We name the world around us. As children we name our toys and imaginary playmates. As gamers and internet users we name our accounts and individual avatars. As writers we agonize over the name of each character.
It’s no wonder so many writers give themselves a name. I liked the idea so much I gave myself two—a different identity for different genres and points of view. My guess is that a good portion of the readers here use one as well.
There’s a lot of reasons to rename yourself. For Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights he imagines seeing his name in big neon lights—perhaps no different than many of us picturing our name on the cover of a book. “I want a name, I want it so it can cut glass, y’know, razor sharp.” Razor sharp. Or maybe we just want something more arresting—simplified if we have long names, more floral if your real name is too common; dark, mysterious, comedic…unique.
Some may hide behind a pen name to protect their real identity or their professional career. Others may want to create different names for different genres—it might be prudent for a writer of erotica to create a pen name for their foray into children’s lit. Stephen King came up with Richard Bachman so that he could publish more than one novel a year, and his son—Joe Hill—turned away from his celebrated family name so that he could work and succeed on his own merits.
Creating a pen name allows us to create a new identity, a new character that may or may not look like us, live where we do, or do what we do. It’s a new layer, a new story to tell.
It might also be a new complication.
As a writer, artist, or creative professional in any medium, your promotional efforts are your own blood, sweat and tears. In this highly-connected world we live in, one of the truest paths toward successful self promotion is through social media channels. Attempting to create a name for yourself that is not your own poses many problems. Suddenly, you have an identity that is not you—at least not directly – and if you’re already active in these circles you need to start making choices. Do you create a new Twitter handle or Facebook account? Do you keep the pen names quiet? Tie them to your real name? If you’re already promoting yourself through a blog, do you want to set up another site for your pseudonym?
What about conventions and other “real world” events? Will you answer when that pen name is called out? Are you ready to sign that made-up name when people ask for your autograph? Are you robbing them of an opportunity to meet the real writer behind the words?
You also can’t sign contracts with a fake name. If your goal is anonymity you will need to seek out legal advice to somehow prepare this aspect before you’re confronted with a sale (which leads to contracts, which leads to exposing your real name to the editor and publisher).
If you’re highly inventive about your pseudonym’s life and experiences be prepared for some backlash. It’s very possible you can create confusion by the story you tell about your fake identity, and you may turn readers—or worse, editors and publishers—off with your fake personality.
These are all manageable concerns, but I suspect most of us spend more time thinking about what the name should be than how having one will affect your career. Don’t ignore this aspect—it’s possibly the most important consideration.
I recently made the decision to switch away from my pen names and publish under my own. A number of factors played into this: not giving each identity enough promotional time; seeing that publishing credits for one name meant very little for the other; realizing that most of my connections on Facebook (with my real name) had no knowledge of my pseudonyms; and not knowing if I should tie my personal artistic efforts to a pen name or the real one.
But it took another artist to laugh at my assorted names for it to really click—I was not doing myself any favors. He also pointed out that my real name was infinitely more memorable than the others. I can’t argue with that. In the end, isn’t that what really matters?
Hello, my name is Bear. Who are you?