Who is Gus Van Horn?

Monday, October 25, 2004

"Hi! I'm Gus Van Horn! I'm a trial lawyer from west Texas!"

That was how I introduced myself at parties for a short time as an inside joke with a few friends. The precise details of the birth of the "Gus Van Horn" identity are shrouded in the mists of time. I vaguely remember the joke arising spontaneously out of a conversation several of us were having after dinner and a fair amount of wine. We were, I believe, facetiously discussing the idea of re-creating ourselves out of whole cloth or something like that. At any rate, we elaborated on my "new identity" for a time and I ended up answering to "Gus" that evening and, later, whenever I met anyone in this circle. This went on for a few weeks, eventually dying down as inside jokes do. A couple of months later, one of the more avid fans of Gus Van Horn moved to Taiwan for a year or so to teach English. We weren't in touch, so he surprised me on his return by surfacing at a party. "Hi, Gus!" he said. The inside joke resurrected so naturally that I went with it for awhile, until I realized that people who didn't know me really believed I was named "Gus." I was correcting people off and on for the rest of the evening.

"So what's your point, Gus?" I can almost hear you asking. I'll tell you.

I am usually loathe to do something that irritates me when I see other people doing it. I don't email coworkers with my political views when I know they wouldn't appreciate it. I don't "double dip" my chips at parties. I don't block traffic on busy streets to let out passengers. I don't end every other sentence with a verbal question mark.

I don't go around using a phony name. Back in my military days, I knew someone with a perfectly good name who used "Rod" instead of his real name. I can see a nickname, but another first name? Legally change your name if you're that unhappy with your given name. (Children of hippies, take note.) I have to use my middle name because I was named after my father. Classes, legal documents, business relationships, conferences, and everything else involving my name always ends up being a pain in the ass. "No, 'Gus' is my middle name." Or, "Look under 'Caesar'." (And yes, my real first name is also bad enough that maybe I'd go through the trouble of using my middle name anyway.) "Can you change my name tag to read 'Gus', please?" Or, "Yes, but I use my middle name." Or, "No, it's not 'Augstus Caesar Van Horn': It's 'Caesar Augustus.'" Ad nauseam. Why would anyone ask for this by using a name that is not obviously a shortened version of his real name or a blatant nickname, like "Chip?" And then there's a guy I knew from grade school whose name was a variant of a common name. This fellow went bankrupt and then, several years later, popped up using the "normal" spelling of his name. What's he trying to get away with? And then you have terrorists. Almost every time I learn about one of these practicioners of the "religion of peace," he has at least one alias, even if his name isn't "Mohammed." (Which is essentially like not having a name at all. I can almost see that. See comment for children of hippies above.) A name is supposed to help people identify you and I usually find myself wondering about the motives of someone who doesn't use his own name.

Nevertheless, there can be honorable and nonirritating reasons to use another name. (And what other reason could I have?) In my case, I am adopting the time-honored practice of using a nom de plume. I've wrestled with the idea of having a pen name for quite some time, and am still not completely sure I want to use one or whether I will use it all the time. My goal is to become a syndicated columnist, but I am far enough away from the goal now that I have some time to decide whether to write my columns under my own name or keep calling myself "Gus." (I now have some idea why my wife has trouble deciding whether to use her maiden name or mine: there are merits to each and to both.) In my case, this blog is my chance to experiment without damaging my marketability later. But then, if the blog takes off, I've branded myself and may wish to keep the pen name. I have some pretty good reasons for wanting to maintain some measure of anonymity. But again, should the blog or my writing career take off, the anonymity will inevitably be lost. I could go on and on with pros and cons, but I'm running out of time. Coincidentally, that's why I decided to go ahead with the blog under a pen name: my need for anonymity is fleeting. It will be no big deal if and when my real name is revealed, but I want to get into the practice of writing something regularly. To name a couple more positive reasons for the pen name: (1) I can conceivably maintain some degree of anonymity in the sense that people may have to work a little to figure out who I am. This has a great deal of merit to a private citizen like me who wants some protection from any nut jobs cruising around on the internet. (2) "Gus Van Horn" is much more distinctive than my real name. This second, at least in terms of the recognizability of a web log, has quite a bit of merit.

And finally, unlike some people who don't use their own names, I am being up-front about it.

So for now, I'm Gus Van Horn. I'm a blogger from southeast Texas. I'm happily married. I'm glad to be working, but want another job. I like writing about philosophical issues, primarily politics, from a pro-reason, pro-individual rights perspective. Welcome to my web log.

-- CAV