Dr. Humperdinck, I presume?

Hello my name is...When I was in grad school, I heard that female PhD candidates were still being told to publish under their initials rather than their names, because being a woman would impede their progress on the tenure track. We’ve come a long way, baby, and gender should no longer be the reason you’re not using your real name.

However, some writers do write and publish under pseudonyms. I can see why some people might want to write under an assumed name, especially if they’re just starting out, and need that extra layer of anonymity to help them release their writing inhibitions. A pen name is a kind of security blanket. Or a blank slate.

But adopting a pen name isn’t just for amateurs. Some writers who are already rock stars in one genre might want to try something new on for size without confusing their readers, or want to disguise their prolificacy. Three cases in point: Nora Roberts as J.D. Robb, Anne Rice as A.N. Rocquelare, and Stephen King as Richard Bachman.

You may not be Anne Rice, but you might decide to write under an assumed name for modesty’s sake. Let’s say your mom reads every single piece you churn out—but doesn’t know that you’re also writing super-charged erotic fiction under your “porn name” (your middle name plus the street you grew up on. That would make me Helena Baldwin. Posh, no?).

Perhaps you think your name is wretchedly boring, and you want your work to stand out. So, Mary Smith, maybe Mariah Smythe is a good option for you. Temper your creativity, though. The jury’s still out on Engelbert Humperdinck (born Arnold George Dorsey).

Maybe it’s the opposite: you think your name is too unusual. I always thought my maiden name was too difficult to spell and pronounce, so I spent countless teenage hours trying out new writerly identities. I still hadn’t figured out a great one by the time I got married, but taking my husband’s name made the exercise moot.

For some writers, the reasons for taking a pseudonym are much more personal. Writing an autobiographical account of child abuse, detailing your painful divorce, or fictionalizing the shenanigans of your old boss…these might be legitimate reasons for using a pen name. Some of these reasons fall under the category of CYA: Cover Your Ass.

Some reasons for using a pen name may be valid. But if you’re just shy about releasing your stories into the world and being vulnerable to public opinion, maybe being a writer isn’t for you. Your work will be read and judged and bought and promoted and rejected and critiqued and loved and forgotten. That’s part and parcel of the writer’s life.

As a dear friend of mine once said, “suck it up, buttercup.” It’s your work—own it!

Have any of you published under a pen name?



Filed under Getting published, Trials and Tribulations

12 responses to “Dr. Humperdinck, I presume?

  1. I write under the name Surazeus as it sounds classical. I created it from Asshur grandson of Noah and Zeus. Other similar names are Isra-El, Osir-Is, Assur-Banipal, Sri-Krishna and Sir-Galahad. The English word Sir comes from the name Asshur or Asura. I pronounce it Sue-RAW-zee-us and it sounds similar to the name of one of my favorite wizards, Meroveus.

  2. Koreen

    Yup, I too write under a pen name, but for a different reason. My last legal (married name) is Gonzales. Many people have a very real reaction to ethnicities (some good and some bad). Since I’m not personally Hispanic, I decided to write under a family name. This alleviates some of the confusion and still keeps me in the family. 🙂

  3. Marianne

    I was going to use my mother’s maiden name: Higgenbotham but my friends started calling me Higgie Bottom and it ruined it for me. I really just identify as Marianne but Cher and Madonna have the market on first name identities…

  4. I kept my maiden name. And it’s Shirtliffe. Try spelling it on the phone, where “f” can sound like “s”, or try forgetting the “r”. Still, I love it. It’s unique…and it’s me. So I publish under it. And as a poet once told me, my name (Leanne Shirtliffe) can easily adapt to Lean and Shuttle on Life. So I keep it, and publish (rarely!) under it.

    But I get why people use pen names. I’m just not that organized.

  5. I used a sort of pseudonym. Everyone I currently know calls me by my first name but I use a variation of my middle name for writing. It was a name I used in highschool as my stepsister and I had the same first name and phone calls became confusing. My last name is the same.

  6. For me, I like to keep it super simple. First initial. Last name. B. Jas

  7. I thought about using a pen name…mainly because there are certain jerks, er, people from my past I rather not run into again. But with Facebook, Twitter, the internet and possible hidden cameras in my closet, they’ve probably already found me. 😉

  8. I haven’t published much yet, but since my focus is YA, when I sold a “grown-up” story, I used my initials & last name rather than my full name. It probably doesn’t matter at this point in my so-called career, but still, I’d probably do the same thing for non-YA stuff in the future.

  9. So I’m not the only one considering this pen name thing. At my somewhat over the hill age I’ve lived through a family tragedy, divorce, crazy relatives, being a single parent etc etc while keeping body and soul together, Writing about some of this might be really good for me but I’m leery of spilling the beans too much and hurting someone, myself included. So this is when the creative flair comes in and the necessary alterations smooth the way. You’ve got me thinking.

    • Lori Dyan

      I write with a pen name, mostly because my married name is crazy hard to pronounce/spell/remember, but also to keep a bit of a buffer between the subjects I’m writing about and the general public…and it is liberating!

  10. Heldie Smith

    If and when I ever have my work published, I plan to write under a pen name. Not because I fear criticism or judgment, but because I value my anonymity.

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