Pen names

Late last week D and I fell into a discussion about my pen name. I have been planning to use a pen name for my fiction since fairly early on. There are a number of reasons to use a pen name: anonymity, awkward or unmemorable real name, or writing in multiple genres, to name a few. I know examples of authors using them for all of these reasons, though mine is closest to the last. With the moth guide published under my real name and the internets full of pages and pages mentioning my real name in a nature context, I felt my fiction would stand out better and be easier to find if I wrote under something different, especially if I publish any additional nature books in the future. This would be better for my hoped-for fans, and better for my sales.

But what name to use? I spent a lot of time considering it when I first settled on something. After some internal debate, I ended up deciding to stick with my real first name because it’s not only unique but also something I already reflexively answer to. It would save a lot of potential embarrassment or mix-up at signings, etc. I wanted something with personal meaning for my last name. I went through all my blood relatives’ surnames, back a couple generations, looking for something that worked well with my given name. None of them really grabbed me. In the end I went with my middle name, which is something I’ve known a couple other writers have done.

But I was never really completely satisfied with it, and my discussion with D reopened my consideration of the name. I’ve spent a lot more time than is probably necessary thinking about it the last few days. In particular I’ve given some thought to both my favourite authors and authors whose names I really like. I’m a big fan of alliteration in names, and some of the author names I like best are ones such as Cassandra Clare, Ransom Riggs, Marissa Meyer, Lois Lowry, Rick Riordan. (I really like D’s name for this reason.) I personally find alliterative names easier to remember, too. I’ve also thought about names that haven’t worked for me. Usually they’re the ones where I mumble the pronunciation to myself: Paolo Bamumblemumble. Or feel overly long: Alexandra Adornetto (five syllables is about my limit).

I’m still undecided about my own pen name. Ultimately, I suppose, it will be something I talk about with my agent, if/when I sign with one, since s/he’ll have an insider’s insight into the industry. But I’ve had fun playing around with possibilities in the meantime.

Anyone have favourite names of published authors?

Edit: After further thought and analysis of my Goodreads lists and input from my BFF, I think that the component sounds of the two names play a large role in making a name catchy and memorable. I think there needs to be one sound that’s repeated in both first and last names, though it doesn’t necessarily need to be the first letter (Cassandra Clare, Ally Condie, Veronica Roth, Robin McKinley) and the vowel (and/or remaining) sounds in the first name and last name need to be siblings (two different soft vowels, like ah and oh, or hard and soft sounds of the same vowel, like ah and ay). The majority seem to be unbalanced, too, with one side having more syllables than the other. So, with those details in mind, off to brainstorm!

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One response to “Pen names

  1. I considered my mom’s maiden name or my husband’s name (too un-pronounceable) or an abbreviation of my husband’s last name. That would be Sarah Lara, but that’s a bit much. In the end I just figured my own name’s good enough for now since I don’t have anything else I’m known for. Plus I have one friend who liked to sing “Saaaaaarah Hipple” at me, so he obviously thought it was a fun name.

    Something else to think about: whose books would your last name put your books near on a bookstore/library shelf? For example, if you write romance & your last name puts you near Nora Roberts, I always figured that might help. Although I believe I originally had that thought before everyone started buying everything online.

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