Thursday, March 17, 2011

Choosing a Name for Yourself

Names are hard to choose. When my children were born, I agonized over choosing names for them. With my son, we were literally going in the door to delivery, when my husband said, "Okay, we'll agree on Scott, right?" I shrugged, facillating till the end, and he said, "Right! Scott it is." And so, we named him Scott. It's a nice name, but I'm still not sure that was the name I truly wanted. It's like the grass is always greener--maybe that perfect name is out there somewhere, just waiting to be discovered...

Later when I became a grandmother, there was this big decision to make. What will the baby call me? Now for those of you who are grandmothers, you'll understand that this is a very big deal. This child is very beloved to you--okay, I'm totally ape-crap crazy over mine--so what he or she calls you is momentous.

I saw Paula Dean on TV yesterday--love her--and she said that her son wanted their baby to call her "Big Mama." She looked her son dead in the eye and said, "If you teach that child to call me 'Big Mama' then your big ass is out of the will." He settled for "Granny" which Paula said is fine if you're 80 or 90 years old, (I so agree) but in the end the baby couldn't say it and wound up calling her "Genny." Cute.

I wanted "Mimi" because I had a friend whose Mama called herself that, and I loved it, and because it's as close to "Mommy" as my daughter would allow. I still love it.

But what about a pen name? Do you have one? (aka nom de plume, pseudonym, literary double) According to Wikipedia, these names are taken for a variety of reasons--"A pen name may be used to make the author's name more distinctive, to disguise his or her gender, to distance an author from some or all of his or her works, to protect the author from retribution for his or her writings, or for any of a number of reasons related to the marketing or aesthetic presentation of the work. The author's name may be known only to the publisher, or may come to be common knowledge."

The most interesting reason listed above, to me, is retribution. Really? I guess if I were writing about the Ayatollah Khomeini, or the Taliban, I could at least understand the need for some discretion. I might even have reason to fear retribution, but surely my little sweet romance stories are not cause for such alarm. Or are they?

In today's society, it seems more and more easy to offend someone, somewhere, no matter what you do or say. Don't believe me? Try putting an amusing, but somewhat liberal comment on Facebook--okay, it was amusing to me, and probably more than a little liberal--you will get comments ranging from "I am surprised at your comment" to "How could you possibly say something like this??!!" The answer, of course, is that it seemed obvious to me that this is my space, and I can put whatever I darn well please on it. Unfortunately, not always the case.

So I had to think long and hard about using a pen name, for several reasons. I finally chose not to do it, because I love my own name, and I'm proud that I wrote a novel (not everyone can do it, folks) that actually got published, and not just once, but twice! (another one finished and coming out soon, hopefully) Also, there was probably no way in hell I could ever have decided on a name. Now, however, I have to worry a little bit about the fallout. In this age of Facebook and Twitter, everybody knows your business, after all. But for now, I am blissfully basking in the idea of my name actually being on the cover of a book! My name--my real name!

What do you think? Have you chosen to use a pen name for fear of fallout and retribution? Or just wanting the privacy? Shakespeare said "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
Do you agree?


  1. Very good post! My 2 yr old calls my mom Gammy. With my son, we picked his name 11 years ago and kept it. We were watching The Jack Bull with John Cusack and his on-screen son was named Cage. Love it, never thought more about it. And it fits. BTW, I picked a pen name, but my DH wanted me to use my real name so everyone knew I wrote the book! How sweet:)

  2. I have two pen names, because I write two different genres. 'Molly Daniels' is because I have readers as young as 12, and 'Kenzie Michaels' for my more adult content.

    My reasoning at the time was my real last name is hard to pronounce, and back when I was choosing a pen name, I wanted it 'if the book was a bomb, then no one would know it was MINE', hahaha....

    I'm not a grandma, but I do have 'honorary' grandchildren, who call me 'Aunt Molly' or even 'Aunt Mommy'. And my oldest son's BFF calls me 'Mom'; her sister calls me 'Aunt Molly', and so when the baby came along last year, we joked I was now 'Aunt Grandma':) And with my oldest being 19, I hope I still have several years before I'm officially called 'Grandma'!

  3. I write under my maiden name. My parents named me Katherine then called me Kay for my whole life. I have nothing against Katherine Tate or Kay Tate (my married name), but writing as Kay Springsteen is my way of keeping my parents going.

  4. Oh, Kay, that's so sweet. My dad is gone now, too, and my mom is 97 years old, so I know I won't have her all that much longer. I actually thought about using my maiden name--it was a real toss-up! In the end, I decided that I had left that name behind so many years ago (I married first at 18) that it just wasn't me anymore. But I love the idea.
    And Molly, I totally understand the idea of using a different name for young readers. Good idea!

  5. My grandchildren call me gram. Smile. It threw me at first, but it stuck. My sister is called NaNa by her grandchildren.

    I'm thinking of changing my writing name because there is a children's author out there with the very same name. Her books get included with mine all the time.

    Sandra K. Marshall

  6. Sandy, I understand that would be a bummer. Then again, maybe she should change her name, so as not to get mixed up with you! LOL! There's an interior designer with my name, and she comes up a lot on searches. I think if my books get any more erotic, I will have to use a pen name, for sure.

  7. Barbara,

    I think it would be confusing to our readers.

  8. Great article.

    I have written articles under my maiden and married name that go in professional literature. I have picked my pen name for when I do have my novel published. Just to keep the two lives separate and some privacy as well between the two. I did use a nickname and a family name to keep it still part of me.

  9. Great post! I write under a pen name because my day job may be less than accommodating to my genre. But the name has become very much who I am when I'm writing and discussing my books.

    Gabrielle Bisset

  10. I use a pen name because I write stories about the people I knew as a child, recounting the
    sometimes-scandalous and always-entertaining tales of numerous errant cousins, aunts, uncles, and others who passed before me. My writing comes from close to home and some of the people still live,so I don't want anyone to think the writer has betrayed a trust. In fact, no betrayals lie behind my fiction, because most of the stories did not come to me from the person at the core of the tale. I write about the legends found in every family, the truth as someone saw it at some point, embellished by my imagination and interpretation of what must have happened.