DC Sheehanigans or Who is Dom Shaheen?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

A reader asked why I published Finding Home as Dominic Sheehan and The Mythic Series as DC Sheehan.

Coincidentally, I have been working on a piece for my email updates about how Dominic Sheehan/DC Sheehan is actually my nom-de-plume.

The eagle-eyed would already have noticed that in the footer of my website it notes that someone called “Dom Shaheen” is the copyright owner. That’s actually me and the story behind that is intertwined with my author name. When that new question came in I realised I had the components of a longer piece, and thus was born this blog post. Also, I came up with the punny first part of the title and was desperate to use it!

Initial Offerings

My birth name is Dominic Charles Sheehan. So there’s the answer for the Finding Home part of the reader’s question. I simply used my first and last names. I never considered adopting a pen name at that time. Finding Home is a highly fictionalised version of seven months of my childhood. There was a neat contrast in stamping it with my real name.

But in 2012, when it came time to brand The Mythic Series, I decided to use my initials. I did that for two reasons.

First, I’ve always liked them. Washington DC. DC Shoes. DC Comics. The pairing looks good and sounds good. I purposefully styled it as “D.C. Sheehan” on the covers/front matter with those full stops. Because punctuation as design. However, I don’t do that on my site. Because I forgot.

Second, The Mythic was a fresh start for me as a novelist. In fact, it was a new beginning for me as a writer. I had used “Dominic Sheehan” for Finding Home, my screenwriting, and humour column. Using my initials was a way to emphatically shake off the difficult years that had preceded The Mythic‘s birth.

Irish Bull

‘Sheehan. You have to be Irish with a surname like that!’

That’s typically what people used to say when they met me.

Except, I’m not Irish, not the Sheehan part of my name anyway. I do have a distant ancestor from Ireland, but it’s on my mother’s side of the family. And yes, “Sheehan” is an Irish surname, but my version of the name didn’t come from there.

My paternal grandfather immigrated to Aotearoa New Zealand from a small village in northern Lebanon. His birth name was Joseph Mansour Shaheen-Fakhry.

He came to be known as Joseph Maunsell Sheehan.

Growing up, I was told a couple of different versions of the story behind his name change.

One is that he, and other immigrants with “foreign sounding” names, had them altered upon entry. Grandad Sheehan arrived when The Immigration Restriction Act 1899 was in force here. Under that Act any immigrant not from the United Kingdom or Ireland had to fill out an application form in English. Sidenote: that Act also prohibited “any idiot or insane person” and any person “suffering from a contagious disease which is loathsome or dangerous”!

The story goes that, after having passed that test designed to keep out the undesirable races, Lebanese surnames were Anglicised to the nearest British/Irish equivalent by the authorities in an effort to retain at least the appearance of homogeneity.

The other version of the story is that the immigrants themselves modified their names, in order to better blend in. Given the xenophobia of the time, it’s easy to understand why they might do that. Different branches of the family carved up the hyphenated source name. “Shaheen” became “Sheehan”. “Fakhry” became “Farry”.

Name Calling

As a writer, I have both coldly clinical and deeply emotive feelings towards names.

The author in me treats them as raw material to assist with character definition. I chose to call the lead of The Mythic Series “Lucy Knight” for very specific reasons. You can guarantee that every name in my books, and I mean every name, has undergone comprehensive testing to ensure there is depth to its meaning.

But, equally, I understand that our names hold incredible personal importance.

We don’t get to choose our birth names. We inherit our surnames, and our first names are selected by someone who hopefully puts a modicum of thought into it.

Grandad Sheehan wanted me dubbed “Nasser” after the rebellious Egyptian leader he admired. Fortunately, my mother intervened. I have no problems being named after a man who overthrew the monarchy, exactly the opposite! But I was teased enough growing up, let alone being landed with a name that sounds like a space agency. That would have also robbed me of “Dominic”, a name I like in every way—how it sounds, how it looks, even how I’ve met other Dominics who have it shortened to ‘Dom’ and some shortened to ‘Nick’ (no one has EVER called me ‘Nick’, it’s ALWAYS ‘Dom’). My mother had to stand up to her very patriarchal father-in-law in order to give that name to me. It’s a testament to her fortitude and that makes it even more special to me.

