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How to Choose a Pen Name

Updated on November 23, 2009

There's no rule saying you have to adopt a nom de plume in order to be a writer, but many people do precisely that for one reason or another. I did it with my first book and now that I'm switching genres I'm about to do it again. But before I get into how one does this, let me first say that I've no problem with someone publishing under their real name -- if you were born with a fabulous moniker, good on you. Unfortunately, many of us were born with names that suck poo and we change them out of necessity. The following tips are meant to serve as a guide for those of you would like to write under a new name. but please don't take it as a mandatory directive; if you've got a good name, keep it.

1. Choose something believable.

I don't care if you write fairy books for five-year-olds -- do not go choosing a silly Elvish name that no one is going to be able to read, let alone pronounce. Not only would that make you look daft and out of touch, it will also make it that much more difficult for people to remember who the hell you are. I can think of several authors right now whose names make me roll my eyes and I'm not even trying to be rude. If you want us to take you seriously, you've got to start that ball rolling with a decent name. Choose something we can believe you were born with; you're a writer, not a rock star.

2. Choose something that hasn't already been used a million times.

I'll give you an example: Raven. Have you got any idea how many women have christened themselves with this name? The first time I heard it I thought, Hmm, cool name. The five millionth? Not so much. You want a name that people can say and remember but won't make them think, "Couldn't this presumably creative person come up with something better than what loads of other people have already overused?"

3. Choose something that isn't already famous.

By this I'm referring to the combination of your first and last names. Don't go naming yourself after someone who is already famous, and don't name yourself after fictional characters who are famous, either. For example, the name Harry Potter would probably work against you at some point. Not only would people think you strange -- you'd never get any web traffic because the more famous of you would already be getting it. So do yourself a favor and Google your name combinations before you decide on one, and go with a name that doesn't bring back loads of hits. When I first chose the name Isabella Snow, I was the only one on the entire internet. Now there are several! (Grrr!)

4. Choose something that flows.

You want the first and last name to work together, not against each other. Be mindful of the rhythm of both when you're playing around with them; the syllables should fit together like a puzzle, not stick out like a sore thumb. Same goes for sounds; they should be melodic, not harsh and off putting. Doesn't matter if you've got several syllables or two as long as they sound like they were made for each other.

5. Choose a name that isn't commonly mistaken for something else.

For example, people often call me Isabelle, for some reason. I find this very annoying, but eh, what can you do? If you choose a name like Christy, be aware that some people might think it's Kristie or Kristy. Therefore, try to pick a name that's got one common spelling -- unless you don't mind people changing it up when reviewing you or interviewing you. This can also apply to surnames: Many people will misspell names like McDonald and MacDonald or mistake Thomson for Thompson.


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