Most of us are given our Jewish names at birth. But sometimes, we gain our name later in life. 3 accounts
I wrote my first book when I was 12. No, really, I did. And Targum Press published it.
They didn’t know I was 12 (well, by that point I was already 13, but anyway). I can still remember editor-in-chief Esther’s Heller’s shock and disbelief when she found out how old I was.
It was our very first phone conversation after Targum Press had accepted the manuscript for publication, and she asked me about my background in writing and wondered which workshops I’d attended. I gulped and whispered, “I’m… 13.”
“Excuse me?” she said very brightly.
With a little cough, I repeated, “I’m… I’m 13.”
In response to her next bright, “Excuse me?” I cleared my throat, swallowed, and said out loud: “I am 13 years old!”
There was a silence and then a soft: “Ohhhh….”
They went along with it, and I was privileged to work with Family First’s very own Bassi Gruen as my editor. Every day when I came home from school (seventh grade) the first thing I said to my mother was: “Is there an email from Bassi?” (I didn’t have my own email address.)
My social life was practically non-existent, and the parts that did exist were often too painful to describe. So I escaped to my imagination; I lived, breathed, doodled, and daydreamed my characters all day, every day.
Targum Press had to research the legalities of signing a contract with an underage individual. In the end, my father signed the contract on behalf of his minor daughter, and I still have the picture of myself in my school uniform proudly holding my signed Targum Press contract. When the book hit the stores, I was 14.
The Pen Name Question came up when the book was in the final stages of preparation for print. My father felt strongly that I shouldn’t use my own name. He was worried about shidduchim. I kind of wanted to use my real name. I spoke to Rav Zev Leff, and asked him if there was a tzniyus issue with using my real name. He replied that Megillas Esther used Esther’s real name, and he didn’t see the problem. Ultimately, I accepted my father’s wishes and went with the pseudonym.
And so it began… How does one pick a pen name? My parents and I gave it a lot of thought. They advised me to use some combination of my real names, which offered a whole variety of combinations. My full name was Tali Chaya Rosenstein, so I could be Tali Rosen, or Chaya Stein, or Tali Stein, or Chaya Rosen. I nixed the Stein surname, as there was a Stein in my community and I didn’t want anyone to think I wanted to marry their son. (I was 14, remember?)
That left me with Rosen. And Chaya seemed like a safer name to go with. After all, there are more Chayas than there are Talis. There is safety in numbers, we assured ourselves, and Chaya Rosen was so, well, un-extraordinary, that no one would ever connect it to me. Thus my pseudonym was born.
I wish I could have known I would marry an Edelstein. It pains me to this very day that I didn’t choose Tali Stein. My mother-in-law, of Baker’s Dozen fame (she wrote eight of them), called herself Aidel Stein. I could have introduced myself at the Writers’ Conference in Jerusalem: “Hi, I’m Tali Stein, my mother-in-law’s daughter-in-law.”
I’ve had many opportunities to readdress The Pen Name Question. There were some short stories I wrote for Mishpacha Jr. as a teen. My next book (Feldheim) was published when I was 18 (I wrote it during class in high school).
Since my marriage, and my adoption of the name Edelstein, I’ve written and published another two books (Judaica Press and Israel Bookshop), and had to face this question again each time.
It came up again when Mishpacha Jr. published my first series of articles (Dr. Detective, for those of you with good memories), and yet again when I started writing the column Zoom In. And again when I started writing Sisters Share for Teen Pages, and then Healthier You, and when I wrote for multiple other publications, multiple times. It comes up in my mind and heart for almost every story and feature I write.
But I’ve been using “Chaya Rosen” for many years, and written so much under it. My grandmother tells me it’s my brand. I don’t think anyone notices or connects the articles I write — it’s not like I’m Leah Gebber, y’know — but it’s a nice thought, right? And what about résumés and portfolios and that kind of thing? It’s nice for everything to be under one name.
Thing is, I don’t like my pen name. It’s so… standard. And so not me. But what could I change it to? Tali Chaya Rosen Edelstein? Chaya Rosen AKA Tali Edelstein? Chaya Rosen-Edelstein?
I’m open to any and all suggestions. I can be reached through Mishpacha. Just tell them you have a suggestion for Tali-Stein-Chaya-Edel-Rosen.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 736)
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