What’s In A Name

We’ll start today with two bits of caution.  If you have come to live events, you may have heard parts or all of this story before.  That’s caution numero uno.  As for number two?  What you’re about to read is based on what I believe to be true and may or may not be accurate.  In other words, there’s a possibility that parts of the following post may be fake news, so read it at your own risk.

We’ll begin with what I know to be true.  My first husband’s last name was Janc.  The part of the story I don’t know is the origin of that name.  I believe his father’s family originally immigrated to the US from somewhere in Eastern Europe.  These days that belief could either be verified or disproved by a DNA test, but almost forty years after his death, that’s really none of my business.  My kids may choose to sort that out one of these days, but it’s not up to me.

I also believe that when those immigrating forebears arrived at Ellis Island, whoever was doing the paperwork may have hacked off the part of the name that was either difficult to pronounce or difficult to spell.  Jancovich, maybe or maybe even Jancowitz?  The part that remained, however, was the Janc bit, and the pronunciation of that has always been a bit of an issue.  Janc was supposed to be pronounced with a soft C–Janc like Jance, but it was mostly mispronounced with a hard C–Janc like Tank.  It was annoying, but as long as it was my married name and for some time after that, I shut up and lived with it.

After Jerry Janc died at the end of 1982, I had to hire an attorney and go to court to be declared my children’s legal guardian in order for them to receive the death benefits from his union pension fund.  To say that made me furious would be an understatement.  QFC didn’t ask if I was my kids’ legal guardian when it came time for me to buy their groceries.  I complied but with grit in my gears.  Before my hired attorney and I went to court, however, it occurred to me that as long as I had to pay for an attorney, I could just as well go ahead and fix my name so people would say it properly.

When I brought that up with the lawyer, however, here’s what happened.  He gave me a lecture saying that yes, I was still angry with my deceased ex-husband (Do you think?) but this was my children’s heritage, and I shouldn’t go messing with that.  So I shut up about it, and we went to court.  And here’s what happened:  When the clerk called us up to the window, she said, “Mrs. Jank, Mrs. Jank.”  The attorney looked at me and said, “Hmmm.  I see what you mean.”  Then when it came time to be called into the judge’s chambers, another clerk said, “Mrs. Junk, Mrs. Junk.”  And the attorney said, “I’ll get right on it.” A month or two later, for the cost of an additional $400, I had that very necessary vowel, and Janc became Jance.  That’s how much King County was charging for vowels in 1983.  Please alert Vanna White.

A year and a half later, in 1985 when Bill asked me to marry him, I told him fine, but I just paid four hundred bucks for my name, and I’m not changing it.

By the time of that court appearance, I was already writing murder mysteries.  When I sent that first manuscript to my literary agent, it went with a title page that said:  Until Proven Guilty by Judith Ann Jance.  Knowing something about the realities of publishing, my agent changed the title page to read:  Until Proven Guilty by J.A. Jance.  The second editor saw it called my agent and said,  “The guy who wrote Until Proven Guilty is a good writer.”  “What if I told you the guy who wrote Until Proven Guilty was a woman?” she asked.   His reply?  I’d say she’s a hell of a good writer.”  And he bought the manuscript as book number one in the series.

A good eighteen months passed between the time the manuscript was sold and when it appeared on the shelves.  Sometime in 1984, the marketing team at Avon Books got hold of the manuscript and hit the roof.  Their position was that male readers wouldn’t accept police procedurals written by someone named Judy, so Judith Ann  became J.A., and that’s been the same ever since.  By the way, marketing made sure with those first original paperbacks, there was no author photo on the cover and no author bio, either.

Am I grateful for that?  You bet!  JA is a whale of a lot easier to sign than Judith Ann.  Since I always autograph books in red, shortening my signature by that many letters has saved me miles of red ink over the years.

The real irony, of course is that, for all this time, my next door neighbor on the shelves in bookstores and libraries, has been P.D. James.  Phyllis Dorothy James had to use her initials on her books for the same reason I did, a generation and a half later.

I know that, in the beginning, that little bit subterfuge from the marketing department worked, and people assumed the guy behind J.P. Beaumont was actually a guy.  Now though, from what I’m hearing from my many male readers, that no longer matters.  J.A. Jance readers are J.A. Jance readers, regardless

And am I ever glad to have them!

49 thoughts on “What’s In A Name

  1. It was the “J.A.” which caught my attention when browsing the library shelves . I didn’t care if you were male or female. I loved the story and have since read all your books and series; most even twice or more. Thank you for writing them!

  2. Probably the “J” should be pronounced as a “Y.”


    Just finished and loved Proof of Life. Couldn’t figure out though how a table could be stable on a skated floor.

  3. Amen Judy! I’d buy your books no matter what. As I used to buy the Kinsey Millhone mysteries by Sue Grafton as well. I miss Kinsey but that’s another story. Anyway…I think that an author named Judy or Judith Ann would flourish today as a mystery writer. Men are more accepting of the female author and women seem to be reading a lot of mysteries so it feels like the climate has changed on this topic. I’m hopeful anyway. Keep on writing, we all love your work!

