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9 Ways to Choose a Pen Name

Updated: Nov 5, 2021

(AKA, pseudonym, nom de plume, alias, sobriquet, allonym, nom de guerre)

Ready to publish?

The time is upon you, the question is nigh. You must decide what the world will call you. No pressure...but it sort of has to be perfect. How do you choose the new you?

First of all, decide if a pen name is necessary.

Are you writing an exposé non-fiction memoir that will reveal all the skeletons of your past (and the fact that your grandmother once made out with a scarecrow after sipping on Aunt Jess's homemade moonshine?) If so, you may need to retitle yourself. Or find a new family.

Then, there is the possibility of facing intense scrutiny.

Before you publish, you need to decide if you can handle internet trolls, potential doxing, or the likelihood an ex will see themselves vilified in your work (making the 'people and places in this work are fictional' disclaimer entirely untrue). If water rolls off your back like a duck in a rainstorm, Congratulations! You can stay you. Or, if you spend seven years hemming and hawing and then get published and still don't have a name chosen, you can also be you.

However, if you prefer to keep your writing life different from your PTA soccer parent existence (think *erotica*), you may want to consider a pseudonym. Here are NINE tried and true techniques when it comes to making this choice:

1. Initials - example: A.B. Cee. This non-gendered version is very popular. Especially in genres where male authors tend to be more widely sold and make more money. (So, pretty much everywhere.) The technique is easy, take the first letter of your first few names and add a period. For a final flourish, stick on your last name. #genderequality #equalpayforall

2. Former Names - example: Betty VonMaiden Name. This works really well if you took on your partner's last name but you want all those people from high school (and that jerk middle school teacher who said you couldn't write the alphabet if it wasn't posted on the wall) to see that you are published. I would not recommend this to anybody on the lam or in witness protection.

3. Nicknames or Variations of Your Name - example: Bitsy Droopydrawers. Think of what people have called you over the years that didn't make you sad. It could be a common derivative or something that your 'fun' uncle called you in your potty training years. Whatever it is, make it match your genre, if possible.

4. Middle Name - example: Lee Surname. I chose Lee because that seems to be everybody's middle name. That, or Kay. Oftentimes Rose or Marie. Occasionally, James. On the plus side, if you were a very naughty child, it will be familiar to you when people call it out at book signings.

5. Bookstore Shelf Reference - example: J.R.R. Rollings. Next time you are at a library or bookstore, scan the shelves in your genre. Find out which authors are selling the most (look for names with multiple titles), then pick a name that would be shelved right next to it. That way, when someone runs their fingers along the spine, they may stop on you.

6. Borrow from Others - example: Scarlett Vader Bennet. We all love a good story. I mean, we are writers, story is what we do. Therefore, we all have characters that stick with us. That we strive to be more like. Use them as a muse for your name (and persona). In my mind, Scarlett Vader Bennet is a badass antihero who doesn't give a damn what others think as she laughs and slashes her way through life in a walking dress wielding a reticule, hoop skirts, and a laser sword. Be a Scarlett Vader Bennet. Or a Legolas Ponyboy Darcy. Or a Dorothy Desdemona Potter.

7. Numerology - example: Kiara Gibbous. To figure this one out, simply find the numerological value of each of the letters of your chosen name, add them together, add those two digits, and voilà, you have a sum attached to certain positive traits. Mix letters together to find a name or figure out which traits you want and reverse engineer the whole dang thing. If that is confusing (and I mean, why WOULD it be?), quietly investigate the placement of the moon at the minute of your birth (or the moment you typed the words, THE END), and go from there. It is possible this may take some time, research, and a bunch of caffeine. Try out this site to see how you did:

8. Names in a Hat - example: Luna Love Firetruck. This is for those adventure writers and those with nerves of steel. Simply drop a bunch of random names, nouns, or ideals into a hat over a defined period of time. When the day arrives, pick your name from the hat and live with the consequences.

9. Poll Your Friends/Family - example: Harry Futt Buckley. This is perhaps the most dangerous method of all. Just ask people via poll, post, or party, what they think your pen name should be. This works similarly whether the people polled are drunk, high, or sober and whether or not they have hours to think of a response or mere seconds. *Warning! - even though they love you, they might not always have your best interests at heart. *Double Warning! - if you decide to go with your sister-in-law's suggestion but laugh at your mother's, things can go downhill fast. Think of an exit strategy. Use it. Quickly. When in doubt, feign a conference on the other side of the country.

Whatever you end up choosing, own it. After all, you've earned it!


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