When I submitted the Winchester competition article that I posted two weeks ago, I had to enter the competition under a pseudonym/pen name.
Fortunately a recent discussion with a friend meant I wasn’t at a complete loss as to how to choose one. She’d suggested combining your name with a colour, preferably beginning with the same letter – e.g. Mel Magenta or Mel Maroon – or by pairing the name of your first pet with the first road you lived on. That could be a bit risky – Fido City, Bumbles Station or Tiddles Pond are possiblities – but fortunately mine was Sandy Kennedy. I went for that on this occasion, although I don’t fancy it long-term.
In conversations with fellow (unpublished) writers, I’ve encountered a mix of opinions on whether or not they’d write under a pseudonym. One already has a pen name. Most are undecided. Another was very clear that the whole point of writing and being published was to see your name on the front cover of a book.
When I’m tempted to have a pseudonym, it’s mainly for the slight level of anonymity it’d provide. It is only very slight though, like wearing a mask to a party rather than a gorilla suit!
When I was reading “The Mortal Instruments”, I looked up Cassandra Clare on the internet to find out more about her and was surprised to discover the name was a pseudonym. Obviously in this Google age, I was immediately informed that the writer’s real name is Judith Rumelt. A pseudonym is not cast-iron anonymity (unless you’re Banksy), but it does mean you can introduce yourself, book a restaurant table or write a cheque without people instantly knowing who you are. However, this assumes that your name is quite well-known and that for some reason (a diminishing possibility in this day and age) that your real name is not equally as well-known.
As I’ve researched this post, I’ve discovered that a surprising number of writers have pseudonyms. Here’s a few – how many of them are you aware of?:
- Eric Arthur Blair – George Orwell
- Jim Grant – Lee Child
- David Cornwell – John le Carré
- Jonathan Freedland – Sam Bourne
- Stephen King – Richard Bachman and John Swithen
- Joanne Rowling – Robert Galbraith and JK Rowling*
*(Jo doesn’t actually have a middle name, but her publishers thought that young boys – the anticipated audience for Harry Potter – wouldn’t want to read a book about wizards written by a woman. They asked for two initials, so she added her grandmother’s – “K” for Kathleen).
One of the craziest ways I’ve come across to create a pseudonym is to use a website that will generate them for you (e.g. www.namegenerator.biz/pseudonym-generator.php). I had a go…
It offered me Ced Zegans, Elnora Ragsdale, Odella Mazziotta, Fraze Eden, and – just when I thought they couldn’t get any worse – Mufinella Khong. Apart from being completely mad, I couldn’t remember some of them long enough to flick between tabs and write them down in this post. Difficult to remember/spell is NOT something you want in a pen-name. While I won’t be using that site to find a pseudonym, it may become my first port of call whenever I’m in need of a weird and wonderful character name!!
More sensible methods include playing with your real name – e.g. William Dawson could become Will Daws – or using your middle name, maiden name, a relation’s name, etc. Initials are popular in the sci-fi and fantasy genres, a là C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling. Alternatively you can create a name from scratch, looking through books, newspapers and websites for inspiration.
The most acceptable reason in the writing world for having a pen name is when you’re already famous for writing in one genre, but want to begin writing a different genre. It provides a clear demarcation.
“…being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience! It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation and pure pleasure to get feedback from publishers and readers under a different name.” J.K. Rowling’s statement when Robert Galbraith was revealed as her pseudonym.
If I don’t write wholly under a pseudonym then I would think seriously about using different (or slightly tweaked) names for different areas of my writing. Even though YA and children’s are closely related, I would want the difference to be clear to kids and parents. Jo Nesbo writes both crime thrillers and children’s books under the same name. I feel slightly uncomfortable that a kid who enjoys his books for younger audiences might pick up another book with Jo’s name on the front and get more than a bit of a shock from its content!
An essential consideration with pseudonyms is choosing a name you really like and can live with long-term. It also needs to be one you recognise and will respond to, so that when people refer to you at book signings or events you don’t ignore them. I missed my name on the Winchester Feature Article competition shortlist the first time I glanced down it.
Having and choosing a pseudonym doesn’t seem to be as simple as I first thought. Thankfully I have plenty of time before it becomes a pertinent issue (and at that point I’ll probably have advice offered from agents, editors and publishers as well).
Would you want to use a pseudonym? And what name would you choose if you did?