  4. I loved the story. I thought the best phrase was… grit in the gears. Very telling. Keep up the good work

  5. Just give me the money!!!! I lived with my Italian last name for years and it was short but no one could spell or say it right. Thought I had solved that with marriage. Nope.
    The second letter of my married last name is a “u” but people think it is an “i”. Seems to me that changed the name entirely. When I got divorced I could have changed back to the short hard to spell and say last name but I did not. My cousin with the short, hard to say and spell last name had moved into my congregation with 5 daughters and I did not want to be confused with them. Now I get mail for other tenants with the “i” in their last name.

  6. I have read all of your books and have thoroughly enjoyed them. I am waiting patiently for your next book to be published.
    BTW: What does “Please alert Vanna White” mean?

    • Please google Vanna White. She was the model in charge of the letters on Wheel of Fortune.

  7. Thanks for concise clarification. Love your explanation of where you are coming from. In my life I use “the gospel according to Chuck.” from my perspective and remembranc of events or whatever. Enjoy life, loves, in your positive parlance. Chuck In Tacoma.

  8. Love all your books! Living in Cochise Co it is easy to Joanna Brady around on her cases.

  9. Very interesting message. Made me laugh! Good way to start the day! Love your books JA

  10. This will echo Nancy a little. As a person now on her third (and forever) name, I have learned that there is no name that cannot be either misspelled or mispronounced. Worse, mis-nicknamed. I try hard not to do that to people and to ask if I’m uncertain. I’m sure I still fail sometimes.

    And speaking of names, I’m wondering if the nickname you have given to J.P.’s youngest grandchild, Jon-Jon, is a tribute to your late son-in-law? That thought hit me as I was finishing the second reading of Nothing to Lose. I also think that Nothing to Lose is, in fact, all about loss.

    One of the many reasons I love your books is that there are always some serious things to think about after I read one. This time around it seems to be resolving losses, greed as a motivation, and respecting the feelings of others, including young people.

  11. Savannah – Vanna White is the lady that turns the letters on the game show WHEEL OF FORTUNE.
    to buy a vowel on the show costs $250

  12. Thank you for sharing this. Been married more than once, and when I first began writing, I didn’t want to use someone else’s name. My Dad was adopted out so I didn’t really know what his original name was. I chose to use my Mother’s maiden name instead, and have been using it ever since not only for my pen name but also for my regular name. When my Granddaughter asked me why I changed my name when I got married, I didn’t have a better answer than “That’s what was done”. Glad I changed to my Mother’s name. It’s the one that can be traced back to our ancestors. Names are important to us.

  13. From one crotchety old man in Portland:
    Judy, you ARE one hell of a great writer.
    Soldier on!

  14. I’m a guy (named Kim, ironically) who loves your books and am not put off by female mystery writers. Love Sara Paretsky, Elizabeth George, P.D. James, Sue Grafton, Patricia Cornwell, and maybe others I’m not thinking of right now.

    My last name is Helliwell. Try getting people on the phone to understand that name! I always end up spelling it, sometimes more than once, occasionally more than twice. Even after spelling it, some people are afraid to pronounce it correctly. The i in the middle is a very short i, not pronounced eee.

    My dad used to say the name starts bad and ends well. And the joke in the family is that it used to be Holywell, but some of my ancestors adopted a first syllable they thought they could live up to more easily.

    • I used to do a lot of stock signings in book stores. Months or years later someone would bring in pre-signed books and want them personalized. At that point, I always had to go searching for matching ink–blue or black. By book # 3., I switched to red ink. I also use the same pen, so matching pre-signed books is never a problem.

  15. I grew up believing that my great-grandfather’s and great grand-uncle’s surnames had been changed at Ellis Island. Each man had a different spelling and they moved to different parts of the US.
    That belief changed when I read an article about the research the Smithsonian made about this issue. Those emigrating to the US were required to give all necessary information to clerks in their home countries. That information was then given to the shipping lines for their manifests. In turn, those manifests were given to the immigration inspectors at Ellis Island.
    Those inspectors verified the information with the immigrant and only changing spelling at the request of the immigrant. There would usually be no language barrier since, at the high point of immigration, 1/3 of all inspectors were foreign born and all inspectors averaged speaking 3 languages. Interpreters were available for difficult cases.
    The Smithsonian reports that immigrant name changes often occurred because the immigrants wanted to “sound more American” or because they wanted to blend in better in immigrant communities.
    My grandmother always said you didn’t waste your day if you learned at least one new thing and this is my “Gram-moment” for today.

  16. I love all your books, read all multiple times but my favorite is the last goodbye. I love Bella and so glad you had the real Bella.

  17. Great blog, as they all are. I have loved each and every one of your books from the beginning until now. I can’t wait for the next one.

  18. Love your blogs… as well as your books!!! I’m 75 and have been reading since the beginning ?

  19. I’m one of the male readers who was disappointed ( surprised ) when I started reading my first JA JANCE mystery novel ( Tombstone Courage ) I thought I was starting a western. As I started I realized it wasn’t a western. But I found it very interesting. I looked in the back of the book and realized this books author was a WOMAN! I don’t read books written by women! But I couldn’t put the book down. As I neared the end I started thinking I don’t want this book to end. That’s when I realized this was just one of many in a series. As of today I’ve read almost every book by JA JANCE. Thank you so very much. Now I wish you could write more books often.

