Friday, August 13, 2010

Nom de Plume

I am still getting to grips with this Twitter thing (not being naturally gifted at brevity) but it has just thrown up a very interesting article about pen names, so maybe it's a good idea to persevere with it.

Pen names have always interested me. Imagine going to all the effort of writing a book, and overcoming all the hurdles involved in getting it published, and seeing it on the shelf, in a proper bookshop, all full of pages and everything.

And that bitch you hated in school won't even know if she sees it?

Obviously, I never hated anyone in school. I was a charming and lovely teenager (ahem).

I do wonder why people decide to publish under a pseudonym. Apart from enabling genre-hopping, or distancing your author persona from yourself if you are well-known in another field, I don't quite get it. I'd fancy the recognition.

Maybe it's a hangover from having an uncommon last name. I can never pretend to be another Ellen Brickley. If someone spots my name and says 'Didn't you live/study/work in _________?' I really can't get away with saying that I didn't. I don't mind, because it means people can get back in touch with me very easily - but it does make me very conscious of name-recognition, and particularly how names can stick in people's heads.

That said, if I had a very common name, I might consider a pen name. I recently tried to Google a feature writer who has published pieces in a few Irish newspapers, and both of her names were quite common (I hate saying common. I prefer popular). Even specifying Ireland, she was hard to find. It didn't help that some of her namesakes worked in related professions.

And then there's blogging, and tweeting, and profile-building. . . all of which may have to be done under a pen name if you intend using one.

And how do you choose one? I have a hard enough time naming characters. How on earth do you name yourself?


  1. I always knew I wanted a "pen" name--sort of. More like a nickname for writing. I had two reasons for this: One, I'm not crazy about my first name, people always spell it wrong, which would make it hard to search, and it's a bit of a mouthful. The second reason is I'm kind of a private person. I don't want "fans" to know all about my private life, my kids, where I live exactly...especially with how far reaching the web can get and how easy it is to get information. So a nickname provides a little protection that way.
    Yes, it was hard to come up with a writer name. I had to try a bunch out. In the end I kept my last name and a "reasonable facsimile" of my first. I'm really glad I did. As for all those people from your past that you want to parade success in front of--they'll still hear about it. One way or another.

  2. Interesting question! For me, it was necessary since I write under a different genre for a small publisher, hence the very real possibility of confusion etc with our distributor. I quite enjoy it! When I was choosing one, my editor and I threw around a lot of names that would fit the genre I write in. We wanted it to be something unique that would come up on Google without too many duplicates. I'm happy! :)

  3. Not sure if I've commented here before. If not, hi! I'm writing my first novel. I separated from my husband 6 years ago and have been living with someone else for the past 3 years. I never got round to getting divorced so I still have my ex's name - and I'm damned if it's going on anything of mine that gets published! (Although I suspect the divorce will happen before the publishing deal :-)

  4. Your new blog design is so pretty! Yay!!

    Pen names? I used to think I should have one only because my name is so common, google it and there are over zillions of women with the same name as me - zillions all over!! then I thought sod that for a laugh - I'll make sure that if my name is bandied about it'll be me they'll think of and not the other zillions. LOL! How arrogant is that eh?? Never mind, I can only dream!

    Take care

  5. Not something I have to worry about yet. Maybe someday...

  6. I've never understood why some writers use pen names, and even with Talli's explanation, I still don't really get it.

    Writing is so difficult as well as joyous. I think the real you deserves the accolades. (And yes, I want that one bitch at school to know about it!!)

  7. Elle, I tend to go by 'Elle' more than 'Ellen' offline so I think it's fantastic name :D Nice choice. I hadn't even considered privacy concerns but that's an interesting point.

    Talli, I think 'Talli' quite suits you based on your persona on your blog. . . but Marsha Moore is such a cool-sounding name that I'm glad you publish under it, too! I can very much see why someone would use a pen name for genre-hopping. I have one picked just in case I ever switch to YA (secret ambition!).

    Hi Sarah - also a very good reason, although given that you're always entitled to use your maiden name, it's a simpler option than coming up with something brand new!

    Kitty, that is pretty confident but then if we didn't have big, foolish dreams, we wouldn't be doing this stuff!

    Pat - see above :) A fledgling writer can dream - and often does little else. . .

    Donna, let me know if she ever finds out :)

  8. LOL, Ellen... I think it comes down to did your mother give you a fab name that is marketable or is your name Jane Smith.

    I think authors want names that stand out on the that doesn't get lost with all those million of other Jane Smith' they pic out a pen name.

