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A sex blogger by any other name

Epiphora is not the name I was given at birth. But should that define what people call me for the rest of my life?

Typewriter, cup of pens, and some sex books. The sparkly "Epiphora" drink cozy on the cup was a gift from Bianca (TheVenusEmporium on Etsy). The other side has a vulva on it!

I never know my name anymore.

A few months ago, I was at sex educator friend’s party getting high out of a homemade bong and listening to Dark Side of the Moon. It was the most high school moment of my life — particularly so because, aside from meeting boys off the internet in mall parking garages, I never did anything terribly forbidden in high school. Amidst dramatic readings of Sextrology and attempts at acting out #buttstuff in charades, a woman I’d never met arrived at the party and asked my name.

As I often do these days, I hesitated.

The same thing happened at the airport coming home from Woodhull, when the restaurant hostess asked for a name to reserve a table. It happened when I visited Lorax at work and their co-worker asked who I was, and then again after Mystery Box Show when my blogger friend introduced me to someone as “Piph” at the exact moment I was stumbling over my legal name.

Each time, my train of thought follows the same pattern. Why inconvenience them with my silly sex blogger name? They won’t know how to spell it, pronounce it, conceptualize it. They won’t accept it knowing it began as a pseudonym, or worse, they’ll think I’m full of myself for daring to go by it.

Back at the party, she sensed my trepidation. Offering a warm smile that instantly put me at ease, she told me to give her the name that felt most true in that moment.

So I said it: “Epiphora. You can call me Piph.”


The name began as a measure of anonymity. I chose it in 2007, needing a screen name for my account on a sex toy retail website. If my name could begin with any letter of the alphabet, I figured, I’d choose E. If it could be derived from anything, it would be poetry. So I browsed literary terms starting with E until I found one I liked.1 A year later, when I went to start a blog, the name followed me to this domain, and Twitter, and before long, it was what people knew me as.

Me wearing a conference badge

For years, Epiphora was an online-only presence, but things changed when I started meeting and befriending other sex bloggers. Suddenly I found myself in a world in which calling someone “Girly Juice” was not only accurate, but necessary. In which you’d never ask someone’s legal name unless you were mailing them a package, and then you’d promptly forget it. I started dating a fellow sex blogger, calling them exclusively by their pseudonym, Aerie, which has become their preferred name. To them, I have always been and always will be Epiphora.

That’s when the name became truly mine. When I began forming relationships under it. When I began answering to it across hallways and saying it into microphones. It’s one thing to receive emails addressed to Epiphora; it’s another to hear the name spoken as a direct address. I still remember the rush of validation I felt when my sex blogger friends first referred to me as “Piph” and when the SheVibe crew christened me “Piphy Pants.”

I remember that validation because I still feel it every time someone uses that name for me.

Now, half my friends either don’t know my legal name, or know it and actively disregard it in favor of calling me Epiphora. My legal name is still my name too, but just as “Piph” would sound odd coming from my childhood friend’s lips, my legal name sounds wrong from sex industry folks. Context is everything. In the company of sex-positive people, my instinct is to be Epiphora. At Starbucks or at the vet, I’m still my legal name.

Unless I’m at Starbucks with a sex blogger, in which case they’re gonna have to try to spell Epiphora on my cup.


Autograph from Tristan Taormino in the Feminist Porn Book which reads: "For Epiphora — You're a big deal."

I use the phrase “legal name” consciously. I hate the word “real,” especially in front of anything big: “name,” “life,” “me.” Epiphora is not the name I was given in 1986, in my mother’s arms at the hospital. But should that moment define what people call me for the rest of my existence?

It’s not even an anonymity issue at this point — I don’t care about that. It’s that Epiphora is actually one of my names, and it’s willful ignorance (if not willful rudeness) to act otherwise. A couple weeks ago, returning from a conference where people exclusively referred to me as “Piph,” I was jarred when the owner of an adult company left me a flustered voicemail. “OK, now I’m totally confused,” it began, “because I don’t know if I should call you [legal name], or Piph, or Epiphora. I’m bewildered here.”

