Friday, April 23, 2010

Maybe Eyjafjallajökull Should Think About a Pen Name...

This week, my Twitter feed has been ablaze with comments about the unpronounceability (that is totally a word, I just made it up) of the Icelandic volcano's name. Some people just refer to it as "that volcano in Iceland," others actually took the time to spell it (and most of them got it correct), but almost everyone took a jab at how difficult it was to spell or pronounce.

Which, of course, reminded me of something related to writing (because everything comes back to writing). I have a writer-friend named Lisa Grace. Only her name isn't actually Lisa Grace. To be perfectly honest with you, I can't remember what her real last name is, even though she told me once. But I remember when she did tell me, everyone at the table (myself included) completely understood why she chose to use "Grace" as her professional last name - there was no way that I could have spelled her last name correctly if I had to do a Google, Amazon, or library search for her. She was especially worried about this because she her YA book, Angel in the Shadows, had recently been published, and she wanted to make sure that teens could search for her name if they wanted to find her. And Lisa Grace is a lot easier to remember than Lisa Eyjafjallajökull (you like what I did there?)

Ever since I met Lisa, I thought the name Lisa Grace fit her, and "Lisa Grace" stuck in my head. Even Laura Lippman, her conference leader at the Eckerd College Writer's Conference, which Lisa and I attended together (and is a seriously amazing conference...seriously), told Lisa that she couldn't help but call her "Lisa Grace" - two names, not one, because they just naturally went together. How's that for marketing?

I have other friends that chose pen names because their last names were complicated. I have female friends who are choosing to write under their maiden names, even though they're married, because their maiden names are either easier to remember or easier to spell, which isn't exactly a pen name but it's on topic. (Conversely, I'm choosing to write under my married name because it's more unique. Though I know I will spend the rest of my life correcting people's pronunciation of it, and that's OK - it's easy to spell and short. Plus when you Google me I'm the only thing that comes up, which is totally awesome.) I have one friend who is writing under her maiden name because her married name is a very specific ethnic name, and she isn't a member of that ethnic group, and she doesn't want to have to think about that down the road.

There are other, more strategic reasons you might choose a pen name. I once heard about an MG fantasy writer who chose a pen name that began with "R" so that he would be shelved next to Rick Riordan and J.K. Rowling - a move suggested by his agent when he was considering a pen name anyway. Speaking of J.K. Rowling, we all know how she was encouraged to use the ambiguous J.K. instead of Joanne to help appeal to male readers. And some writers might use pen names to protect the privacy of their friends, family, or selves (apparently I totally don't care about that).

Don't get me wrong - I'm not advocating pen names as the only way to go here. I'm not using one, and have never even considered it. But I definitely see that there are circumstances when they make sense, and maybe that Icelandic volcano should think about switching. We could call it simply VOLCANO. It would be amazing.

So, do you feel about pen names? Will you use one? Why or why not? And do you feel when you find out that someone is using a pen name? Excited that you're in on the secret? Or a little perplexed?

Extra credit:


  1. Heck, if I ever get there, I want the credit myself. So I'm using first, maiden and married--covering all the bases.

  2. Great post. If I ever get my novel published I'm going with a pen name if I can. Not because I hate my surname but it's pretty common in the UK.

  3. That is very interesting. I plan to use a pen name but my real name is anything but difficult.

    My first, middle and last name are all very very common. And my bf's last name, a tiny bit more common than my own. So, either way I have a last name that is generic and way too many people have it. I use my real name for non-fiction, which one reason for a pen name is because I do multiple genres.

    I used my middle name, Dawn, to come up with my pen name Dawn Embers. I've been using it for about 4 years now and it's gone well. Never thought of where it will put the books on the shelf or who they will be besides them.

  4. That volcano name blows my mind! I do plan on using either a pen name or full-on copying JK Rowling with the initial thing because my name is fairly ethnic side and I don't want someone in a bookstore to see my book on a shelf and think that the phrase "Go on girl" will appear anywhere inside.

  5. I have considered a pen name for quite some time. Meika is rather strange -- I can't count how many times it's been misspelled or mispronounced. My last name is much easier to say and spell, but still weird, especially paired with Meika. I'll probably just use my fiancee's last name.

  6. Lily isn't my real name. It's Mariah, but the majority of the people I know online know me as Lily Meade. I picked it because I don't like my real name, and because I thought that I might like the semi-privacy in the future.

  7. I've thought about a pen name once or twice, but it's not a big deal to me. The only reason I would change it is to sound more badass, and... let's face it, I don't think I'm particularly badass regardless of what name I'm going by. Plus I hear writers don't have much say over their pen names, anyway... could be wrong though.

  8. Well, you mentioned my situation in your post. It's maiden name for me!

    And, honestly, I'm kinda weird about my married name. I took it officially as my name as soon as I got married, but I still associate just as much with my maiden name (even after 5 years) and my maiden name feels more "me"...esp. since my husband takes my SCBWI money. He gets no part of my success. Bah.

  9. Oh yes, I've definitely thought about a pen name...for both my first and last name. Both are weird and both are really long. If I ever get to the point of needing to decide, I will enlist the help of a publisher to know what is best. :)

  10. i've thought about a pen name, purely because my last name (Ahiers) is a bit unique and most people can't pronounce it (airs)

  11. When I was younger, I used a pen name that was quite a bit more common than my real name just for the sake of using a oen name. I was pretty silly as a kid. Now, I think I will use my real name if I ever do decide I want to publish something. Not sure what I'd do if I end up writing multiple genres...

  12. I was about to put in my two cents about pen names.... but then I got to the end of the post, and I realized you already knew! Thanks for the link, and great take on the subject! I have no clue how to pronounce that darn volcano.


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