Should You Hide Identities in a Memoir by Changing the Names?

Today’s blog is written by a guest blogger, memoir author Lani Cox. We asked Lani the question in the title. Lani writes:

What’s the purpose in telling your story? If it’s to connect to your readers, then I don’t believe using real names is as important as you might think. Even if you’re writing something journalistic, names can be switched out. Interestingly, the more you try to write objectively (as much as you can when telling your life story), the more your readers will respect your attempt to protect the not-so-innocent.

I’ve written two memoirs. In the first, I wrote about my experiences as a Waldorf teacher. In the second, I’m writing about my family. For the former, I changed the school’s name but left the city accurate, as there were several schools I could have been referring to. I also chose to change all of the names of the faculty and students.

For the second memoir, I haven’t changed anyone’s name, although I do not reveal the identity of my mother’s former boyfriend. I’ve simply referred to him as my stepfather, since he raised us. All of this could change, but there’s no reason that I can see to change anyone’s name, because I’m not saying anything damaging.

You could make the argument that you can’t predict how people will react to being written about, no matter what you say, and you would be right. I think, for this reason, it’s best to err on the side of caution, because you will more likely regret using a real name than not.

So I’ve made a judgment call. If I’m sharing what could be construed as negative behavior, I feel it’s best not to specify who it is. When I wrote a short piece about a classmate from grade school who teased me for my drawing, I was shocked when she told me she read it. This made me feel embarrassed and realize that you never know who’s reading your writing!

For my family memoir, it’s very easy to figure out who is who, so I don’t see the point in fibbing. Also, a couple of the folks I’m writing about have passed away. Of course, it’s not foolproof, but I feel that more and more readers are becoming educated that a memoir is your point of view, not the final truth on the matter.

What’s the purpose in telling your story?

 

Image by Nadine Shaabana for Unsplash