  20. We’re very glad to be your readers! You have provided much enjoyment over the years – whatever your name or gender is! We love you!

  21. I was visiting my sister who lives in AZ years ago and when we saw you were appearing at The Poison Pen we beat feet to get in to see/listen to you. Enjoyed it a lot and when we came back to her house with our signed copies, her husband asked if we liked the writer. Of course we said yes and then out and out lied! Well, OMITED your gender. As we had listened to him for years say that he would NOT read a woman writer. You have probably heard the same reviews from dunces! So we poured some wine and started reading. She left her book open facedown and went to bed. The next morning he was raving about JP and looking forward to more. He has become a big fan.

  22. I’m trying to remember if I knew right away that you were a woman- My first JaJance was Book One of Joanna Brady- (I was hooked at once)
    After reading each new Brady novel immediately, I checked out Beau, then more Beaumont mysteries- Eventually I got to Ali- I was pretty unaware of the Walker series until I emailed you last summer, then couldn’t put them down-
    If your added vowel cost $400 back then, I shudder to think what the price would be today! But you have made that investment back, as have your publishers-
    Not to speak of your readers-, male and female-

  23. Another great Friday post. My husband and I look forward to them every week. Your stories are always so interesting.
    When we received your first book forwarded from my sister in Seattle I don’t think it ever occurred to me that the author wasn’t a female. We’d love your books no matter what gender you are. Please, please type faster ?

  24. My favorite “writer’s gender” story involves the man I was in a short-lived relationship with during the mid-nineties. We stumbled on a new fantasy series by someone named “Robin Hobb”, and both of us loved the books. The author bio consisted of one sentence: “Robin Hobb lives in Washington state.” We argued about whether the author was male or female, each of us loyal to our own gender. I remember him claiming that no woman could write the military stuff that well. We did research, but no clues surfaced. It was years later, long after we’d argued about EVERYTHING to the point of ending the relationship, that I discovered that I’d been correct, and I still get the juvenile urge to yell “Nyah nyah!” at him, even though he’s not around. I do know that his younger daughter enlisted after high school, so I wonder if he’s learned….

  25. Loved the Vanna White reference! Made me laugh. Great story about your name

  26. You are a hell of a good writer. Just bought Nothing To Lose. Any more new books coming out?
    Missed your signing in Phoenix because I was on vacation with my daughter in Oregon. Hope you will be back soon- I will be there.
    Thank you for many hours of reading enjoyment. Loved all the series.

  27. Finding your books was one of the best things about our time at Madigan, which was entirely too short!

  28. Love all your books….you have provided many hours of pleasure as I have learned to love each of your characters….keep them coming

  29. I can’t remember my first J. A. JANCE book. It might have been Tombstone Courage but not sure. In any case, I have read them all multiple times. A few years ago when I became very sick and ended up in the ICU in critical condition I packed a bag with one change of clothes and a random five J. A. Jance paperbacks, and I was ready to go.

    When it comes to butchered names I have one that always gets a laugh. Friends and family call me by my middle name, Martin. I use my first name Warren only when I sign stiff. My last name is Niemeyer so in my thirties I started getting junk mail for Mr. Weniemeyer.

  30. This was a great blog. I’ve gone through my 60+ years convincing people that my name is Ginny Beth not Virginia Elizabeth. People would ask me: Are you sure??? Vargo was a hard one for a maiden name (don’t know why). Then I got married to himself: he went through college misspelling Wisley as Wisely just to get it pronounced correctly, until graduation so the diploma is right. You Judy can be whoever you want to be just keep writing!!!!!

  31. I am one who knew right away you were female, only because my friend had met you in Portland while you were promoting your first books. As I think on it though, your last name also sounds male. Jance, short and to the point. A guys name. Coupled with the the initials JA (James Anthony, John Allen?), it screams male to the reader.

  32. I just finished my first mystery novel and can’t decide if I should use my first name of Marijo (pronounced Mary Jo) or just the initial “M”. When I asked my mother why she chose this spelling of my name, she replied that she had seen it in the society page of a newspaper. When I moved to Bisbee in 1998, many people pronounced my name with a Spanish inflection (pronounced Marie Ho.) I also have an unusual last name thanks to my Norweigian husband, Mr. Vik (pronounced Vick in America or Veek in Norway.) As you’re well aware, the names of characters in a novel are important because if well-written, they come alive for us. Our names often indicate our heritage, culture, and a story from our family history. Names give us a sense of who and whose we are in this world.

    • You wrote: Names give us a sense of who and whose we are in this world.
      So use your full name Marijo Vik, and let us know when your book is published – I’ll definitely buy a copy! Good luck!

      PS – interesting tidbit – my maiden name was Valerie Valerioti. Most everyone thought it was a misspelling and called me Valerie Oti…

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