What’s In a Name

By Miguelina Perez


A pen name, also known as a pseudonym, is often used by an author for numerous reasons all related to their writing career. Asking members of the Washington Romance Writers how they felt about pen names, I discovered that it was a common interest and concern for many of them, for the following reasons:

  1. Protection of identity
  2. Writing in different genres
  3. Their publisher did not believe their original name sounded marketable enough
  4. Some felt a need to separate personal finances from the earnings of their book sales.

They are joined by the ranks of such writers as Samuel Clemens who wrote as Mark Twain or fantasy writer Charles Dodgson, writing as Lewis Carroll. But I think the most memorable writers were the women who choose a pseudonym, mostly male pen names, in order to ensure that their works were being published and accepted by a male-dominated society―writers like the Bronte sisters or Karen Blixen, who wrote Out of Africa under the pen name Isak Dinesen.

Meredith Bond, author of Magic in the Storm, having a pen name initially had to do with the genre she was writing at the time―Regency romance. Another reason had to do with being a member of her children’s PTA program.

For Alethea Kontis, author of Enchanted, began using a pen name in her early twenties, when she wrote fantasy. The experience was short-lived when a rejection letter from a publisher forced her to go back to using her real name. Her decision to created mixed feelings.

“Having been ‘raised’ this way, it’s really odd for me to be part of the romance genre now, where 80 percent of the writers use pen names, for reasons both valid and romantic,” Kontis said.

According to Kathryn Johnson, author of The Gentleman Poet: A Novel of Love, Danger, and Shakespeare’s The Tempest having not just one but several pen names has been a problem. She began with thinking it was an appropriate thing to do, but then editors insisted that she choose one in order to separate the different genres she was writing in. But if she had to do it all over again she’d have stayed with her given name.

“Once you start splitting yourself up, readers can’t track you. It’s confusing and your body of work seems diluted, difficult to find,” Johnson said.

For author Amanda Brice, author of Pointe of No Return, using a pen name was her husband’s idea. He thought it prudent for her to keep her professional career separate from her writing.

As for author Kelly Maher, writer of erotic fiction, using a pen name was all about separating her day job from her writing career. She felt writing erotic could influence her getting hired down the road. Plus, her brothers married women with the same name as herself, so keeping her real name separate from her writing name have became important.

Listed below are some tips for choosing a pen name:

  • Keep it original.
  • Keep it simple―don’t choose a name that is difficult to pronounce or spell.
  • Make it a memorable one.
  • And finally, make it appropriate to the market you are aiming at.