A rose by any other name

venezia-maskWhen I needed a pen name for a new writing enterprise, I went down the rabbit hole into the ins and outs of pseudonyms. Yet I found what I needed by diving deep into a tiny corner of memory instead.

That rabbit hole quickly widened into a rabbit warren: stalkers, hackers, libel, privacy, taxes, marketing, branding. Some authors change pseudonyms as often as they change their underpants to find the highest-earning pen name for their genre. Others prefer a more durable, relevant name to build a brand and relationships with their fans.

I fall into the latter camp. Partly because it’s less work, partly because I write in multiple subgenres. If someone wants to spin up a pen name, website, email, newsletter and social media accounts for twelve different identities…more power to ’em. Not me. If I’m going to use one pen name for awhile, I want to choose wisely.

What’s in a pen name? A lot.

  • Intended audience for starters — a female pen name was recommended for works in my genre, unless I wanted to write as a gay man.
  • A pen name should reflect a subgenre, theme, or kink — some distinguishing characteristic of the works.
  • It should not be in use by anyone famous.
  • It should not be in use by someone who might sue the pants off me.
  • It should not be in use by a business.
  • The domain name for it should be available.
  • It should be easy for my fans to relate to, remember, pronounce and spell.
  • It should fit on the cover of my book.
  • And….it should be fun!

Should I use a previous pseudonym? Decades ago, I published a serialized story on a discussion forum under a pen name I picked on the fly and at random. It’s all gone to data heaven now; the name had no personal significance; it now belongs to multiple 20-somethings on Facebook, as well as a broadcast media professional (i.e. someone famous). No, there was no reason to go back to it.

I went further back in time….all the way back to my childhood….to the name of a little girl in a book I’d read. I don’t remember the title or author. I don’t even remember what the book was about. Yet the heroine’s name stuck with me. It became a favorite name, a secret name, one that captured the mystery and adventure of the story. It was uncommon yet traditional, romantic, spirited, and evocative of the natural world.

My new pen name is the name I have been waiting and wanting to use for over forty years. I did not know I’d been saving it for now, or for this. That little heroine is all grown up now and seeking new adventures. May she have her happy endings.