Pen Names

By: Jennifer Heartley

The first time I remember learning about a pen name was in elementary when our teacher taught us about Mark Twain.  I remember being highly disappointed that his name was fake.  It turned out his real name was Samuel Clemens.  I didn’t like that, because I had gotten so used to Mark Twain.  I could never remember  what his real name was even after learning about it.

That’s actually one of the reasons that writers choose pen names in the first place according to Jamie Hall.  Also if your name is hard to spell as well as remember it’s good to choose a pen name.

I remember learning about female authors choosing pen names because female writers weren’t accepted as much during their time.  Female authors would choose male pen names on purpose.  In the article “How to Choose a Pen Name”, Jamie Hall tells us that even now female writers will choose pen names to avoid sexist remarks.  However, now they choose more gender neutral pen names rather than all male pen names.  Jamie Hall did the same.

Alison Potter chose a pen name for other reasons.  Her publisher at Hodder told her that her name would be associated with Harry Potter.  Also, her first name gave the impression that she was older and that wasn’t good if she wanted to capture the attention of young readers.  Also, Alison is a ‘safe’ name.  She was writing a thriller so her name had to entice the readers to connect her to the story.

Jamie Hall advises us on trying to connect ourselves with genres too much, though.  Trying to put a pun on your name can be going too far.

Jamie Hall tells us that pen names can be more trouble than they’re worth as well.  If your name doesn’t have any of the 6 problems that Jamie listed in the article, then do you really need a pen name?  My real name is Jennifer Heartley.  It’s easy to remember.  It’s only one syllable longer than the typical pen name.  You would think Heartley is easy to spell, however there are many ways to spell it and there’s always at least one person who gets it wrong.  If my name became well-known that may not be as much of a problem, but until then is it a problem if people have trouble spelling my name correctly?

Going by the rules Jamie lays out for us, would your real name stand fine on its own or would you need a pen name?  Do you think pen names are necessary at all?  Is there a difference for journalist writers or for creative writers?  Is a pen name more necessary to one or the other?  Why or why not?

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4 responses to “Pen Names

  1. Though my real name would work fine as a pen name, I would consider an alternative pen name depending on the genre I’m writing.

    In journalism, I feel writers should use their real names. It promotes honesty. If you mislead your readers with a fake name, why would they continue to trust what you write?

    I feel fiction writers have a little more wiggle room when it comes to pen names. Their genre is fiction, so it really doesn’t matter if their name is fake. As described in Hill’s article, there is a certain amount of sexism still prevalent in the literary world. Even Jo Rowling had her books published using her initials, so both genders would read them.

  2. My name would work pretty well except for the fact that my last name is commonly misspelled as Worth. Honestly, my name, Jeff Werth is pretty simple would work for most writing.

    I agree with Emily. Journalists should always use their real name because that is part of their credibility. If you aren’t willing to share your name, why should we trust you.

    A pen name creates mystique. That’s beneficial for fiction writers especially in certain genres like romance or mystery. It’s up the author if they want to deal with it.

  3. Louisa May Alcott, also wrote under a pen name for a lot of her works. She would write scandalous and trashy stories in order to make money for her family. In that case, I think I would write under a pen name–I wouldn’t feel comfortable attaching my name to that.

    But I agree with Emily, for journalism you definitely need to use your own name. That promotes honesty and transparency–two huge things in the journalism world.

  4. I agree with Jeff and Emily. To get accurate acknowledgement I feel you are better off using your real name. By using a fake name, you can give off alternative allegations that may lead to questioning people. That is something I would not want as an author.

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