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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Choosing a pen name

   
Author Topic: Choosing a pen name
MartinV
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Time for another self-centered thread.

In 2012 I will start to put out my stories indie style. My English has finally reached a level where I'm comfortable publishing in it. Choosing a pen name is a question that's been pestering me (and I've been pestering others about it in return) for a while and now it's high time to decide about it.

Is my Slavic last name going to be off-putting in US, Canada and Britain's literary market? I still remember movies and series where Americans always butcher Slavic last names. I know it's done without malice (usually) but I really don't want to end up being VOPEK again like I was in Ireland back in 1999. Sometimes I didn't even know people were talking to me. If I happen to make it in this business, it could get tiresome being called something weird.

Of course, I could experience the opposite effect. Could it be I will get extra points because people can't pronounce my last name easily? If so, would a Westernized pen name be a solution or would I lose that special something?

Two months after graduating, I'm toying with the idea of continuing my education to getting a PhD. This means writing articles, preferably with my real name. Would it make sense to use a pen name for my fiction?

Any thoughts you'd like to share, send them my way.

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Merlion-Emrys
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To me, this is a much more personal than technical or professional issue. I don't see it making a huge amount of practical difference...there are plenty of authors with "unusual" last names (Christopher Paolini springs to mind, and apparently there's always been issues over the pronunciation of LeGuin.)

For myself, I can't imagine using anything but my actual/legal name (or some version of Merlion and/or Emrys, names I've been using for so long I identify with them almost as strongly as my birth name.) If you're really bugged by people mispronouncing your last name, then you might consider something else. However, it won't necessarily be a guarantee, unless you go with "Smith" or "Johnson" or something that people will actually get it right.

Also, just for myself (though I'm sure I'm not the only English-speaker with this taste) I have a fondness for Slavic language, names, culture and people so such a name would quite possibly catch my personal eye.

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MAP
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I don't see a Slavic last name being off putting for a US audiences. Really we are such a melting pot over here that a Slavic last name isn't really noticed.

But I'm sure the pronunciation will be butchered. So if that really bothers you, it is something to consider.

As for the science thing. I have a Ph.D. in biochemistry and some publications in scientific journals. I used my real name there, obviously, and I plan to use my real name if I publish any of my creative works.

I really don't see how the two would interfer with each other. If someone is looking for my scientific work for any reason, they would type my name in pubmed or some other scientific citation search engine, and if someone was looking for my novels they would google it or look on amazon. I really don't see how using the same name for my scientific career and my writing career would be a problem. JMO, you may feel differently.

Good luck!

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LDWriter2
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As stated I don't think your last name will harm sells in the US but would the opposite happen? Could story-novel sells make anyone reading your science writings by prejudice against you? I have no idea. I do know there are scientists who write SF, some quite well known. So I would think it wouldn't make a difference either way.
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enigmaticuser
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I'm in the opposite boat Jesse Clark looks like a boring name to me, so I'm going with j.s. clark. So to me having an exciting name (foreign names in my opinion seem very exciting to me, much like an accent), that would be a desirable quality I think.

As for pronunciation, you might have some but it would seem you would develop that crowd that feels special because they do know how it's pronounced, and then you'll have this cult going around saying "that's not how it's pronounced!" And then of course you'll be responsible for blood feuds like macintosh vs. pc users.

But i could live with that.

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SuziQ
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I don't mind foreign author names...as someone above said, sometimes that draws me in as they sometimes have interestingly different views on things.

I have a similar question, but in my case, there's an actress in the US with my real name...so I'm toying with a pen name to differentiate. Opinions on that? I already get questions about the Susan Sullivan from tv just in my daily life.

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Robert Nowall
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My real name---and what you see me posting under is my real name---is different enough to be memorable, and, except for one reference to some property transfer in the 18th century, every online mention of it is also me. (I also know, or know of, everybody in the US who bears the name---they're all relations, far as I can tell.) So, with the exception of an attempt at a Harlequin Romance where a girl's name is required, I've never put a pen name on anything.

That being said...in my early writing days, I had several possibilities picked out. But I never got a chance to use them. I may yet.

*****

I'm not intimidated by a long and ethnic name on a book---though there are some that produce a smile or a chuckle. (There's a writer out there with an Italian name which always reminds me of a character from "Abbott & Costello"...)

*****

As for pronouncing names...if you try to pronounce my last name by the way it's spelled, chances are, you're wrong. I'm more tolerant of that, these days. (I remain intolerant of misspellings---I once missed a whole semester of gym class because someone spelled my name with a "K"---and how the hell was I to know that "B. Knorwall" was supposed to be me?)

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Lloyd Tackitt
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Depends on the genre you will write in. In some genres it will not matter. In others, it will. In Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Literature - it won't matter. In Romance, Mystery or Westerns it will definitely matter. In Action or Thriller it might or might not. In Political it will.

You also should consider whether this country will be your only audience - a book that does well here under a pen name might do better overseas under your real name or a different pen name.

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LeetahWest
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I am not opposed to acknowledging that I cannot pronounce a name. When reading, I don't have to say it aloud, so if I really can't wrap my tongue around it, no problem.

What name you pick isn't really the concern, creating "name recognition" is the concern. You don't want to have a name that would be easily overlooked or mistaken for others. You want your name to recognizable. You want people to say, "J.K. . . . J.K. . . ." and be able to have someone else finish "Rowling."