I was amazed. This man, in an industry dominated by performer names and nom de plumes, was perplexed by me using my legal name on my personal voicemail. Nights before, I had shaken his hand and confidently introduced myself as Epiphora. Where was the confusion coming from? Why waste your energy being flabbergasted when you could simply respect the name I gave you myself?

I’ve worked hard to establish this name. I’ve been published, cited, and interviewed under it for years. Nearly a decade, actually. I’m protective of Epiphora, because she is my creation — online, a scrupulously-edited version of myself, but in person, just myself (well, with added eyeliner). What people don’t realize is that Epiphora is who I am whether or not I’m shoving dildos up my vagina. She is also human, also fallible. She is still me.

Last Christmas, my mom got me a necklace with a typewriter key pendant. It was the letter E.


I’m always struggling to prove my legitimacy under this name. Facebook doesn’t believe me. Google+ doesn’t believe me. Advertisers don’t believe me; once they find out my legal name they start using it despite me signing every damn email Epiphora. In one particularly upsetting example, I gave an interview to Women’s Health and then was told they couldn’t use any of my quotes, as the editors don’t allow “anonymous sources.”

Yes, I have a vibrator engraved with the phrase "Exclusively for Epiphora," what?

This is obviously bullshit, because the world already accepts aliases. Actors use stage names all the time and we don’t give a fuck. We are fine with mononyms like Beyoncé, Lorde, and Rihanna. We accept Snoop Doggy Dogg becoming Snoop Dogg becoming Snoop Lion. But with sex bloggers,2 thanks to slut-shaming and sex negativity and patriarchy, there’s a stigma. Our words carry no weight. We’re seen as people obfuscating the truth, “hiding” behind “personas,” whose opinions can’t possibly be trusted because we don’t have the guts to write under our “real” names. We must be ashamed of what we do, because sharing our sex lives is inherently shameful.

It’s easy to think that, I imagine. It’s easy for people to draw that line, to stand on the side of birth certificates and drivers’ licenses and accouterments of so-called legitimacy, to contend that people on the other side aren’t being authentic. It’s a protective gesture, and I get it. You can’t feel superior to other people without making a moral judgment.

But until we live in a world in which our parents, co-workers, and dentists can appreciate our work in the adult industry, many will continue to use pseudonyms. Sometimes those pseudonyms will become our names. These names deserve as much respect as any, and fuck you if you disregard them like they’re nothing.


Epiphora is my name when I say it is, when it feels right, when the sound makes sense coming from my mouth and yours. My original name has a different sound on the tongue. It sounds true, but it also sounds easy. I did not toil, write, and hustle for that name. I did nothing to receive it. It was given, not chosen. A gift, not an accomplishment.

Epiphora is the sound of validation. It’s my name in print. It’s Tristan Taormino introducing me to the audience. It’s Lorax’s voice whining “Piphhhhh” across the room at me. It’s the sound of recognition. Of reverence. Of having achieved something, created something out of nothing, made a living for myself doing something I love.

It’s the sound of earning it.

  1. An “epiphora,” in literature, is a a stylistic device in which a word or a phrase is repeated at the end of successive clauses.
  2. And sex workers, and porn performers, and anyone else in the adult industry…

Similarly-salacious material

Comments

  1. Nearly 8 years ago I went to my first sex blogger event – the first time I had to get used to saying “Lilly” out loud. I stumbled quite a few times but it wasn’t super noticeable because my legal first name begins with the same letter. When I was introduced to Sinclair Sexsmith as “Lilly” and they looked up at me and said something like “Oh! Lilly! As in……DANGEROUS Lilly?” well I about peed myself. (Funny enough, I still get that reaction because I never introduce myself as “Dangerous Lilly”; there could be other Lillys. But I feel like introducing myself as “Dangerous Lilly” would feel like an affectation, like I’m trying to make “Dangerous” the new “Baroness” or something)

    After that party it was easier. There were (still are) some blogger friends that I connected with on Facebook under our legal names and yet still, they never stopped calling me Lilly. Metis, Sandra, Thor….they all know my legal name and never call me by it. It used to be that I felt that Lilly was a lot of the real me with some extra dashes of personality added in, but that was when my blog was quite different than it is today. When I was “trying too hard”. Now I think that my blog/social media is very much the everyday me, and I feel like Lilly – I don’t think there’s a difference anymore between me online and me in person (I could be wrong). Sometimes when I meet a stranger somewhere and I’m caught off guard, I’ve told them my name was Lilly. Oops.

