A name can be a tricky thing. It is you—at least the you that anyone will take with them. A name is the first thing someone learns about you. It’s the thing they try to remember as you jib-jab small talk—not many other details will stick (unless you have a dog with you…and then they will only ever remember your dog’s name for the rest of time).
Names are an identifier, albeit not a very good one. Look at how many James Smiths there are in the world (over 35k said one ancestry census). There is a good chance you are walking around with hundreds or thousands of people with your exact name. There are not a whole heckuva lot of people with my first/last name combination, but there is one particularly famous one—that’s where my current problem lies.
I think I need a pen name.
I don’t want one. I spent a long time thinking I didn’t need one. However, after a few years of moving my name around, trying my middle initial, and a few other ways to get around this famous person’s name on the internet, I have not gotten very far in establishing myself and popping this person’s bubble on Google. Now, my long-time internet ‘handle’ has its own life on the web. I’ve had it for twenty years. Exiled Replicant is singular and can easily be remembered and found. But I can’t necessarily publish books as “The Exiled Replicant.” I suppose I could, but wow, would that be pretentious.
I googled pen name generators and anagrams of my sobriquet. Still, it’s way too long to come up with anything resembling catchy by using those ordinary devices. Eventually, I came up with some possibilities and felt a new life forming. I got excited. (oo) I said to myself, thinking about the personification of the new life I’d created. Not a character, but a new me. Maybe, even possibly, a name I would have to stick with for the rest of my career (if by some miracle you ever sell something and become known by any small group of readers).
How do you choose?!
There’s also the small notion of having to change everything you’ve ever worked on up until this point to now be that new name. What are the easiest and choicest steps to changing your social handles, website addresses, and bylines on everything possible to erase your retired persona? Do you keep more than one nom de plume at hand for a time you need to incinerate some other version of yourself that you no longer feel you can encapsulate?
When it comes down to brass tax, the questions become: do I decide to juggle multiple names, Twitter handles, and websites for different components of my writing career? Stick with the one I already have and just deal with being on page nine of the world wide web unless I can surpass a famous musician? Or create one new name, one time, and just continue along my course, as myself personality-wise, with a new name?
How many of you know Anne Rice or C.S. Lewis’ real names? Kirk Douglas or Elton John’s? How long ahead of their career did they decide? Were they well on their way before they got the full agent “turnaround,” or were they smart enough to do it from the get-go? The only one I can think of was when I saw early acting videos of Willem Dafoe pronouncing his name differently. Everyone else seems to have quickly swept their old selves under the rug.
How many of you have gone with a pen name? And if so, did you always have that name from the beginning or have to choose your own path later on?
2 thoughts on “What’s In A (pen)Name?”
I’m actually the reverse. Growing up in Malaysia, where your typical Western name isn’t as common, I think it’s gotten me through the door for most of my writing writing gigs, lol. I might consider a pen name if I wanted to try writing outside my genre though!
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Thats great! It is amazing how a name can drown you in an ocean or pull you out of the muck depending on so many factors. Location, culture, trends, etc.