Who Am I: Pseudonyms and Secret Identities in the Wizarding World
There’s something mysterious and dramatic about telling a story without attaching your name to it. The names we choose to disguise ourselves can tend toward the fanciful. Maybe the way the letters weave together in the word “anonymous” have a romance to them. On top of that, there’s the risk of exposure. Anyone who knows your secret identity has the power to unmask you. Whom can you trust? And if your secret comes out, how will people react when they discover it was you all along? Will they be upset when they find out you were someone else?
And here’s the question I’ve thought about far too often for the past 15 months: How do you let go of your mask and bring your secret identity to the light? Snape is not a great role model for a lot of things, but he’s one of the only I’ve got for this situation.
You dare use my own words against me? It was I who wrote them – I, Helen Darte!
Over the past few months, I flirted a lot with the idea of abandoning my pseudonym. I thought a lot about Voldemort and Snape: two of the major players in the Potter series who operate in the world with some kind of false name or secret identity. Tom Riddle didn’t want to be seen as ordinary, so he changed his name to something more mysterious and meaningful. Snape took pride in the wizarding half of his parentage and laid emphasis on it with his Half-Blood Prince title.
These names provided an opportunity for an experience outside the ones they knew. The name Tom Riddle had an association with where Voldemort came from, and his origin story was not a happy one. “Tom Riddle” was a reminder of something unremarkable, the Muggle poison of his father, and his difficult upbringing in the orphanage. Stepping into the identity of Lord Voldemort allowed him to evolve into a new person.
Snape also got to escape from his troubled past when he wrote in his textbook as the Half-Blood Prince, but I’m not sure how much he intended with this second identity. Omitting his surname for a punny title obscured his true identity from Harry. I wonder if Snape used the name in other parts of his life as well. Creating his own nickname might have helped him separate himself from the cruel nicknames his peers gave to him.
In the past, sharing my personal stories with my name attached to them has brought negative consequences of all kinds. Even though most of the folks reading my articles on MuggleNet have never met me in person, I was afraid some of those negative consequences would follow me. Telling my story as Helen Darte allowed me to separate myself from my identity enough to share my experiences. I was able to see how people reacted to my story without my name attached to it. If I wrote as Helen, I could see how people would really react to me, regardless of my name. My name probably made no difference to anyone reading, but it made a big difference to me.
Helen Darte, the torch of death, led the way for me to tell my story and share myself with others, but she is a smaller Russian doll within the macrocosm that is Madison Ford. Writing as Helen has helped me feel proud of who I am instead of ashamed. Stepping into my true identity in this column and as the host of the Beyond the Veil podcast is allowing me to evolve into a new person, just like Lord Voldemort. Well, hopefully not *just* like Lord Voldemort…