iliana etaoin

Identity fluidity and keysmashing

I previously wrote about systems, such as the Amazon employee directory, that can be designed with identity fluidity in mind. I also wrote about the last name destroyer of worlds, one that I’m fond of, but has a number of non-trivial issues that make me think twice before making it my legal name.

I’ve decided to “try on” a new name, again: iliana etaoin.

I don’t think I’ve told the story of my first name very widely, but it’s a name that stuck with me for years — ten years, in fact, until I decided to assume it. I never understood why until I came out to myself. I rejected any other suggested names whether I actually had a reason to or not. iliana was going to be it, regardless of what others thought or even the issues surrounding its typography (which I’ve patched around by demanding it be written in lowercase); the only question was how I was going to spell it.

My father was educated as a journalist and worked on various rural daily newspapers from their last hurrahs to their final gasps for air before being systematically dismantled and stripped to a husk by private capital. I spent countless hours sitting behind him at his desks of those rural newsrooms, watching him meticulously adjust spacing between words to fit a story into an appropriate section of a page. This period formed most of my design and typography opinions; I was unsurprised when I learned the font I fell in love with and licensed for my website was designed for one of the last remaining newspapers that can afford to commission one. It would have also been a valuable learning experience had I not steered myself away from following in his footsteps, being already aware — first-hand — of print news’s impending destruction.

At the start of his career, Linotype machines were being quickly replaced with modern conveniences, and he watched a pre-press department a wall away from him transform from the hot-lead-slinging machines to entirely digital printing plate preparation. Linotypes are incredibly intricate mechanical machines built of their time; no person today would ever need one except in the most extreme form of nostalgia. I watched a relic operated by a long-retired typesetter as part of a field trip when I was young, and it’s stuck with me for all this time. You can watch a video on how mechanical typesetters like the Linotype work, which I highly recommend watching on at least 150% speed.

Because the Linotype requires the metal letter molds to run the entire way through the machine so they can be properly re-sorted, there’s no mechanism to short-circuit a mistyped line. So to quickly finish the line and type it again, you’d hit keys until the line filled up, then you’d (hopefully) remove it from the stack of lines later. If Linotypes used typewriter-style keyboards, you’d see the home row, asdfkjl. Thanks to the layout of the Linotype keyboard, you’d see the first two columns, etaoin shrdlu.

I learned about this and immediately thought it’d be a great name for a trans person, and then it kind of stuck in the same way iliana did. Nowadays my brain doesn’t let me think about a name for ten years before picking it, though.

As far as family names go, iliana etaoin tells a stronger and better story than merely sharing the same family name of a line of dozens of fathers. And so, for now, iliana etaoin I shall be.

Étaín, a sun goddess of Irish mythology according to some website I found, can alternately be spelled Etaoin, so I’m choosing to pick an Irish pronunciation over the pronunciation of some of the last mechanical typesetters.

destroyer of worlds isn’t a deadname. Neither is my father’s last name. If I have the choice, I’ll often end up using a mononym. I’ll use various last names where I see fit.