They may be well known in another industry and want to keep their professional or business identity separate, they may want to protect their personal name (in case of their fiction career not working out, or the opposite: achieving worldwide success and having no privacy, or… just because!). An author might also prefer a pen name because it ‘sounds better’ than their real name or helps to ‘brand’ their book by creating a more appropriate and memorable name to represent the genre or topic of the book.
Some authors also have multiple pen names for different books, if they write under two or more different genres.
Whatever your reason, choose wisely. Here are some things I’ve learned about the process of choosing your own pen name, and some ideas to help you come up with a name you love:
1. A variation on your real name:
- You could keep your first name and just change the surname.
- Use your first two initials with a surname.
- You could keep your surname and change your first name.
- Consider a name that has the same initials as your real name.
2. A completely different name:
- Make a list of all the first names you really like (A baby name book or website can be useful).
- Make a list of all the surnames you really like (If you get stuck, look in the phone directory).
- Try combining a couple of different first names or surnames together to come up with something new.
- Make sure the name is easy to spell, so people can find you on the internet.
- If your name is Lily Sparkle and you’re writing a book for teenage boys about undercover agents, you might want to choose a ‘less feminine’ sounding name, or even switch to initials.
- You can use a random name generator website, such as: http://www.fakenamegenerator.com/ . These are also useful for coming up with character names for your story.
- Make sure the name you choose is one you’re happy to be known by. Okay, so you might not become a household name like J.K Rowling or Stephanie Meyer, but… you might be!
- Practise signing the name and see how it feels. Does it flow well off the pen?, would you be happy to sign hundreds of books with this name?
- Before deciding on your name, come up with a shortlist of about five or so, and research them on the internet. Check first if the dot com domain name is available, that is; www.(insertpenname).com, because if you’re serious about being an author you need a website, and dot com’s are the most popular and easy to remember. Then search the web in both text and images (with filters turned off) to make sure; a) there are no other popular authors with the name, b) there are no other well known people from other professions with the name, and c) that your chosen name doesn’t also belong to an unfavourable person, or a ‘playboy’ centrefold model of the year, or something similar!
- You can also search Amazon.com to see if other authors have the same name.
- Ask on forums or writing groups for feedback about your name.
- Once you’ve come up with a winner, register the dot com web domain (even if you don’t plan on having a website just yet), and set up a Facebook and Twitter account with the name.
- You don’t have to register it as a business name, but when you get published, your publisher or a solicitor may be able to advise you of any legal concerns.
Writers – Do you have a pen name? If so, how did you come up with it?
Readers – how do you feel about authors using a different name, does it change the way you feel about the author if you know they’re not using their real name?
Juliet (or am I?)