    “Lilly” is no longer a role I play. It’s my name. It would be super weird to have anybody in the industry call me by my legal name (and I do bristle if they switch to my legal name in emails). I do know yours but I’ve forgotten it. I know what letter it starts with, but I’ve never needed to know your legal name. That’s not who you are to me. It’s the same with nearly any blogger. Penny, Reenie, Artemesia, Lorax…I know their legal names but it would feel so foreign.

    I used to worry that blogging under a pseudonym would mean I was taken less seriously and to some I always will be. I’m (mostly) over that fear now. After all, look at everything you’ve accomplished without using your legal name…

  2. This is great! One of the things that worried me at first was this particular issue and while I’m a tiny fish where no one knows my name at all, it’s nice to know that if I very achieve even a little bit of recognition there are people out there who will know me as Livvy and my real name can be someone else in a way.

  3. Seriously? This is so sad it’s almost not funny. I’m sure you think this soliloquy about your fucking nickname is deep as shit, but seriously, how much more of this bullshit are you going to put your readers through? You know, the people who were around when this blog was actually about reviewing sex toys? Nowadays all we get are disturbing posts about your sexual exploits and other random shit that no one outside your little clique of bloggers cares about.

    Get your head out of your ass and remember what brought you this far: your reviews. Get back to telling us what’s worth the money, you know, us little people who don’t get all of our toys for free and who don’t get paid to sit around and fap all day. Keep these whiny navel-gazing rants of entitlement to yourself, in a diary where they belong.

    “I is so deep because I have two personas! But which is the real me? Oh woe!” For fuck’s sake I can’t even…

  4. You are an inspiration to us all, Epiphora. I love “Piphy-Pants”- that is so cute and funny! And rather cleverly ironic, if you think about it. Rock on!

  5. Piph, this is a wonderful post. It’s highly relatable, and rings truer every year that I do this and as I meet people in the industry in person. You are a marvelous, talented writer, and I enjoyed reading this reflection; I’d read a thousand other pieces like it.

  6. I really want to give you a hug right now.

    This is my name. Legal, birth, whatever you want to call it. As I think I’ve told you, I didn’t put much thought into how using my legal name could hurt me down the road, I was full of righteous rage and early 20’s invincibility.

    So now, a decade and a half later, I still have these struggles. Because my professional name is my first and middle names I…it’s really hard to separate them. As my name became more known in this sphere the struggle got a lot harder.

    Don’t want to leave a post sized comment, so I’ll say thank you for writing this. You are incredible in so many ways and I am very glad to know you.

  7. I remember introducing myself for the first time at conferences too, and it was weird. The reaction I got (and still get) was “oh! So that’s how you pronounce it?” Heh.

  8. Wonderfully written. Thank you for this. A lot of it resonates with me. Before I worked in a sex shop where we use pseudonyms, I’d wanted to use the same first name everywhere for simplicity (my best friend, after being published under a pseudonym, had a bit of a time adjusting and I figured “meh, I don’t need *that* much privacy that I need a different *first* name”).

    Now 1.5 years later, my other name feels right in that context, even more because I’ve *earned* things under that name (mentions in online reviews of the store, a reputation among return customers, etc). So I especially understand how you, 8+ years in, feel about that aspect. You’ve made a name for yourself through lots of effort, and that name being associated with the you who did that work only makes sense.

    And the other aspects are totally understandable and make sense. Mind-boggled that some (advertisers, etc.) don’t get it.*shakes head*. Betcha they’re the same kinda folks who will repeatedly misgender someone after being politely corrected. Just a hunch.

    Anyway. Thanks again.

  9. So Liam and I really love the Kingkiller Chronicles by Pat Rothfuss. In the series, names are VERY important. And this post reminded me of a quote from the first book, The Name of the Wind:
    “Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts… But a word is nothing but a painting of a fire. A name is the fire itself.”
    <3

  10. I’ve had many names and pretty much always been part of a world where chosen names were the norm, so they’ve never really felt that odd to me. Then again I’ve never gone by my birth-certificate name. Even the legal name most know for me isn’t, in fact, my legal name. I figure too considering many well-known authors throughout history have written under a chosen name, that using the name you want vs a name you had no say in, that we’re in good company.