As adults, our names become fair game to be modified, cast aside, or clung to as our personal connections with them deepen. Some people take their spouse’s name when getting married, either wholesale or by adding it to their own. Some, however, especially reject this tradition, for understandable reasons.

I have a friend who changed both her names after escaping an abusive relationship, her own version of witness protection. Another mate chose a brand new first name after a spiritual awakening. And, closer to my own story, I have friends who undid the effects of colonialisation—transmuting “William” into its Māori equivalent “Te Wiremu”, for example.

The Game of the Name

I was very young when I first heard the story of how some faceless bureaucrat stole my grandfather’s real surname. I still remember a feeling of ghostly loss, that something had been stolen from me, even though it happened over half a century before my birth. There was injustice too in the version where the family felt societal pressure to Anglicise the name, chasing a need to “fit in”.

No matter how it happened, there an undeniable truth: I had no ancestral connection to the name “Sheehan”. Every time someone quizzed me with ‘“Sheehan”, that’s Irish!’ I answered that I was a faux-Sheehan, that the original family name was “Shaheen”, which was Lebanese. I would get all kinds of reactions. Some were intrigued. Some bemused. Some confused, thinking I’d told them I was a lesbian.

The older I got, the more jaded I became with having to give that explanation. At some point I gave up and let everyone think what they wanted. If they believed I was Irish, then so be it. I smiled politely and moved the conversation to something else.

Name Resolution

But, after my fiftieth birthday, and journeying through the terminal illness of a very close friend, I found myself re-evaluating many things, including my name. I had previously considered changing it in my twenties, but I had put it off for various reasons. It’s a big step.

Once I had published Finding Home, and ultimately The Mythic Series, I also had the additional hitch of my surname being part of my brand.

But, as often happens with me, I will think about something for a long time and then, all of sudden, take action. In late 2017, it struck me. I didn’t want to change my name. I had to change it.

I remember staring at the words “Dominic Sheehan” and realising the name looked like it belonged to a different person. A past person. Literally a minute after that thought washed over me, I headed online and began the paperwork to change my surname. When I said it’s a big step, I meant it figuratively and literally. You have to update your name everywhere it appears. So. Many. Forms!

Status Symbol

I was also young when I was told the name “Shaheen” means white falcon. Or royal white falcon. Or just falcon or hawk, depending on the source. Grandad Sheehan proudly told us it was “royal white falcon”, emphasising its regality. Falcons are emblematic of strength and speed, being the fastest member of the animal kingdom. They’re birds of prey, ruthless but also majestic. As far as symbols go, you could do a lot worse than being associated with such a creature. 

Shaheen also exists as “Chaheen”, “Shahin”, “Chahine” and a number of other variations. But, as a fan of wordplay, the fact that “Shaheen” is an anagram of “Sheehan” was too deeply satisfying to ignore.

To DC or Not To DC?

Of course, now I was faced with a decision. Should I rebrand the books as DC Shaheen? Dom Shaheen? I chose retain DC Sheehan. It would now be my pen name. I had never disliked it. I’d simply reached a point where it needed to change. As an author who has a day job, it helped provide some distance between my work and my works. Also, I’d paid years of domain name fees for dcsheehan.com and I hated to see that go to waste!

So that’s the answer to a question asked of why my author name is slightly different on my earlier novel. And the answer to a question nobody asked about me changing my name. Because it wouldn’t be a true DC Sheehan piece if I didn’t wander off on a tangent. Did you know that “gannet” is an anagram of “tangent”? Because it wouldn’t be a true DC Sheehan piece without some useless trivia also.

Question: Can you name any other authors whose pen name is an anagram of their legal name? And, for any, have both names actually been their legal names at different points in time? I’ve looked and I can’t find any other author where the latter is true.