“Who are you?” – Writing under a pen name…

Are the lyrics ringing in your ears now? Do you “really want to know” the answer? Do you have a pen name, a name other than your own, that you use for writing?

Why…

A few years ago, an author I admire decided to stop writing the series she was working on. It was an excellent series, complete with characters who stole your heart and made you want to visit them in real life. Debora Geary had her reasons for ending the A Modern Witch series, but I still grieved.

Image result for a modern witch

However, she decided to try something new. Since her life with “Witch Central” was over, she took up a new name, Audrey Faye, and continued to write characters who inched their way into your heart.

A pen name. A new life of sorts. A fresh start. I had heard of authors who had pen names, but I never thought about why they did (other than the obvious – stay hidden). Could authors have a pen name just to have one? Could I?

Research?

Of course I can have a pen name if I want one! I researched pen names and how to form them (I know, research…), and I found some interesting information about them:

  1. They offer the writer a way to discover themselves.
    -You may be more inclined to write about new and exciting topics if you weren’t “yourself” for a bit…
  2. They offer a way for the writer to differentiate their writing self from their career self.
    -You may have already made a name for yourself at your job, so you need the chance to try something new with a new name.
  3. They offer the writer a new challenge.
    -Trying to name yourself as a writer can be a challenge – finding the perfect name isn’t easy.

Now you may be asking if this applies to you… Does it? It definitely applied to me. I wanted to do all three of these things (I especially love a challenge), so I began looking into the many ways that writers rename themselves:

  • anagram of their own name
  • their initials
  • rearrange their name
  • parts of famous names
  • old family names
  • character names

These were definitely an excellent starting point!

A new name…

If you read about me already on this site, then you know that I’m a teacher. I use my name for teacher things, but, although I love my name, I still wanted a name that could be individually associated with my writing. Debora Geary inspired me to create a name that would do just that.

“Debora Geary inspired me to create a name that would do just that.”

As a child, my maternal grandmother would call me J.J. – my first and middle initials (Jessica Jean). I loved visiting my grandma, whom I call Nannie (not sure what the grandma naming story is though). I would still visit her if she didn’t live so far away from me, too.

I decided that J.J. would definitely be the beginning of my pen name since it brought back many happy memories of my childhood. The next step was picking a last name. I could easily use my last name (Houser), but as I’ve already said, I wanted it to be different from the name I use every day.

One of the suggestions was to look for old family names. This was by far the best idea I had seen, so I looked into them. I had no idea how many last names were associated with my family! I tried them all next to JJ until I finally landed on Burry, again related to my mom’s side of the family (sorry Dad). I even checked it to make sure it wasn’t taken – it’s all mine! JJ Burry, the writer who is Jess!

So, yes, it does take a little bit of time and effort to find the perfect pen name, but I think the process is worth it (thank you Debora Geary). There are all sorts of legal responsibilities to consider in the future, but I’m not there, yet. If you have a pen name, be sure to look into those as well!

Do you have a pen name? What’s your pen name story?

Resources…

Debora Geary’s website: http://www.deborageary.com/index.html

“Should You Use a Pseudonym?” by Moira Allen: http://www.writing-world.com/business/pseudonym.shtml

“What’s in a Pen Name?” by John Wray: http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/whats-in-a-pen-name

24 thoughts on ““Who are you?” – Writing under a pen name…

  1. Ah, that’s really interesting! I think the name really fits, and it’s cool that it still means your name.
    My pen name (Sean Crastien) is not at all related to my real name (Sam Hinkle). Crastien was one of my old character’s made-up names, and since I canceled the story he was in, I took it. The “Sean” part came because that almost ended up being my real name, I liked that it was four letters (I don’t like odd numbers), it was the Irish version (I’m part Irish), and it just sounded really good with the last name.
    I had a different pen name before, which was S.A.M. Seasons. That was for my first series that I published with a scam company (without meaning to, of course, but I didn’t research enough at the time since I was like thirteen or something), so I left behind that name to get into self-publishing with a fresh start. I liked that S.A.M. could stand for my name Sam, but it also meant “Sam and Midnight” (Midnight being my cat, who sadly passed away last year). Seasons was because I liked each of the seasons and the balance they brought with them.
    It’s really cool how people choose pen names. I’ve just never really liked my real name until recently, but I like having that second (or even third) identity. I feel like having a different name suits me since I have several different personalities in the few stages of my life, and I’ve had lots of “character development” you could say. I don’t think I’ll change my name again in the future, but if I did, it would probably be to accept that I’m in yet another stage where I’ve become a different person, and it would be time to “shed my skin” in a way.
    Pen names are definitely interesting, and it’s cool that you made a post about it! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment and your story!

      Pen names can be fun, and they help show who an author is, too! Your even number thing, for example. I think that’s excellent and proof that choosing our own name helps fit our perceived writing personality.

      That’s terrible about the scam company. Those types of people are what hurt authors enough to make them quit. I’m glad you’re determined to keep going!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, each pen name is definitely unique, and even though I like my actual name now, I still would prefer the pen name! You certainly delved into good reasons as to why authors should/could have pen names :p

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Welcome to the blogging world!

    Loving all these “How I got my pen name” stories, especially since mine is so…not inspiring. 😛 In high school, a friend and I wrote a collaborative story where we took all of our favorite characters (book, TV, movie, manga, and our own OCs) and stuck them into a boarding school together. Hijinks ensued (though no actual plot). We called the school the Thomas H. Ivanrest Academy, and if there was a reason for that, I don’t remember what it was. But when, years later, I needed a pen name, it became my first two initials, K.T., and that name–Ivanrest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment! You definitely have a story behind your pen name, so I wouldn’t call it uninspired.