    I’ve learned two tricks to make living under an “other” name a little simpler through the years. One is- use a last name, either you actual one or one of your choosing. When people are presented with a First Name Last Name scenario they tend not to question it, assuming that your parents were hippies or somesuch. It also makes passing through the commodifying practices of things like FB considerably easier since it doesn’t tip off the filters as much.

    The other is decidedly more modern and definitely a First World Problem solution. When going to Starbucks, use the app. It makes customising your drink easier if you need to do that sort of thing, and ensures that you get the name you want on your cup AND it’s spelled correctly. Before I started doing this “Lorax” inevitably became “Laura”. Using my legal name always got morphed into something bizarre, despite it being a whopping four letters long. So yeah- if you prefer a chosen name? Use the app an life becomes a whole lot simpler.

  11. People can definitely have more than one identity, and whether Piph is a legal name or a chosen name, it’s still your identity. One isn’t more important than the other, but if one were to take the priority… wouldn’t it be the one you got to pick?

    I can definitely relate to this, and I love this post!

  12. I’ve never understood why other people – like the guy on your voicemail – throw such hissy fits over names and identities. They are complex. We are complex. It’s so easy just to ask someone their preferred name!

    Side note: I was humming a catchy tune, and struggling to remember what song it was. Suddenly I thought I remembered part of the lyrics – but then I thought, no, not possible, because no song goes, “…discerning vaginaaaa…”
    Then I realized exactly what I was humming.
    Your theme song is amazingly catchy.

  13. I luckily get to use my blogger name in many aspects of my life, at work (cause it’s a sex store where the name originally got it’s roots) and at home where my roommate only refers to me as Whimsy and I only refer to her by her store name Saber. I absolutely love this name. I almost wish it was my legal name but then I would have to rename my online me, and I love being Whimsy. The only problem with being Whimsy is when people hear my wrong and call me Lindsay and sometimes I just don’t have time or care to correct them. I also use it at Starbucks if I am going to work and that is always entertaining. Wimsy whimsee lindsay .. Ok sure. I love being Whimsy, it is me but stronger and fearless. I love who I am. It is a huge part of my identity and feels truer to who I really am than my legal name.

  14. Thank you for writing this post – I found myself nodding along the whole time. Your words resonated with me so much, as I had a similar struggle when leaving a very corporate job to start my own lube company. There’s always the “what if” factor when deciding whether to continue under your legal name vs a new name, especially when you have kids who might one day want to be in control of what people can Google about their parents. It can be a mindfuck, at times, to use different names for different parts of your life, but for me it was the right decision. 🙂 Also, amen for having earned your name. You totally rock it.

  15. My only qualm with this is the comparison to all of the names of Black people, save Lorde. Beyonce’s name is her actual name, as well, not one she changed it to. The ratio of comparison seems more like a jab at black names, which white people turn into a joke, while turning around and naming their baby Lakynn and Nayvee and shit to sound “edgy”.

  16. I’m very sorry, Jan. Those were absolutely not meant to be jabs; they were meant to showcase respected people. I actually consciously chose two Black women in my list of people with mononyms (not necessarily pseudonyms) rather than defaulting to white people such as Madonna, Bono, Cher, Adele etc. Snoop Dogg was simply the first person that came to my head when I thought about people reinventing their names more than once.

    The overarching point of this post is that all names should be respected — given or chosen, mononym or not — so I meant only respect by mentioning Rihanna, Beyonce, and Snoop Dogg. However, if that is not coming across, I want to fix it. I know that it is not your job to educate me, but if you’re able to offer an alternative or something I can do to remedy this, I’d appreciate your guidance.

    Thank you for speaking up and bringing this to my attention.

  17. I’m glad I’m not the only on with the online name/given name conflation. It honestly startles me sometimes when people call me by my given name when I’ve been spending a lot of time talking to online friends. We’re friends on facebook- my internet friends know my given name. But they’ve known me as Cabbage longer than they’ve known me as Maddy. I will admit though, I given-name one any time we’re offline.
    Because her internet name is Cunty.

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