Friday Fun — Pseudonyms – Yes? No?

Friday Fun is a group post from the writers of the NHWN blog. Each week, we’ll pose and answer a different, get-to-know-us question. We hope you’ll join in by providing your answer in the comments.

QUESTION: What are your thoughts about using a pseudonym, or maybe just your initials and last name (to conceal gender), or perhaps a variation of your legal name (e.g., first and middle, no last)? 

LisaJJackson_2014Lisa J. Jackson: I have 2 pseudonyms – 1 for most fiction and 1 specifically for romance. The first was a necessity, as there is a prolific author already filling books shelves with novels as “Lisa Jackson”. So I needed a name for my fiction and have gone with retaining my first name, but using a family last name: Lisa Haselton. (It’s funny that I do double-takes when I see my real name on a book spine or cover even though it’s not me!)

The other pseudonym is for romance writing and it’s simply a first and last name combination that I like.

My real name is for non-fiction and business writing.

Having 3 identities works well for me. Using a pseudonym is a personal choice, as is deciding on a name or using initials or using gender-neutral names. Using multiple pseudonyms is a balancing act!

SuddenlyJamie AvatarJamie Wallace: This is a complicated one for me. I began my public writing life by basically live-blogging my divorce (not really “on purpose” … it just kind of happened). At that time, I was – for obvious reasons – conflicted about my name. (Wallace is my married name.) During those first years, I used my middle name and blogged as “Jamie Lee,” a moniker that always made me think of a southern belle and gave me an urge to take on an appropriately twangy drawl.

As I thought about this question, I considered the reasons authors use pseudonyms:  to conceal gender, to hide identity all together, to protect the innocent, to avoid a life of celebrity (we should be so lucky), to be “allowed” to write across genres, or for marketing cache. Most of these reasons get my hackles up.

Though I understand the perceived necessity, it irks me that any writer would feel compelled to conceal her name in order to become more marketable to a broader audience. I find it disheartening that, in this day and age, many women feel (with good reason) that a male or gender-neutral pseudonym will help them win more sales. Are readers still biased against women being able to write certain kinds of books?

I’m also not crazy about authors having to adopt pen names in order to write across genres. I just read a fascinating article in which Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro discuss Breaking the Boundaries Between Fantasy and Literary Fiction. They explain how genre is primarily a function of book selling, a consistent and universal way for book sellers to organize and categorize their wares. They also note that this is a fairly recent development in the writing world. As Gaiman says in the article, ” I think if you were a novelist writing in 1920 or 1930, you would simply be perceived as having written another novel. When Dickens published A Christmas Carol nobody went, ‘Ah, this respectable social novelist has suddenly become a fantasy novelist: look, there are ghosts and magic.'”

It’s an interesting quandary, one I’m not yet able to solve. We’ll see what the future brings for me. 😉

wendy-shotWendy Thomas: I’ve written and thought about this before. I have no problem using my “real” name. I never took my husband’s full last name but in a nod to convention (sort of) I did take his last initial as my second middle name, so legally I’m Wendy Ellen N. Thomas.

I’m not into pseudo-names as I have no problem with everyone associating my work to me. HOWEVER, I have always disliked my name and felt that it never fit me. I’ve never been a “Wendy” and I don’t even think about “Ellen” unless I see it on legal papers. Who the heck is that??? (and yes, I realize how psycho that all sounds.)

What I like (and am still looking for a good one) is a variation on my name. W.E.N. Thomas? Wendy EN Thomas? I’ve even played around with W. Edgar Thomas – because my middle name was *supposed* to be Edgar (after my father’s name) had I been a boy. That would certainly turn a few heads.

photo by M. Shafer

photo by M. Shafer

Deborah Lee Luskin – the only name I’ve ever had, though not the only name I ever used. As I child I was Debbie and as a teen Debi, but I reverted to Deborah as an adult. I did consider publishing as D.L. Luskin for the obvious reasons, but having to hide who I am made me too mad. Then, as I started amassing degrees (and I have a lot of them, starting with one from – I kid you not – Nursery School – right through two Masters and a PhD) and hanging them on the wall, I noticed they all had one thing in common: my full, legal name. So that’s what I use.

23 thoughts on “Friday Fun — Pseudonyms – Yes? No?

  1. Tricky deal. The answer may vary on the person and their situation personally and professionally. Names can be limiting in reader’s minds, but hey, it is your name and you should be able to cross genre without people snubbing you…but you know how it is…we won’t even bring up stalkers, irate family, bosses…..
    Interesting post

  2. I ran into this difficulty when I had my first book published. It was the story of my father’s life (Conversations with my Father: Jack Kyle) I wanted to have the Kyle in there as it felt right with it having been my maiden name and my dad’s name, but I also wanted to use my married name. So I ended up going for Justine Kyle McGrath which I felt was a bit much but seemed the only way to get what I wanted! In future I would just like to stick to Justine McGrath! (although I could also use my real first name Scarlett….or is it?!)