If I ever decided to self publish, I would probably use a pen name, and maybe for various other reasons or situations that are neither here nor there at the moment. If I did that I would use Leetah West (or possibly Leetah East), as it has been my screen name for a long while now and I have plenty or friends and associates who only know me by this name. But for now I plan on using my real name, Candiss West, as its spelling is not common. That would give me something to be remembered by.

Those are my thoughts [Big Grin]

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SuziQ
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I really like Candiss West. Very normal and unusual all at the same time.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Ever heard of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky?

They were highly acclaimed as science fiction writers, and, so far as I know, no one worried about whether they pronounced their names correctly.

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MartinV
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OK, you win! I'll publish with my real name! God, you people just don't let up, do you?

[Wink]

Thank you for your thoughts. I'm not sure I would be comfortable with someone else's name written all over my stories, even if it's a name I picked. So I'm sticking with my maiden name, so to speak.

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LDWriter2
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Even after that decision you and anyone else might be interested in this blog post and discussion over at Dean Wesley Smith's blog

http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=6287#comments

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MartinV
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Saw it, read it, loved it. [Big Grin]
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Robert Nowall
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Dean Wesley Smith's blog post touched on one facet of pen names that's always bothered me. I gather some writers, when their sales go into a terminal decline, change their names and start up as a new writer.

It's not a problem I've faced, obviously. But it bothers me to find out a writer I like, whose work disappeared from the racks, is now writing something under another name. With some of these I've found them and their new names and continued on, at least for a while...others just plain disappeared, leaving me wondering whether they pulled this stunt or just stopped. And there are lots of writers whose work I liked and I'd still like to see, who just aren't visible to me anymore.

I can't even say if it's a bad practice...but what's a reader to do?

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GreatNovus
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Jean-Claude Johnson, Alimoney Jones, Lincoln Washington, Stephanie Queen, Butch McCloud, Timothy Gonzales, Alibaster Smith...

Nevermind all those suck. >_>;;

Going with your real name isn't a bad thing, but there is no reason why you can't use a pen name for your first work and start using your real name once you know you've find your niche in the writing world.

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micmcd
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I raised this issue in a thread about a year ago. Using your birth name would (outside of political and romance writing) never be a big deal as far as turning people off - at least not in America. We deal with foreign names all the time, and you're talking about a subgroup that is used to watching Klingons, Elves, and Dhovakin. We assume that we're getting the pronunciation wrong.

The issue you may or may not want to consider is people's unconscious tendencies - why we drift to one book on a shelf rather than another, knowing the exact same amount about both. Color of the cover can have an effect, as can a name. It's not that the name has to be common in the country of the bookstore for it to stand out, but if your name was Njilsf Jacovsjonoccik, you might want to make it more "mentally pronounceable," not for an issue of actual discrimination, but people might grab the book on the shelf above yours without knowing why.

I went over this with my wife when she was kind enough to point out that my last name isn't cool (she took it when we married, so she's not being mean). The psychology of branding and consumerism is quite interesting (like why every supermarket in this country has fresh produce on the right, just by the entrance).

Ultimately I went with my real name rather than a cooler-sounding pen name for vanity reasons. I always wanted to see a book with my name on it on a shelf in a bookstore.

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MartinV
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quote:
Originally posted by micmcd:
Ultimately I went with my real name rather than a cooler-sounding pen name for vanity reasons. I always wanted to see a book with my name on it on a shelf in a bookstore.

I already had that moment; my vanity has been sated. I'm free to use pen names now. [Wink]
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Treamayne
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What really bothers me about the whole "publishing" thing is the branding. I love to write and tell stories, but I don't like advertising myself. I don't have bumper stickers (it's nobody's business what I like or don't and I see no reason to advertise my preferences), I don't have a facebook page, and if I have a profile on a forum, it's generally very generic. I don't use my real name for anything on the internet where I can avoid it.

I plan to use a Pen name if/when I get published. But I don't really want that linked to my real name at all (if possible). To me, that persona is independant of everything else. I am generally very secretive about myself in general.

In these times, I don't know if I can really expect to not have aspects of my personal life put on the public stage if I have any kind of success though.

And, yes, A. Treamayne is the Pen Name I've used so far (though I've only posting things online and a few contests).

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MartinV
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Nothing wrong with that. I'm not particularly fond of social networks myself. I do have a Facebook page but I visit it once a week. I do use my real name most of the time, at least on forums such as this. I keep changing my mind but I think I will go with my real name when I publish.
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EVOC
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I've never really understood using a pen name. It just doesn't seem to be needed. Of course it could just be I haven't found a reason to use one. And if I find a reason to use one, I will deny I ever said I didn't understand them. [Smile]
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LDWriter2
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As a writer we can do it anyway we want. I know of one writer who had a different pen name for every series he did. I don't know why.

I just found out a series I like was written under a pen name, the writer just started another one with another name. It could be his real name. I found out because that's on the cover of his new book.


I use one because I thought it sounded cool at the time. I may change it though because lately so many people have copied me. [Smile]

I use a different tougher sounding name for my westerns and if I ever did a romance I would use yet another one.

Isaac Asimov is known for using his real name for everything including mysteries and other genre but he used a pen name when he originally wrote a YA series. When it was reprinted he used his real name.

For me it just seems like the thing to do but as I said each writer is different.

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