What’s in a (pen) name?

When I started writing this book, I toyed with the idea of a pen name. I waffled back and forth, weighing the pros and cons, and eventually decided to go with one. The more I looked at the book cover with my new name on it, I came to enjoy using the name. I even started calling it my ‘writing personality’. I mean, after all, being a writer is only a part of who I am. So it makes sense that the part of me that loves writing and creating and putting out these stories would have its own persona and name. So, imagine my surprise when I announced my new book to all my friends and family and everyone started questioning why I had a pen name? To them it just was weird that I hadn’t used my real one.

I started to question whether I had made a mistake. Should I have used my real name? Why didn’t I?

To understand why I chose a pen name, you have to understand why pen names are used and where they came from. Pen names, also called pseudonyms, have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years since the invention of writing. But there are many different reasons why a writer may choose to adopt one.


Perhaps the most familiar reason for a pen name is anonymity. A lot of authors want to keep their public and private life apart, and so choose a pen name to help them. The reasons for wanting anonymity can be varied. Some just like having that barrier between their lives, making it easier for them to lead ‘normal’ lives away from the spotlight. Other in the past have used pen names when writing controversial literature to keep a barrier between themselves and any who would seek retribution, or to protect their standing and reputation.

Some examples of the anonymity reason would be Daniel Foe (author of Robinson Crusoe) who also wrote under the pseudonym Robinson Crusoe to escape law enforcement who wanted to arrest him for writing inflammatory writings. Voltaire’s real name was Francois-Marie Arouet, which he used for many reasons: protection against the government, escaping his family name, and others.

For me, anonymity wasn’t as big a reason, although it was a small part of it. I am always aware of scammers and others wanting to take advantage, not to mention rabid fans/stalkers and the like. However, in these days staying anonymous, truly anonymous, is pretty hard especially with self-publishing as I am also my own self-marketer and my first sales ultimately went to friends and family who were more familiar with my true name.


Some writers chose a pseudonym because they feel their real name doesn’t fit the genre that they are writing in. Or, that their name will give away their gender and it won’t be as well received. Lots of female writers, from Emily Bronte (Ellis Belle) to Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) have adopted pseudonyms for this reason. Mark Twain (real name Samuel Clemens) adopted the name because he thought that it sounded better for books about the South. Ayn Rand, the author of Atlas Shrugged, used that pseudonym to hide her ethnic background that she felt would keep people from wanting to read her book.

I admit that some of my choice to use a pseudonym was because of the science fiction genre. I am not ashamed of being a female writer, and in fact think I bring something new to the table being a female writer in this field. But as I designed my book cover, I didn’t like how my name looked on it. So, I tried a pseudonym. At first, it was just for fun. But the more I used it, the more I liked it. I thought it fit the book better.


Sometimes writers pick a pseudonym because they are established in one genre, but want to branch out and try something else. But they are afraid their reader base, or their books, will be affected if the experiment doesn’t work. Agatha Christie, a queen of the mystery realm, wrote romances under the name Mary Westmacott. Anne Rice (a pseudonym in itself) wrote medieval erotic novels under the name A. N. Roquelaure.

Since this is my first book, this wasn’t really a part of my consideration, although I guess maybe it was just to distance myself in case people didn’t like it. Again, protection for my private life. But I could see where this could be a thing. Maybe not for the books I have planned (I love playing in the sci-fi, fantasy, mystery world and I think all those genres play together), but if I ever put out a non-fiction or cookbook (because I have a lot of passions and love trying new things), I could see putting them out under a different name because they are a different part of my persona.


Some writers, like Stephen King and Dean Koontz, have adopted new pen names because they were writing too many books and their publishers thought it would be better to publish a few under a new name so as to not wear out the public’s interest. Some, like me, chose it because it played better in the marketing sphere. Today, with the advent of self-publishing and e-book platforms like Amazon Kindle providing access to hundreds of thousands of books, authors need to be aware of how to make themselves stand out in the crowd.

This was a bigger part of my choice than I care to admit. Googling my real name and you get a page of fifty people before you get to me. Google my pen name, you get results, but not people. A few companies and Cook County Hospital in Chicago. Still competition, but more open than when I shared space with fifty other people. Although, you have to be careful with doing Google searches. The bots show you what they think you want to see, and could mislead you with how ‘open’ an alias is, as I found out. But that’s what this journey is all about: living, learning, and growing.


I chose my pen name because I wanted to. I like it as my writing persona. I’m not worried about people finding out my ‘real’ name or caring about me writing under a fake name. I like it because it is who I am as I write. It is me, just like there is a me who is an artist, and a motorcycle rider and a me who loves my boyfriend. They are all a part of me, all different parts of my persona.

It’s also a part of me. E.R. comes from my own name, a name chosen for connections to my roots, while the last is a part of someone that I love and that helped support me in this path to achieving my dreams.

There are many reasons to not chose a pen name, and many reasons to choose one. It can be scary, choosing a new name. And, sometimes, no matter how much you try to see all the pros and cons you might run into something you weren’t expecting. But in the end you have to live with your choice, and you have to move on. My choice was a combo of many reasons, some that I didn’t list here, but in the end it came down to this: I wanted to. And it felt right.

So my advice to all the aspiring writers out there: do what feels right for you. This is your journey. Do it your way.


Electric Lit Infographic: A History of Pen Names retrieved from https://electricliterature.com/infographic-a-history-of-pen-names/

Bolton, Heinrich 10 Famous Authors Who Wrote Under Pen Names retrieved from https://manybooks.net/articles/10-famous-authors-who-wrote-under-pen-names

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