  3. I’m really glad you talked about this topic, because it’s exactly the pickle I’m in right now, so thank you! I especially like what was said about genre-hopping. I like writing across genres – my first two novels are worlds apart from each other – but I was told by multiple people that I will need a pseudonym because an author’s name is their “brand.” People associate that name with a certain type of book, and if that type changes, then building an audience will be hard. You could alienate former fans or have trouble bringing in new ones who associate you with something else. I found that so disheartening! I had always assumed that more genres meant more readers. And if you write under Name A for one book, then Name B for another book, won’t your Name A fans wonder where you disappeared to? None of this is a problem if someone WANTS a pseudonym, but I personally would prefer having all my work “in one place” so to speak. If someone enjoys my writing and wants to look up what else I’ve done, I want them to be able to find it.

  4. I have thought about using a pseudonym but mostly for the fun of using a pseudonym. I made up two a few years ago when I started blogging but I only used them for a week because my friends who also had started blogging were confused and didn’t know it was me writing. I dropped the pseudonyms but I still think of those personas with some pride. Recently, after I made a production plan for the first book I intend to publish in December, I Googled my name and searched for it on Goodreads and Amazon so that I could confirm whether or not there was another author with my name. When I confirmed that there is not an author with my name already I felt relief so I am firmly leaning towards using my real name on all my writing.

  5. I do use a pseudonym for all of my creative work, and that’s because I already was writing articles and blogging using my real name for my professional life as a consultant and facilitator in the corporate world. I sometimes blog poetry that makes fun of corporate jargon or write about things that would be considered ‘woo-woo, away with the fairies’ by my clients, so I choose to preserve my anonymity. Perhaps if I start publishing my work with some modicum of success and no longer have to do this kind of work to make ends meet (yeah, right!) I might go back to my ‘real’ name. Which, just to make matters more complicated – is rather difficult for English speakers to pronounce.

  6. I blog with a pseudonym and wrote about the reason. In a nutshell my real name doesn’t let my inner self create the way my pseudonym does. Also Because I sometimes blog about my family, I wanted to protect their identities in cyberspace (which is an illusion, I know).

  7. I admit that Anne Hagan is a pseudonym. I use it to protect the innocent, the not so innocent and to appease my government employer. On my actual Facebook account for example though, I am myself (I have an Anne Hagan fan page). I don’t hide there and refer to my alter ego when referring to my books and participating in groups. It works for me, for now.

    Someday, if I can be supported by my writing, perhaps I’ll use my real name. But, then again, there’s still that ‘protecting the innocent’ thing. Some things that happen are just too interesting not to use in a story!

  8. I just started thinking seriously of how I wanted my name to appear on books. I spent days writing my name out in different ways to find what I like. I ended up deciding on S.R. Barton. It is not just a nod to those I consider my inspiration in the writing world, but for some reason i do not like how my name (Shannon) looks spread out since it is much longer than my last name. I felt a lack of flow. In choosing the presentation I did, who I am is still represented in a way I like.

  9. I don’t know that this applies to me. I don’t have any reason to hide my real identity. ALL of my friends call me Chris. However, there are lots of people named Chris. I have resorted to using my complete first name-Christine on my breast cancer memoir to make it easier for people to identify with me since ‘Chris’ is a gender-neutral name.

  10. I am glad to have come across this discussion because using a pseudonym has always been an idea I’ve entertained but never truly committed to. Although I like the freedom it offers, I don’t feel like “me” when I use one.

  11. All of my publications are as Miriam Kalman Harris–my first married name. I regret not just using Miriam Kalman on all publications just because that’s the name that never changes. I used the first married name to honor my children. I changed my last name, legally, when I married my high school sweetheart 10 years ago–because we felt it aways should have been . . . But when I publish my next book, it will be as Miriam Kalman–to honor myself and to preserve the identity I will always have.

  12. Back before I fled South to live on my armed compound, the 25th High School Reunion got out of control. By the end of the week, a couple of us put together some filthy parody jams of pop and hard rock songs and posted up on YouTube. We used stage names that were parodies of identifiable public persons.

    We found out the hard way that Pseudonyms don’t help much when you violate copyright laws through unlicensed derivative use. Or mock people with an image to uphold. We took that down real quick and avoided further legal troubles. Probably helped that we had minimal views. Possibly just us and some lawyers.

    Another word of caution is to be real careful when writing ABOUT someone else in fictional circumstances. Good discussion below.

    http://www.rightsofwriters.com/2010/12/could-i-be-liable-for-libel-in-fiction.html

    Just passing on a word from bitter experience!

  13. Reblogged this on Ms M's Bookshelf and commented:
    This is a blog written by a group of New Hampshire writers I’ve been following for awhile now. They always have great advice for writers and leave you with something to think about. I really enjoy them and I hope you’ll enjoy them, too, on my Sunday Reblog!

  14. Really interesting. I think I need a pseudonym as I honestly believe my real name is not suited to my writing. But then again, my writing should define me, not my name. I did try it for a bit, even starting another blog with another name. I suppose it’s all very personal to each individual. Fascinating stuff, nonetheless.

  15. Interesting to learn the hows and whys about what we choose as a name to represent us. To Deborah: I too am Deborah, a name which was only spoken to me by my mother when she was angry; it had an ominous tone to it, thus I always hated it. I’m Debby with a ‘Y’. Because I write memoir/nonfiction I was more comfortable with a ‘sort of’ pen name. D.G. my initials – first and married surname, plus Kaye was lengthened from the initial ‘K’ from my maiden name. Isn’t that a mouthful? 🙂

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