The Irony Behind Armenian Pen Names

For years I did not know that Garo Adanalian and Christian Garbis were one and the same.

In Armenian literary circles, pen names are nothing new.

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.”

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Tom Vartabedian

Tom Vartabedian is a retired journalist with the Haverhill Gazette, where he spent 40 years as an award-winning writer and photographer. He has volunteered his services for the past 46 years as a columnist and correspondent with the Armenian Weekly, where his pet project was the publication of a special issue of the AYF Olympics each September.
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7 Comments

  1. Excellent piece by Tom.
    I get the feeling that Armenians use pen names more than others.  Is this because Raffi did it and we all aspire to his level of cool?  Or is it that there was real danger in Ottoman Empire in speaking ones mind and thus the very real need for a nom de plume.

  2. Tom- A very interesting article, but you forgot to mention my favorite Armenian pen name–
    Levon Shant  (or Chant in the French spelling). 

  3. Okay what am I missing here? 

    Mr. Hashian might as well have chosen the pen-name Trevanian, that would be his his business, however, the Trevanian who wrote “The Eiger Sanction” made into a movie in 1975  is  Rodney William Whitaker (June 12, 1931 – Dec 14, 2005)
    Whitaker had said that his wife chose the pen name Trevanian based on her appreciation of English historian G.M. Trevelyan.

  4. Good point Tsayt. But whether or not it’s valid remains to be seen. Knew Jack Hashian for about five years and his claim to fame was having written the screen play to “Eiger Sanction” as Trevanian. Others who knew him well would corroborate that. Claimed to still be getting royalties from it. It’s like, “will the real Trevanian please step forward.” Hashian claimed that he had written the “Eiger Sanction” and Trevanian was his mother’s maiden name. He claimed to have sold the pseudonym to another author. For some reason, he isn’t credited anywhere on any of the on-line sites about the 1975 film starring Clint Eastwood. Perhaps Hashian was a ghost writer for Rodney William Whitaker. Anyway, the piece was about pen names and not movie rights so maybe we should just let it rest in peace like Hashian.

  5. Since I have now and then suggested making of the Plot Movie of jack Hashian entitled ¨ m a m i g o n ¨,I ´d like to comment here now-belatedly(reason for which is I have just discovered on Amazon.com ) that Trevanian is actually Jack Hashian .Apsedonym he adopted for reasons known to himself.
    But I was gladdened that Script of this book has already been penned by a certain Bill Hoversten Davis. Furthermore in the comments section of Amazon.com it is mentioned that filming of this Plot movie could well be made to co incide with the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, when we do need such like movies for making it know n to the millions of the World public who are not acquaitned with out PLIGHT,nay Holocaust…
    Hope others will join in and pursuade our film mkaers in Hollywood to join forces and bring this to pass..
    i dare say it may well surpass movies like the ¨¨Schindler´s List¨.
    Also very interesting that Script to the latter was written by an Armenian ,.namel Zindlian..

  6. I knew Jack Hashian professionally from 1981 to 1984. He told me, totally earnestly, that the reason he wrote with a pen name was because he couldn’t write about sex under his own name because his mother would read those books and he would be too embarassed. He was fascinating and charming. His son, by the way, was the drummer for Boston.

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