote consequential damages following a breach of contract are not recoverable. See Hadley v. Baxendale, 9 Exch. 341, 156 Eng.Rep. 145 (1854). ↩
- The story of my Chinese name, and the seals I had to have carved in order to sign documents, get paid, and so on, is told in Chapter 22.C of my Autobiography. ↩
- Radicals are part of the method of organizing Chinese characters into a superficially coherent system. ↩
- Pronounced baw-paw-maw-faw. ↩
- The double mark ״ in a Hebrew word is a sign that it is an abbreviation or an acronym and that at least one letter has been omitted. ↩
- The order Artiodactyla, or Even-Toed Ungulates, is the classification both American buffaloes (Bison bison) and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) belong to. As artiodactytls we maintain a traditional disdain for our rivals, the awkward perissodactyls (Odd-Toed Ungulates). ↩
- I wish I had done this in every country I visited that had an exotic script. Here for example is my name in the Sinhala script of Sri Lanka: ඩේවිඩ් පිලිප්ස්, and in the Amharic script of Ethiopia: ዳዊት ፊሊፕስ. ↩
- See Chapter 2 of my Autobiography. ↩
- The traditional stud-book of the European higher nobility, published from 1763 to 1944 when the Russians destroyed the publication’s archives. ↩
- Under long-discredited nobiliary rules, as a Doctor of Law I am allowed to include myself (along with clergy and other learned types) among the noblesse de la robe, as distinct from noblesse de l’epée (military officers) and noblesse de la race (ancient nobility, or Uradel). Don’t get me started on this nonsense. ↩
- This joke only works if princeps is pronounced with a soft c – then it becomes a play on Jewish-American Princess, a particular type of whiny, entitled-feeling young Jewish bourgeoise. ↩
- I announce to you great news: we have a Pope! This is the traditional formula for announcing a new Pope to the people of Rome. So far I have been stiffed in every conclave since I first became a candidate in 1978. I call it anti-Semitism. ↩
- The name Milo itself means soldier, from the Latin miles. ↩
- Or even, in frisky moments, The Yokster. ↩
- From Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats (1939). ↩