    And a lot don't want their posh day jobs (that pay the bills) knowing their also writing "romance" on their night "Dream" the pen name.

    same if you've got family members that don't agree with your writing romance...

    but this is just my opinion as to'll have to ask those who use pen names to really know why.

    Hawk - it's a nick name I use from the initials of my real name. But I write under my name - Houston A.W. Knight not Hawk...Hawk is what me friends call me.

  9. BTW - did you ever check out what I did with those extra pages you told us about adding to your blog...did you see what I did with made my blog look more like a web page! I can't thank you enough for that post!


  10. Hi Hawk,
    Hawk would be a pretty cool name for an author, but your full name is also pretty cool and does fit a more conventional format!

    I really liked what you did with the Pages feature, and I loved reading more about what you write. When you read someone's blog, it's nice to know a bit more about their actual writing too. Glad to have been of help!

  11. Hello.

    Just as a by the by, Ms Brickley, but I feel that it’s very easy to imagine seeing your name on the cover of books. It’s a name destined to crawl along spines. (That’s meant as a compliment, by the way, although the way I phrased it made everything sound a bit creepy.) Some names just suit books and yours is one of them.

    So that’s one thing.

    As to the other stuff….hmmm. A couple of reasons spring to mind as to why someone (myself included) might choose to write under assumed names. The first is privacy – I’ll take the (laughable) money, thanks, but can do happily without the bothersome side-effects of “recognition”. And the other is freedom – a freedom to write without fear of hurting those people closest in our lives.

    Oh, and shame. If, like me, someone is merely peddling by numbers writing for a living, then it hardly bears thinking about imagining people we know realising that we are responsible for this stuff. I certainly wouldn’t read any of the stuff I write (professionally) and it’s a safe bet that I would have nothing in common with those people who choose to do so. They baffle me.

    (And even when I write reasonably good stuff, rather more serious, something that doesn’t make me cringe with despair….I still like to keep these things safely hidden under the comforting blanket of an assumed name. It just feels more natural to do so.)

    “And then there’s blogging and tweeting and profile-building…..”

    I don’t use Twitter (the mere thought destroys me) and I’m not sure that I actively profile-build. In fact, I’m sure that I don’t -I’m not aiming to sell anything to anyone, after all, not out here in space, so why would I? I do blog, however, and love the freedom this affords. I have countless private blogs where I write for myself, as well as a frequently malfunctioning public one. Writing, in these circumstances, is sufficient reward in itself.

    Here’s a lovely quote from Juvenal, maybe it will strike a chord?

    Tenet insanabile multos Scribendi cacoethes et aegro in corde senescit… (Many suffer from the incurable disease of writing and it becomes chronic in their sick minds…..)

    I hope you’re having a sickeningly beautiful day.

    Kind regards etc…


    (Choosing a pen name, of course, is excruciating. Anyone with an ounce of decency will find this an exceptionally difficult task.)

  12. Love the pink background, it goes so well with the Pink Tea and Paper theme. I don't like my name. I think it's boring. And the middle name is silly and pretentious but there were reasons going back to Farm Girl that I had to use the Jones. So when I set up my blog I made it plain KarenG, because I was so tired of seeing my author name everywhere. I know everyone says to plaster your author name everywhere but I didn't want to. If I had it to do over again I would surely use a pen name. I may anyway with my next novel since it will be a different genre, not women's fiction and not autobiographical. So maybe I just will. I'm serious. You've got me thinking, Ellen. I'm ready for a change. Is that reason enough to go with a pen name? Or is it a bad idea with 3 books out under my original name? I have no clue. I'll have to think about this some more.

  13. tpe, you're not the first person to say that to me about my name :) I often feel very lucky in that sense - my name is slightly unusual, so it is a bit memorable, but it's pronounced exactly as spelled so there isn't too much room for confusion, and there are no language-specific accents (people with proper Irish names often have problems with this).

    I can see why the anonymity of a pseudonym is appealing. I often find myself stuck for a name for a character because I reject the names of anyone I ever worked with closely or knew at school or college. . . and I'm running out of names! If I was to write under a pseudonym, that wouldn't be a worry.

  14. Karen, I've been looking for a pink-based layout to match the name, but I had trouble finding one I liked. Even this one is a touch too bright for me but I like the fact the background is white and easy to read.

    Regarding your pen name issue, I don't know what to suggest! A lot of authors use two or more pen names and make it very obvious that they are the same person - Ruth Rendell and Barbara Vine, for instance. So you don't necessarily have to give up the name recognition aspect, just make sure your two names are somewhat linked (even just having two blogs or two twitter accounts and linking to the other one!). Marsha Moore/Talli Roland manages this really well.

    Just make sure you let us all know if you do use a different name so we know where to find the new you :)


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