For years I did not know that Garo Adanalian and Christian Garbis were one and the same.
That is, until one day when I approached Adanalian and said, “Did you read that excellent story about Armenian independence by Christian Garbis?”
He looked at me with a smirk, then replied, “Not only did I read it, I wrote it.”
Only then did I realize that Christian Garbis was a pen name for Garo Adanalian. Ask him about it and he’s rather smug.
“It’s not the name that counts, but the material that’s written and read,” he tells you. “Lots of writers have pseudonyms.”
Adanalian began using his pen name in 1998, a year after leaving the Armenian Weekly where he served as an associate editor. During the past four years, Yerevan has been his home, where he shares an apartment with wife Anoush and newborn Areg.
Adanalian is a freelance writer who has also written articles for Hetq Online—accounts of his personal experiences and social critiques of life in Armenia.
Why the pen name?
“It’s important to have a distinctive and recognizable name,” he confirms. “I didn’t think Garo Adanalian had a good ring to it. The fact I have two names doesn’t bother me. People who don’t know I’m one in the same will find out through different sources.”
The same could probably be said for other writers like William Saroyan, who wrote under the pseudonym “Sirak Goryan” during the 1930’s when he was corresponding for the Hairenik Weekly (later the Armenian Weekly). Why he picked that name and not his own is mystifying.
In Armenian literary circles, pen names are nothing new. For reasons that are unclear and personal, many writers tend to live in a double world.
Khnko Aper is the author of The Council of the Mice. It is the pen name of Atabek Khnkoyan (1870-1935). He mainly wrote for children and this is one of his best known pieces. The National Children’s Library of Armenia is named after him.
Let’s not forget others on the prominent side. You may not recognize the name Hakob Melik Hakobian unless you’ve read anything by the pen name Raffi. His most popular work, The Fool, published in 1880, has a treasured place in my library—an English translation handed down by my ancestors.
Not to be outdone is Atom Yarjanian, better known as Siamanto, an influential Armenian writer, poet, and national figure who was killed by the Ottoman authorities during the Armenian Genocide. His themes were dark and somber, dealing with the slaughter of the Armenian people.
Even our beloved country has not been spared from an alias. In 1916, Vahan Terian published a collection of poems entitled “Land of Nairi,” in which he used Nairi in place of Armenia. Likewise, Yeghishe Charents wrote a satirical novella titled “Land of Nairi,” using Nairi as a synonym for Armenia.
Come to find out, another writer named Hayastan Yeghiazarian used Nairi Zarian as his pen name.
I’m always on the lookout for Armenian names in bookstores. One day during my travels, I came across Trevanian. It piqued my curiosity when I saw the name a second and third time, but nothing on the inside cover that would reveal further identity.
A telephone call to my newspaper revealed a writer who had just moved to a neighboring town. “Might make a good feature story,” the voice suggested. “The name is Hashian. Jack Hashian.”
A follow-up brought good results. I telephoned Hashian and introduced myself as another Armenian who worked for the local paper, and would he be so kind as to grant an interview? The man obliged.
A visit to his home revealed an unexpected observation. While scanning his library in the living room, a familiar name popped up at me: TREVANIAN. At least seven books by that name were propped on his shelves, many I had not encountered.
“You read this guy?” I asked Hashian.
“You might say Trevanian is my favorite author. And you’re looking at him. It’s my pen name.”
Little did I know he also authored some books about the genocide and one very popular work for the screen called “The Eiger Sanction,” which starred Clint Eastwood.
Trevanian was his mother’s maiden name and he ultimately sold the pseudonym to another author.
Hashian—or Trevanian—wound up joining my church, singing in the choir, and playing an active role in the Armenian community.
“Do you have a pen name?” I was asked.
“Yes, matter of fact, I do. Papermate. And I use it all the time.”