      Also, that sounds like an interesting collaborative story!

      Like

  3. Great post! What an exciting start to what’s, I’m sure, going to be a fun new online writing adventure for you.

    I liked that you listed the very positive reasons for having a pen name. I happened upon different information when I was looking into the same things years back… the thing that stuck out to me in my research at the time was to be sure you weren’t hiding behind a pen name. That if your writing is something you’re uncomfortable about putting your own name to, that you should reconsider what it is you are writing. I think all points are valid, and it’s important that you know where you stand and what’s best for yourself when deciding.

    I was at a point where I wasn’t ready to tell anyone, even family and friends, that I wanted to write. I was very nervous about their reactions, maybe thinking I had fanciful ambitions, and I was extremely nervous to use my own name. I remember one of the first people I opened up to, I told them my super, super stretch goal (the vision of the end result of all my writing efforts), was to pay off my house. A huge goal, yes, but something to really work hard for. She looked at me like I was insane. Obviously in her mind, writers could not make money. So for a long time I kept quiet again.

    Ultimately I decided within myself that people do succeed at things, even being authors, and that doing nothing would produce nothing. I wouldn’t even have a chance unless I tried. So I try, even on days when I read something or think things that make it all seem impossible.

    Over time, knowing that I intended to put my familiar name (in some form) on my work helped me to determine how I wanted to be perceived by any future readers.

    I was going back and forth with what name I would write under and I read a book by the author Tijan. I thought, how cool that she has such a short, simple authoring name. I found out after searching pretty hard that her name is Tijan Meyer, but she’s just Tijan out there in the writing world… and it got me thinking.

    My middle name is Charnae, and I’ve gone by it my entire life. I have never once met someone in person with my name. I can find people with my name online. News searches will tell you there was a young girl named Charnae kidnapped back in the eighties. Business searches will tell you that there is someone named Charnae that makes jewelry. Amazon and Goodreads tell you that there are no authors named Charnae alone, or with any other last name attached to it. And so I realized, at this point, like Tijan, that I can use simply my own name… as a pen name, of sorts.

    My husband still favors other ideas, but for now, my online writing world is built on simply my one name. Until… writer’s prerogative… I decide to change my mind. Haha!

    Best of luck JJ Burry! I’m so glad we became camp buddies, and I look forward to seeing all that you do under your new name. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Charnae, your story is amazing! Thank you for sharing! There were definitely negatives for having a pen name that I found, but I didn’t see those as being helpful for my purpose here.

      Actual name variations seem to be the popular form of pen names. Even with it being a form of one’s own name, I enjoy that there is still research to go with it! It looks like you’ve researched yours, too!

      I’m excited to be your cabin-mate once again during Camp, and I look forward to getting to know you more! Thank you so much for your comment!

      Like

  4. Great start to your blog. A way to introduce yourself for sure. I agree picking the right pen name is important. I made my process a family affair. Narrowed it down to a few options that were a play on my name or had some connection then had the family vote. Meka was picked because it’s how most people mispronounce my real name. Since I’ve been called that by mistake countless times throughout my life I figured why not own it now. LOL The last name was a nod to the Hubby. That way I could still carry a ‘married’ name of sorts since the one he gave me is hard to say and spell. LOL So Meka James was born. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for commenting with your story! I understand getting called different names! I (strangely) get called Jennifer… I wonder if Jennifers get called Jessica?

      Having the family vote must have been quite fun! It’s exciting to find the perfect pen name!

      Like

  5. Hi, JJ!

    Congrats on your first blog post! And thanks for coming by mine. (I’m so bad at keeping it up lol). I’ve been back and forth about finding a pen name and using one. It’s tough to find a new name to connect with. Glad you found your perfect one! I’ve thought about old family names too (Watson, Tomlinson) and using middle names of family members (Merritt). Can’t seem to find a suitable replacement for my first name.

    I’m curious about copyright as well. I believe most pen name authors use their legal names for copyright? Not sure though. Need to do more digging.

    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment! From what I understand, it’s not about copyright of the name, just the works. Depending on your state laws, you’ll need a DBA (Doing Business As) license if you make money under your pen name, but I’m still reading up on that.

      As far as your pen name, keep trying names you find until some of them work together (if you still want to use one)! Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting first blog post! Congratulations on taking the plunge with it! You’re much braver than I am!

    I use a pen name, solely because in my genre there’s an already published author with virtually the same name as mine. I too turned to family names for inspiration – but I’d already used the ones I liked for my characters! So next I googled “C19th English female names” & searched parish records in my area for a suitable name for a Gothic Romance writer! Took some time & some feedback from Twitter friends on my shortlist, but…here I am as Rosetta Yorke!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for your comment and your story! I forgot to mention that reason for a pen name- already an author with the same name. I’m glad that you were able to research a new name for yourself!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hey JJ, congrats on your first post! You picked an interesting topic. I understand why people would choose a pen name, in particular if they have a day job. I’ve always wondered how people chose their pen names so thanks for sharing how you came up with yours. I never considered using a pen name. When I decided to write I was transitioning from a previous career and thought it would be to my advantage to use my real name. So far it hasn’t been a disadvantage though I’m not sure if it was advantageous as I had hoped. I know if I was to choose a pen name it would have to be something funny. Like Wilbur Timberlake or Elmer Bernstein.

    Liked by 3 people

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