Who is B.L. Bierley?
© 2012 B.L. Bierley
Okay, let me say right off the toe that I am stretching this category to include myself among the ranks of the famous. But with no other way to incorporate this hub (I wanted to discuss my nom de plume and the development of a writer's name) I chose the closest logical hub category. Even if you disagree, please humor me for the duration of this article.
The other day a national radio host (on Cosmo Radio on SiriusXM) asked, “Who is B.L. Bierley?” after seeing something I’d tweeted on my Twitter account (follow me yourself @BLBierley). To give the truth of it, I was sincerely proud just being noticed at all! But in his mention of me, the poor guy was unable to decide how to pronounce my name.
As an author of books and articles, it’s important for people to be able to tell others about me. Referrals by word of mouth are an author’s livelihood. Therefore, I’d like to clarify the mystery and pronunciation of B. L. Bierley—that’s me!
Now, sometimes we authors must choose a penname. Sometimes it's because our actual name is too long, other times it's because the name isn't fitted to the genre we write, other times it's purely a marketing tool to get more readers. I maintain that my use of a nom de plume was sincerely justified, but I wanted to give my explanation. And for my friends out there in radio land (should you ever mention me again) I wanted to provide a pronunciation guide for future use.
Making a Name for Myself
In the world of eBook reading and with authors out in the world like E.L. James of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” fame and our beloved J. K. Rowling, I’m sure there are those who think I’m capitalizing on the use of initials in the hope of mimicking their luck and success. That wasn’t my thinking when I did that, folks. I’ll tell you why I chose to use my initials for the first and middle names I own.
I chose a writer’s penname in order to shield my family from any potential limelight for as long as they wished it. Bierley is an old family maiden name. B. and L. are my actual initials from my first and middle names, but I don't go by either name anymore.
To be honest, I never really liked my given first name growing up. It’s an embarrassing moniker usually used in fiction, movies or television to refer to trampy, slutty characters with low morals and no self-esteem. I have no idea what my mother was thinking. So I prefer my initials for obvious reasons.
My nieces and nephews all call me “Aunt Bea,” not to be confused with the matronly woman from Mayberry who kept Opie Taylor fed and in clean underwear. Most of my family calls me Bea now too for that reason. Aunt Nana, Uncle Maverick and my husband Cap are the only people I talk to regularly who still use my actual first name.
My middle name isn’t too terrible. It’s Leigh. But since my chosen surname ends in “-ley” I thought that was just too much of the long “e” to ask my fans to put up with. So I used the initial instead. I took a chance and used initials even though plenty of well-known, initial-heavy authors are already out there (J.D. Salinger, E.E. Cummings, J. R. R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, E. L. James and many, many more). There’s always hope for fledgling writers to aspire to fame no matter what their real name or penname is. But even after using my initials for first and middle, I went further and chose to use a different surname as well.
She Wrote What? Oh Bless Her Heart!
Don’t mistake me, I didn’t choose a penname because I thought that my writing was bad or that my family would be ashamed of me. No, I think I’m pretty decent all in all. I have written and published two contemporary fiction novels, developed many YA titles which are currently being readied for release, and I’m about to release the second book in my series of seven Regency Romance novels. I’m very proud of my work, and the fact that my books are selling at all is proof to me that someone out there agrees with me.
I have no problem writing about the most personal and intimate events in my characters’ lives. But where I live, in the conservative south-- where your college team affiliation is ranked second only to your church affiliation, sometimes the mere mention of sex will get you in trouble with the preacher. That’s nothing compared to writing a fictional sex scene for the world to read. Therefore I wanted to give my family a buffer zone to recommend me to others without having to let anyone know that the writer was related to them.
I also wanted my kids to be able to have normal childhood experiences in the unlikely event that I became suddenly famous or a national bestselling author (hey it could happen)! So far that hasn’t really been an issue, not yet! But a gal can dream, right? Hopefully one day people everywhere will know that name and will associate me with some of their favorite works of American Contemporary fiction and all genres of romance!
The real reason I decided to use a penname is that my actual surname is difficult to spell and pronounce. My husband’s father is Latvian, so hence my married name is Latvian as well. Latvia was one of the first countries to separate from the USSR after the Cold War. It’s a small country surrounded by Estonia, Russia, Belarus and Lithuania.
Our surname, at a mere six letters, isn’t that difficult to spell. But the pronunciation is butchered every time. When people hear it spoken aloud, that’s when the fun begins. When we call for takeout or try to make a reservation at a restaurant, people hear what we say and immediately ask us to spell it. Next they manufacture letters in the pronunciation or change the vowels and consonants until they make a right mess of things. So for that reason, I spared myself the constant explanation … or so I thought until the radio DJ mispronounced my penname. Sigh.
A Rose is a Rose: Unless it’s a Dead Body
Bierley is the maiden name of one of my grandmothers, and the surname of one of the two sets of great grandparents I had the privilege to know. When I was growing up everyone pronounced the name Bierley with a long “i” as in “bī-ar-lee,” rather than the dictionary’s original pronunciation of the root word, “bier” which is pronounced “bēr” with a long “e” like the word “beer.”
Why my family pronounced the name with the long “i” is unknown among the remaining family members on that branch of the family tree. Funnily enough, the root word “bier” is a bit morbid. It literally means, “a frame or stand on which a corpse, or coffin containing it, is laid before burial.” Some word origins suggest the word is actually referring to the actual corpse!
The evolution of the surname “Bierley” was probably just like many of the past. In the past, people got their surnames from their status in life. Those in business or trade were given names like “Baker” or “Black” or “Smith” because they were literally bakers or blacksmiths. Using that logic, my ancestors were in the corpse or coffin business. They might have been morticians, or maybe they were carpenters who specialized in coffin building. But that’s only a theory of historical origin. It doesn’t clarify the odd pronunciation.
So Where Did We Get the Long “i” Folks?
One theory of how the name adopted the long “i” pronunciation is that a southerner assumed the long “i” versus the long “e” when introducing the first Mr. Bierley to his new neighbors. And being that there was probably a language barrier (our family’s history has been traced back to the Scotch-Irish immigrants), the original Mr. Bierley probably didn’t think otherwise about it. You know, “When in Rome …” and all that.
Still another theory of the odd pronunciation is that somewhere back in the annals of family history some patriarch moved away the original pronunciation in favor of the temperance movement down here in the conservative land of Baptists. The members of the family alive during the time of prohibition likely adopted the long “i” inflection to sound less like the alcoholic “bē-er” with its long “e.”
In one bit of online research I found that there is an actual village in Bradford, UK, near Yorkshire, that’s called East Bierley. I couldn’t locate any hint as to the pronunciation from my search, but I would venture to guess it’s the long “e” like beer, too.
For my last theory, I am suggesting that it’s possible that when the Bierley branch of the family arrived here in the New World there was a misunderstanding. The Bierley family might have lived in and around Bradford, in East Bierley village. But when they immigrated, they may have had a thick Yorkshire or Scottish accent, or perhaps they spoke Gaelic. Or maybe they were otherwise just difficult to understand.
The Ellis Island authorities might have used the place of origin as the family’s name rather than hold up the line to understand what the heck they were trying to say. I know this happened back then due to another branch of my family tree.
On my mother’s family’s side, there is a maternal maiden name of Germany (yes, exactly like the country). No one actually knows what the original last name used to be because when the family arrived at Ellis Island no one there could understand the name. Our poor, likely illiterate immigrant relations were also unable to spell it for them. The original name was lost forever, and they became the Germanys. As for Bierley, no one really knows how the name evolved, but it was neat to try and speculate.
So What Now?
I’m content with whichever pronunciation people use with regard to my nom de plume. Either way you slice it, if they’re mentioning the name, then they’re at least trying to know more about me. And that’s good if you want readers to search for you.
On a whim, I recently Googled my name (both my real surname and my penname). I found an LPGA professional golfer, that village near Yorkshire in the UK, a golf club of the same name and location, and I even got links to me and my books! Not too bad as far as competition for a name is concerned.
So thanks for listening and for pronouncing my name correctly if you ever get the chance to mention me to anyone for whatever reason. I’m just happy that my work is visible if anyone else should happen to ask, “Who is B. L. Bierley?”
It’s me, folks!