When I first started writing, I typed my name into Google Search to see what would appear. To my dismay, my birth name was a lot more popular than I had realized. After all, I had met tons of people with my first name but no one with my last name who wasn’t family. I found a music artist, a discographer, a “professional spanking model” …yea. Needless to say, I wasn’t any of those and most certainly did not want to be associated with one. After typing my name into the Amazon.com search bar, I saw results for an author with my name. I made the decision then and there that a pen name was required.
Even though the other author only had two books out and she hadn’t published anything since 1999, I had seen enough. I did not want my future audience to be confused. So what did I do? I started researching pen names and began the overwhelming task of giving myself a new identity- one that I could live with should this whole writing thing work. Here are some of the reasons you may be considering a pen name.
1. Your name is already taken by another author, celebrity or popular figure.
Just like mine. Letter for letter. Word for word. Spelled and pronounced exactly the same. It can be confusing to an audience. Don’t confuse your readers. They are your friends.
I’ve included celebrities and other popular figures in this group. If your birth name is Mick Jagger or Tom Hanks, it may increase your initial sales but I fear what sort of backlashes may come. Will you always be in their shadow? Will their agencies retaliate (even though it’s your real name and you should have a right to it)? Don’t you want your own identity?
2. Your name is very similar to another author.
This goes hand in hand with the first one, with a twist. If your name is Stephen Kinn or Susan Collins (I believe there are two authors named Suzanne Collins), it may initially boost your sales but what kind of repercussions might there be? Would your work be constantly compared to the other author’s because readers originally thought you were someone else? It’d be heartbreaking to have a bunch of two-star reviews because your style or genre was completely different to what people expected. Yes, it’s their fault for assuming who you were but do you really want to deal with that kind of drama?
3. Your name is hard to pronounce.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. Perhaps you’re writing for an English speaking nation but you’re not from one and so your names, alphabet characters, and pronunciations are vastly different. Might be wise to switch it up if you hope to become a household name. How many times have you heard M. Night Shyamalan’s name slaughtered? And that IS his pen name! Have you tried pronouncing his full real name?
4. You’re writing across multiple genres.
If you’re writing fantasy, science-fiction, and horror, fine. They often cross one another’s lines and can be commonly grouped as “weird fiction.” However, if you’d like to write erotica, dabble in science-fiction, write a historical western and a non-fiction book on the proper care of chinchillas…consider multiple pen names.
When J.K. Rowling stepped away from Harry Potter and started writing more adult novels, it backfired. Sure, she was still raking in the money but if you’re writing novels for the money, you’re doing it for the wrong reason. (We’ll cover that in a different post). From then on, when she published a non-Harry Potter book, she published under the name Robert Galbraith. We still knew it was her. However, it allowed her to create a new identity without the pressure of expectation.
5. Your name is associated with something not-so-great.
This is for those of you out there with last names like Hitler, Mengele, Stalin… or if your name is really Pol Pot. Granted, the last name I picked is very similar to Bathory so I’m being a bit of a hypocrite with this one. I thought it was fitting since I prefer to write about darker things. And I really didn’t want people to think I was a “professional spanking model.” I didn’t even know that was a thing!?!
How I Chose My Pen Name
That brings us to how to come up with a pen name and how I came up with mine. At first, I browsed baby name websites. It’s something I do when naming characters. I thought about all the names I liked. I originally published under Elizabeth Tesla which quickly became S.J. Tesla in an attempt to hide my gender/identity. I don’t recall my reasoning.
But there I was, not following my own advice. As a fan of Nikola Tesla, I wanted to somehow pay tribute to him. Should I start writing heavy science-fiction, maybe I’ll go back? In the end, the name didn’t fit me. It wasn’t personal enough. Next, I took a long hard look at my own name and pondered how I could rearrange it. I ended up combining my middle and last names to make Bethory.
Bethory. I’m happy with that. It’s not a real surname so no one else has it, yet it sounds a lot like Bathory which points towards my genres of horror and dark fantasy. Perfect.
Coming up with the first name was a lot simpler. My birth name means “Princess” and Regina means “Queen.” Essentially I just gave myself a promotion. But Regina means more than that. It was the perfect fit. It was the character I most identified with in ABC’s Once Upon a Time and my mother has an aunt named Regina, who (to make a long story short) made some very bold and independent choices in her life which I greatly respect.
Problems You May Encounter With a Pen Name
Now, I had a pen name that actually meant something to me. The only trouble I ran across was from people who knew me in person. When I changed all of my social media accounts to my pen name, I lost a few friends. But hey, if they didn’t know I was an aspiring writer at the time then I guess we weren’t that close of friends.
The other problem you may encounter is when people you know in person find out that you’re a writer and express interest in your work. Then you have to tell them that it’s under a pen name. I once had a co-worker ask me, “What’s the point of having a pen name if you tell everyone who you are?” Well, that’s just it. If you don’t tell them and they know you by your real name…they aren’t going to find your work. DUH. Engineers are supposed to be smart…
Hopefully, if you’re debating on taking on a pen name, this has given you enough food for thought. Take your time and don’t expect to settle on something overnight. If you’re successful (and you will be should you stick with it!) you will go down in history with your new identity. Make sure you love it! After all, as an author your name is your brand.
Photo Art from Canva.com