May 29, 2012

How to Choose a Pen Name

In a previous post, I mentioned a few reasons why writing under a pseudonym might be a better option than using your real name.  But how do you choose a pen name?

I'm toying with the idea of dipping my pen into a different color of ink to write fiction - perhaps flash fiction or short stories - but don't want to mix my article writing with other forms.  Writing fiction under the name of an alter-ego will allow more freedom to try various genres (and will also preserve my given name from being further tainted should I totally suck at fiction).

While trying to come up with a name that suits me, several tips came to mind that might be helpful to others trying to decide on a nom de plume.

  • Make a list.  It doesn't matter if it's on the back of an old envelope, or in a text file, but write down every name you like.  Make separate columns for both first and last names that tickle your fancy, then mix and match the names from both columns, using a third column to write down the various combinations of first and last name together.

  • Steal from your kids.  I'm assuming most people like their kids' names because they chose them.  Can you use various forms of their names as first or last names?  My sons first and middle names are Brian Douglas and Paul Daniel.  I could easily use any one of those four names as first or last names, so there are several possibilities right there.  Did you pick out a baby name that you never had the chance to use?  Become that child you never had.  I had names for girls picked out but was blessed with two sons, so I might consider using one of the baby girl names I liked.

  • Think pets, locations, occupations.  If you have pets, you could combine various forms of their names, or use a job title, or even the name of the city or street where you grew up for inspiration.  I lived on Dudley Street for the first 18 years of my life, and Dudley would work as first name for a man, or the last name of either gender.

  • Do you need a sex-change? There is no rule that says if you're a woman that you have to choose a woman's name, and vice versa.  If you want to write a suspense or mystery novel but think it would be easier to market as a man, choose a masculine pen name.  Alternatively, if you're a man who wants to write about relationships or fashion, you might feel more comfortable writing it as a woman.  Of course there's no reason you can't write about anything you'd like as either a man or woman, but for marketing purposes, a nom de plume suited for one gender might work better than the other.  
Using these practices, come up with several of your favorite names, then walk away from it for a while before making the final decision.  There might be a reason one or more of your chosen names wouldn't be suitable after all.  I'll cover that in a later post.


  1. I've used my mother's and grandmother's names as pen names, but that didn't work out so well, because now they are stuck on article sites that are no longer in business, and I can't use them anymore. I like your ideas for using street names. I lived in Lamar street when I was young. That would be a good last name, or if I decided to use a male pseudonym, a good first name. Great ideas here.

  2. These are wonderful tips. I got a chuckle out the "Do you need a sex change?" option. I really could come up with quite a few options from your suggestions. Thanks.

  3. Good ideas. I had a nom de plume when I was kid, though it was only in my head!

  4. That's kind of how I think of myself now. My whole life everybody called me Terry Dillman. Then I went to school and my mother told me I would now be known by my "real" name, Theresa. So family and friends still call me Terry and I've been through a couple of last name changes. Like you, I've toyed with pseudonyms Pen names are fun, even if I never use any of them. Good luck with yours. I like the name you chose for your blog, The Crooked Yarn. I'm sure you can come up with a great pen name. And I think you will do very well with fiction ;)

  5. Genie is my nickname so I use it for publishing online. On Yahoo I write under the name Genie Walker. I'm into genealogy so I picked on of my family names as a last name.

  6. Good points, I use several pseudonyms for my different writing jobs. There's the hilarious one I used when I wrote for Demand Studios (along with a whacked out bio), then there's the completely forgettable one I use for some online revenue sharing sites like Hubpages. And I use yet another for Kindle books. I chose my names off the top of my head without a lot of thought, but there are some pretty elaborate random name generators, like this one: Random Pen Name Generator. It gave me "Arica Moss Hobson;" that has a nice ring to it.

  7. Interesting way to choose pen names! My husband, best friend, and I are collaborating on a work of fiction and we combined our last names to come up with a pen name. Who knows if we'll actually use it if & when we finish the book, but it was fun trying to create a new name. :)