Tuesday 18 September 2012

Pen Names: What's In A Name?

Created with Scrabble Doodle & GRSites for background
I've come across a few blogs and 'expert' opinions recently which suggest using a pen name is more hassle than it's worth and, quite frankly, a bit of a waste of time. They recommend you use your real name, or at least a form of it, because using a pen means you're more afraid of failure. Or something like that anyway. So why do I use a pen name?

Is it because I am trying to hide my real identity?

No, not at all, I'd say maybe ninety percent of my followers on both here and Facebook could tell you my real name. I'm not ashamed of writing romance, I'm not embarrassed or desperate to keep it at arm's length, it just works better for me.

Why then?

It's for a few reasons really...

One reason is to add an extra screen, a layer of privacy, to keep my writing persona one step removed from my real life persona. If somebody Google's my real name to find out more about my role as a school governor, or in relation to any other aspect of my life, for example, my political affiliation or religious beliefs (or any other potentially contentious stuff usually banned from the dinner table), I don't want them to come face to face with an excerpt from one of my steamier romance novels.

Another reason is to protect my young children. I have my private profile on Facebook where I can happily post photos and talk about them. Yes, I can apply privacy settings (and do!) but even so, other users can see the pages I like or places I check into amongst other things, so it made sense for me to create my Facebook alter-ego. On the flipside, it also gives my children the option to distance themselves from the writer 'me'. They can choose to acknowledge what I do or not or deny all knowledge because it's not my 'mummy' name printed on the covers of my novels, which could be embarrassing for them when they're older.

And then there's the issue with my actual name being unisex. Seeing as I'm a romance author, I don't really want to be mistaken for a man. Not that I think men can't write romance, it's just that many will adopt a female pen name to do it.

But don't I want to see MY name on the cover of a book?

This will sound crazy, but it is my name being published. Huh?

Have you seen those pictures where there's a printed message and you're supposed to be super brainy if you can read it because of how your brain interprets the right words even though the letters are mixed up? Well, it's just like that. In fact, when I first adopted it, friends didn't even realise they weren't seeing my actual name because their brain saw the letters they were expecting to see, even though they were out of order, and rearranged them automatically. Yes, my pen name is an anagram of my real name so it is my name on the cover, it just so happens the letters are a bit jumbled up.

Isn't it hard work keeping two profiles going?

Nope, not at all, especially since a friend suggested using two different browsers to have Facebook open, one for each persona so I can log into Facebook as BOTH profiles at once. I'm just kicking myself for not thinking of it sooner.

I had the foresight to create my alter ego as soon as I decided to try my hand as a writer so it's been there right fro the start and it's like a uniform I put on when it's time to work. Similarly, I can take the hat off when it's time to be 'mummy'.

I've encouraged all of my real-life friends to like my Facebook page and befriend my alter ego but if they don't want to, that's fine, and by having a separate profile for my professional stuff, I'm not ramming my writing updates down their throats all the time. I am still me on my alter-ego, I behave exactly the same and saying the same kind of things I'd say with my real hat on, so there's not much difference.

Over to you...

What are your views on pen names?
Do you write under a pen name or do you think they are unnecessary?
If you do have a pen name, how did you choose it and why did you decide to use one?


  1. Yup - in fact I have two! Susie Medwell was the first one I came up with - Medwell is a family name from the past and Susie is a variation on my real forename. I don't hide what I do from anyone I know, but like you I wanted to protect my family (and teenage boys don't want their mates to know their Mum writes romance -definitely not cool!)and add a layer of privacy. My real name is also so unbelievably common that google it and you'd never find me! My second name came up when I tried my hand at erotic - again I don't hide it from family/friends (apart from the under 18's), but Zara Stoneley was an amalgamation of a name I liked and a place I used to live!
    I think what you say sums up most of my reasoning perfectly :-)

  2. Interesting discussion. I did debate for a while on whether to use a pen name and I could see the benefits but have decided to write under my own name for the moment. I think it may have partly been just because I wanted to see my own name on the front of a cover - and I'm not clever enough to make up another name from the letters :)

    I have some ideas for an YA series that I would like to write in the future, so if I moved into that field that I would more seriously consider using a pen name - to keep the two styles separate and so that if I managed to build up a base of younger readers then they wouldn't be looking for other books by me and end up with one of the steamier romances!

  3. I do it because i can put her forward in a way i might not put myself.

  4. Hi Aurelia

    I think you make some excellent points. I use a pen name for exactly the same reasons as you.

    It freaked my husband out at first because he said it made him feel as though I was living in a different world - one in which he had no part. He gets it now though :)

    All the best with your soon-to-be-published book.

    x Christy x


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