What’s in a (Pen) Name?

Guess what, folks? I’m married now! Woot woot! I know, I can’t believe it either. I had hit that age where I thought for sure I would be alone forever, me and my undetermined number of cats. And my immense library, of course. But then I found someone to accept my love of cats and my hundreds of books (and give me a dedicated room in the house for all those books), someone who is just as geeky and weird as I am, and that changed the story I saw for myself.

However, that also changed something else. My name.

Names are a big deal. I lived with the last name Eckert for 29 years. I like that name. I branded myself with that name. And now my last name is changing. And you know what? They never tell you how hard that is, even when you want to take your husband’s name and you’re happy to be a family with him. And it’s not just hard because of the government office visits. Changing your name takes an emotional toll, makes you consider the other things that are changing. It’s enough to give anyone a bit of an existential crisis.

And so I decided to keep Eckert for my pen name. I’ve already started marketing myself under this name, and I think it’s a pretty good one for an author, don’t you?

But all this thinking about names really got me thinking: just how do authors pick pen names, anyway? And why might an author want a pen name? I really wanted to know.

Let’s tackle the first question: how do authors pick their pen names?

  • Maybe, like me, they use their unmarried name or a name they had started building their author platform with.
  • They use a nickname or middle name or a place name.
  • They pick a name they always liked.
  • They use a name that fits in the genre they write.
  • They pick a unique name.
  • They pick a name that is easy to spell and pronounce.

And then I wanted to consider why an author might use a name other than their own. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Again, like me, they started building their platform with a name that they changed at a later time.
  • Concerns about their privacy or the privacy of their family.
  • Hiding their identity or keeping their writing career separate from another career (let’s face it, sometimes you don’t want your coworkers to read your work!).
  • If they write in multiple genres, it may be effective to use different names to distinguish the genres and avoid confusing readers.
  • To look for a different publisher (depending on contracts).
  • To relaunch their author brand after a particular work does poorly in sales and/or reviews.
  • To avoid gender bias. (Seriously, I knew a woman in college who had to publish under the name Andy instead of Andrea because she wrote science fiction and the publisher didn’t think it would sell with a female author) This isn’t as big a problem as it once was, but sometimes it can still be a consideration.

Those are all some pretty good reasons for using a pen name, but only you can decide if one of those reasons is right for you. As writers, our name is our brand, so it is certainly a big and important decision! If you decide to go with a pen name, make sure to research it thoroughly and ask people you trust for their opinion. Then, run with it!

So what do you think? Do you use a pen name (or do you plan to)? How did you choose? Why do you or don’t you use a pen name? Tell me in the comments!

2 thoughts on “What’s in a (Pen) Name?”

  1. The only thing I’ve published (“What Eyes Can See” in Rooglewood’s Five Glass Slippers collection) was under my maiden name, but I’m torn about whether or not I should keep it. Having a short story included in an anthology isn’t the same as building a brand, and the name “Brown” is not too memorable! But I’m currently planning on sticking with the same genre, and I might re-release WECS once I get the rights back, so it might make sense to keep the name … I’m torn!

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    1. That’s definitely a tough decision! I think in all honesty it would come down to what you’d prefer to build as your brand. I’m sure there are ways to link your other works (under a different name) to whatever name you end up using. I know Seanan McGuire, who writes a lot of urban fantasy, also has the pen name Mira Grant, which she uses for zombie fiction. She connects hers through her website. So there are definitely different ways to approach it! Also, congrats on the win from Rooglewood Press! That’s such a huge accomplishment!

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