I have had a lifelong passion for reading and writing and graduated with a bachelor's in English literature.
Why Use a Pen Name?
Many of our favorite authors write under one pseudonym. They may even use multiple names. There are actually quite a few reasons why an author would choose to use a pen name. Whether you are deciding to become a writer of any sort, or just curious as to why this occurs, here are some of the reasons why writers choose to write under a pen name. If you choose to use a pseudonym yourself, I have also provided ways that you might choose your own, based on how authors in the past have chosen theirs. Once you have chosen a pen name, there are also a few steps you may want to follow to make sure that name is original.
Remember, I am not a legal professional, so it is important to seek advice from a professional on any further questions regarding issues like contracts or copyrights.
Pen Names for Famous Authors
- Pen Names for Famous Authors
Writers have been using pen names for centuries but we readers sometimes forget that. You may be surprised at which famous authors use pen names and why.
Reasons for Using a Pen Name in Writing
- Privacy: Using a different name for writing is one way of simply allowing yourself to have more privacy. Whether an author is writing something controversial or they have a career in government or teaching, using a pen name can enable an author to publish their work while keeping their privacy intact. Sometimes a political stance or belief can endanger a writer's life so a pen name can be useful.
- Genre: Some authors prefer not to be recognized within their genre simply because they do not want everyone to know what they do. This is usually for genres like erotica or politics. Furthermore, some authors may use a pen name because their actual names just don't suit the genre they're writing for. See the YouTube video below for an example of this scenario. Another reason authors choose pseudonyms is because they may branch out to a new genre and what their work in each genre to be considered separately as they try to branch out to a new readership.
- Gender: We might not do it on purpose, but most readers tend to judge an author's name as male or female at first glance. For some readers, the gender of the author may affect their decision to read a book just because they believe only certain genders can/should write within certain genres. Using a pen name that is gender neutral can eliminate this issue completely.
- Sales: An author may choose to use a pen name in their writing because their real name may be too complicated for a reader to remember or pronounce. They may also have a name that's too similar to well known authors and they want to make sure that readers do not associate them with another's work. Even if gender, privacy, or genre isn't a problem, sometimes an author's real name just wouldn't attract as much readership as a pen name might.
- Co-Writers: Some authors co-write and use just one name even though two or more people may have actually written the work.
- Fun: For some writers, writing under a pseudonym is just plain fun. The anonymity gives them freedom of voice and a separation of their work from their personal daily lives.
Why Do Authors Use Pen Names?
How to Choose a Pen Name
If you decide to become a writer, one of the first decisions to make is whether or not you will use a pen name. If you don't already have a name in mind, here are a few tips on how to choose one to help you brainstorm your own pseudonym.
- Identify Your Audience: What genre are you writing under? What age group is your target? Your pen name should reflect the audience you hope to attract to your writing. A good name reflects your brand as an author and your work.
- Check Out Books in Your Genre: Take a peek at some of the top books within your genre, paying particular attention to the authors of those books and their pen names. Are they mostly male or female? Do they tend to use full names or initials? Looking at other pen names authors have used in your genre may help lead you in the right direction for your own pen name.
- Keep it Simple: Make sure that the pen name you choose is not difficult to remember or spell. So many readers use searches on Google or Amazon for their books. You wouldn't want them to be stumped on how to spell it or make it hard to remember.
- Is it Available? Your pen name will be essential in choosing a URL for a site and for reader's searches online. Checking that your name of choice hasn't already been used may help you decide on the best one for future use. You may also want to be sure that there aren't pen names out there that are really similar to the one you are considering.
- Originality: Most importantly, be sure to choose a pen name that is not really similar to any other author or famous person out there. The closer your name is to someone already well known, the more likely that someone would have to sift through many other sites or articles on that other person before being able to find you and your work online.
- Name Generator: Another option is to search for name generators online or peruse baby name sites for ideas. Some of the best pen names to choose are those that are trendy and fit perfectly within your genre. Some name generators enable you to specify culture or gender.
What to Do Once You've Picked a Pen Name
Once you have chosen a pen name, there are a few steps you may want to follow to claim it.
- Research: Besides Google, you may want to check to be sure that the pen name you have chosen is not already taken as a domain or trademarked by someone else. Search for your name (without spaces) and add ".com" to see if the domain is taken. You can search for trademarks here. Try to avoid using the name of a real person or any names similar to famous people.
- Claim the Domain: If it hasn't been taken already, you can go ahead and claim the domain for your pen name if that is what you want to do. This will be essential for branding and advertising yourself via a website if you desire.
- Use It: You and your publisher will be able to distinguish when your pen name is used and when you use your real name. Your name may be on the cover of your works but you may have to use your real name in the copyright, for example.
- Register Your Copyright: This is a step to consult with a legal professional.
Remember, choosing a pen name does not mean that you are completely anonymous with your writing. You are also not creating a secret identity so do not go overboard creating a fake biography to go with your name.
More Tips on How to Choose a Pen Name
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2018 Lisa
goat on March 20, 2019:
i think it was cool i guess
Shalini singh on September 09, 2018:
Thanks Lisa your article was very good and helpful
Larry W Fish from Raleigh on April 12, 2018:
I enjoyed your article, Lisa. I have often know that certain authors use pen names, but I never knew why. You have given me insight as to the reasons. Thanks!
FlourishAnyway from USA on January 22, 2018:
I liked this. Obviously my name isn’t Flourish but I feel like I can be more open when I’m writing about HR or medical topics than if I were to use my real name.