Do you need a pen name? Why?

Hi everyone,

I’m doing research for a book on pen names, why you might want one, how to choose one, the ups and downs of having a pen name, and so on.

Please tell me - is there any question that comes to mind when you think of choosing a pen name for yourself? Maybe you’d like one but aren’t sure how to do it? Worried about the legal aspects of writing under multiple names?

Something else?

Questions that popped up for me:
Is my real name too mundane?
Would it be hard to sign the pen name (assuming your not 100% against doing book signings)?
Is my choice of pen name too pretentious?
Do I want to use an alternate name to protect my authorial identity from my daytime employer, or am I merely considering a pen name for the sake of novelty?
Is the idea of my friends & family finding out that I write certain things keeping me from selling otherwise good writing?

I don’t know a lot about the legal implications; I would assume that you’d need some legal document that identifies the real you as the copyright holder of the work, especially if your real name doesn’t appear anywhere in public view. If you’re self-publishing, then seeking legal advice from an appropriate lawyer would be advisable. If you plan to go the traditional publishing route, talk this over with your agent or publisher.

The first question which comes to mind with respect to a pen name for myself is why. Why use a name different from the one I’ve had for so long? Perhaps the only good – in my mind – reason would be that it’s easier or stronger or more interesting than my own, as for instance, Mark Twain is sharper, stronger, easier to remember, than Samuel Clemens. Maybe, had I started using a pen name when I began writing professionally some fifty years ago, I’d have stayed with it. (If only I had thought of using, say, Stephen King or John Grisham, I’d be rich today.) But I stuck with my own, Phil Sheehan – not particularly euphonious, but not bad – and haven’t found a reason yet to use any other.

One more question does come to mind: Why am I bothering to answer a question from someone known only as “Sasha,” who’s never before posted on this forum? (At least, not under that name.)


Practicalities would be the main driver for me.

My real first name is very common, and yup, my real surname is too. I might get away with releasing a book under my real name as there isn’t a famous author with the same handle just yet, but there are a number of people in other fields (journalism and music to name two) to be confused with.

That said, perhaps the “accidental” association works for some people (ask Geoffrey Archer).

If I had a choice I’d use my real name. I’d be more likely to willingly pursue an alternate signature to escape the straitjacket of a typecast genre. Think Richard Bachman vs Stephen King, or (the route I’d be more likely to take) Iain M. Banks vs Iain Banks.

Or course, the option to go the “one name” route that worked for [Colin] Bateman and just sign my published work as “Pigfender” is also very tempting!

Yeah, but, Julian Schweinkotflügel, is more enigmatic init? 8)

Thank you, everyone, for your replies. Some things you wrote here I hadn’t thought of before, probably because I’m too close to the project (in the trees) and it’s still at the first draft stage. But these are all excellent points and will be worked into the text.

This is my first posting here on these forums. I’m a new Scrivener user, longing for the day when the Windows version does everything that the Mac version does. Please don’t say anything with “when pigs fly” in it! In my country, Macs are extremely expensive and out of the reach for most people.

At the risk of completely derailing the thread I’ll have a go at answering this one too.
I’d be surprised if the Windows version ever does everything the Mac version does. The two have different developers, and the Mac version has a serious head start. I can’t imagine Keith ever pressing pause on Mac development so the Windows team can catch up. So I’d say there will be a day when the Win version has practically all the features of the current Mac one, it’s just that the Mac one will also have moved on by then. And it’s only a matter of time before developer imagineering (*) means that the Windows version starts to include things that the Mac one hasn’t thought of yet.

I now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.

    • with apologies to Disney

Well, if the mountain won’t come to Mohammed, he will just have to buy a Mac. And so will I :slight_smile: Next time I travel to the States. Scrivener is more than enough of a reason for it!

Okay, sorry for more of the derailing. I promise to be more accurate about where I post things.


On the penname thing I was in a bookshop earlier today and noticed that Stephen King ['s publisher] has come up with an alternative to the Bachman / Iain M. ploy…

The latest imprint of his range has helpful indicators to help you choose your next King book based on your mood.
So you have:
Stephen King EPIC
etc etc
I think there were 4/5 different flavours of King you could buy. Unfortunately my phone was out of juice so I couldn’t get a note of them all and I can’t remember them now :frowning:

Stephen King EPIC
Stephen King SUSPENSE
Plus you also have:

  • The Bachman Books range
  • The Dark Tower range
  • Non-Fiction

The bookshop also had some free printed samples of a Dark Tower book to take away and whet your appetite (about 20 pages worth).

Don’t believe everything you read in bookshops Herr S. :wink:
PS. Welcome aboard Scrivener, ‘The Ship of Fools’, Sasha. You’ll find a lot more than pen names, among this motley crew of ner’do’ells, dead beats, no-hopers, and miscreants. Just be careful who you talk to. :frowning:
Take care

The novel “Chapter and Verse” by the aforementioned Bateman explores similar themes, albeit in his Irish tongue in cheek crime caper style.

Ah, Stephen King! He is wildly popular even over here, in translation and in English. It seems to me, that in the west, many writers hang on his advice like it is the greatest. His writing book is too popular.

And Fluff, thank you! I’m already catching a glimpse of the colorful characters around these parts :slight_smile: It’s really great.

The main reason I use a pen name is because the domain for my real name is owned by a country and western singer in America. Having your own domain name for your writing is a good marketing tool.

My real name is ridiculously common, and generates a massive number of hits on google. Since I wanted to make it easier for people to find anything I create I decided to go with a pen name, and simply based it off of my middle names instead.
I was then able to get a domain name for it, and it comes up in the top search results. I’ll probably just change my name legally anyway :slight_smile:

Its the joke that goes around the internet on how to choose your pen name. One simply takes their middle name and the name of the road they live in and voila your pen name.

Mine would be James Gabriel. Can’t help but wonder would Gabriel Jameson be better? :slight_smile:

I’d say that – at least insofar as attention in this forum is concerned – you could scarcely do better than to take the name “Jameson.”

Gabriel Auchentoshan would be even better.

P.S. Instead of pen name, how about porn name (first pet, first street)? In my case, Betsy Descotils… :confused:

Tae ilk his ain.


‘ey up! ‘ang on! :open_mouth:
Y’s all know what they say about takin’ names in vain…don’t y’…eh? :imp: