How to Choose a Pen Name

Shot answer: I have no idea.

I know I need one, that’s for sure. I need one soon, and I have no idea how to choose/create it. Needless to say, this is unsettling.

Why do I need a pen name? Technically, I don’t. My name is good enough. My maiden name didn’t suit my first name at all, but that’s another story. But since I want to write in English (I do! I promise!) I need something (hypothetical) English-speakers can spell and pronounce.

But that’s not all. I also want something gender neutral. And culture (ethnicity? race?) neutral. I am honestly not sure if it’s even possible to create such a pen name.

To be honest, I don’t need it at the moment. But I guess I need some time to get used to it, so it’s better to create it now so I could be comfortable with it after a while. I’m one of those people who believe a name is just a marker; it doesn’t really mean anything. It’s not who I really am. But then again I can’t imagine my novel published under name “Jane Smith”.

At least I know what I’ll do with my NaNo novel. I will order a proof copy and I need a name for the cover, so I guess I’ll use an alias I am already comfortable with. This one. Jefflion. I might add some initials in front of it (M, T, or U , or all – M standing for my name, T for my maiden name and U for my last name), but we’ll see.

I guess I’m making this more complicated than it should be. Sure choosing a pen name should be fun, right? Not for me. I have zero ideas. Maybe that’s because I don’t even know what is considered gender (and culture) neutral name? Or becuase I can’t create a “catchy” name? Or both?

15 thoughts on “How to Choose a Pen Name

  1. Erica

    Gosh when I first opened up my website a couple of weeks ago I wanted a pen name so badly but I couldn’t come up with one I liked. I suppose I really should go figure out that now before too many people know me as my real name. *sigh*

  2. Mira

    Protecting your internet privacy is yet another issue. Some people are comfortable with sharing their personal info online, while others don’t even want to reveal their names. Both approaches are ok. Just do what you feel comfortable with.

    As a name, though, Erica is easy to spell and remember, so that shouldn’t be your concern (you don’t need a more sounding pen name).

    Also, internet “pen names” are allowed to be a bit “sillier” than the real pen names writers use to publish their work.

  3. Natasha W

    If you want a gender neutral name don’t choose one that ends with a, y, or e. Those are typically perceived as female names.

    I don’t think you need to worry as much about culture because so many names are cross-cultural.

  4. zek j evets

    I got my pen-name (this handle) by combining my various nicknames and switching around letters.

    A favorite technique for many writers is to rearrange the letters of their actual name into a pen-name that is easy to remember, but still keeps them anonymous.

    For female authors, I know many prefer to do a lot of initials, and keep a random last-name, so that no one will guess what gender they are (which sadly can influence how people perceive their work).

    Just play around with names you like, and eventually you’ll come up with something!

  5. Mira

    Natasha,

    I don’t think you need to worry as much about culture because so many names are cross-cultural.

    True, but I don’t know which names are considered cross-cultural. Your name, for example, while clearly feminine, is one of those names. But I have no idea how it is perceived in other cultures (yours, for example).

    Zek,

    To be honest, the initials thing seems good. I’ll probably use it.

    And yes- female name on the cover still matters in terms of the way people perceive your work. Not to mention an “ethnic” name. If you have such a name, you are allowed to write only about your ethnic group (which also becomes your target audience + some outsiders). No thanks.

    A favorite technique for many writers is to rearrange the letters of their actual name into a pen-name

    I know about this, but it’s not my favourite technique. Not sure why. Probably because I don’t want to be limited to certain letters (or nicknames).

    Just play around with names you like, and eventually you’ll come up with something!

    It’s not a problem for me to come up with something I like, or something I can see as MY name (jefflion being one of those things). But the problem is making it appealing enough, and I have no idea how to do that.

    But the more I think about I realize it will probably have to be some combination of “jefflion” letters, or something that looks similar to “jefflion”, only not as silly. I know I just said I don’t prefer this technique, but honestly, it’s the only name I made up I see as “my own” (= representing me). Of course, a potential problem that could arise is separating that (professional) pen name from this blog and my online identity, but I think it’s too early (and downright egoistical) to think about that now. ;)

  6. Eurasian Sensation

    Hmmm… I don’t think there is such a thing as an ethnic-neutral name.
    But what about the surname “Lee”?
    It could be English-origin, but equally could be Korean or Chinese. There might be other names that are also applicable to numerous ethnicities. “Park” is also both English and Korean.

    Then combine that with a first name that is not limited to one gender. You could either try something unusual that is not normally thought of as a typical given name. Like “Brooklyn” or “Ambrosius” for instance. Or alternatively, a shortened form of a first name which could have both female or male derivatives. Examples would be Ash, Kris, Kim, Alex, Lou. Or Toni and Dani? Plus there are names like Kendall, Stacy and Tracy which could go either way.
    Likewise, there are a few French names in which the gender is different to what it is in English. For example – Patrice, Desiree, Nicola, Jean, Dominique, Rene are male in French, but female in English.
    Or you could try something ambiguous like “Zan”.

    Lots of possibilities!

  7. Mira

    .. what about Jeff Lion?

    I thought about it, but it’s not really gender-neutral, and it still seems a bit silly (but in a good way).

    What about the initials? J.F. Lion or something?

    Whatever you do, don’t take “Dr. Greve”. That’s mine!

    Thanks for letting me know. :)

  8. Mira

    EA,

    Actually, I was thinking about Lee, but one prominent character in my epic has the same last name, so I gave up.

    Also, Mike Leigh is one of my favourite directors so the last name (but with different spelling: Lee) sure crossed my mind. But like I said, since one character has the last name Lee (and he’s somewhat of a guy who really kicks ass at what he does, lol), I think it would be cheesy to give myself the same last name.

    Your shortened name examples are good and I might think about them. As for the unusual spelling, I’ll probably won’t use any of that; one of the main reason for pen name is the fact nobody can spell my real name, so whatever I do I want to avoid it with the pen name.

    Patrice, Desiree, Nicola, Jean, Dominique, Rene are male in French, but female in English

    I didn’t know about French, but Nikola is sure a male name in Serbian. in fact, it’s one of the most popular male names (Nikola Tesla, anybody?) and I quite like it.

  9. Serpentus

    I already like your pen name–Mira. In America, people might assume that you’re female because it ends in -a, but the man in your gravatar throws them off.

  10. Mira Post author

    Well, Mira is not really a pen name, it’s an “official” nickname. Like an “official” nickname for Jeffrey is Jeff.

    What do you mean Gary Oldman “throws people off”? How could it be? lol :)

  11. Serpentus

    **What do you mean Gary Oldman “throws people off”? How could it be? lol**

    Imagine a person with a female name like Angelina or Amanda. Now, imagine them with Brad Pitt as their gravatar or any other male actor

  12. Mira Post author

    Oh, I know about the gender confusion. I always seem to choose male avatars. Not sure why. I don’t feel comfortable sharing my own picture, and I don’t feel like putting a celebrity female as my avatar

    So people usually think I’m a guy.

    Not that Gary Oldman is distracting…

    Congratulations! It looks like you’ve won some type of award from NaNoWriMo.

    Anybody who manages to write 50 000 words in a month gets the award. It’s symbolic, but there’s also a real thing: you get one printed copy of your manuscript. I’m still revising my novel, but I’ll sure order my copy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>