Sunday, September 18, 2011

What's in a Name?

Samuel Clemens used a pseudonym, so did Charles Dodgson, Mary Ann Evans, Eric Blair and David Cornwell (amongst others).  Some writers have used several – Eleanor Hibbert’s best known pseudonyms were Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt and Philippa Carr, but she also used several lesser known ones - Eleanor Burford, Elbur Ford, Kathleen Kellow, Anne Percival, and Ellalice Tate.

Writers used pseudonyms for a variety of reasons:

Sometimes their name is well-known in another sphere: if your name was John Kennedy or George Bush, you might want to change it.

It might be too common – John Smith or Mary Taylor for example.

It might be inappropriate as a writer – the name Paige Turner comes to mind.  It might be genuine but it sounds too contrived.

A real name may be difficult to spell or pronounce – which could create difficulties if someone is looking you up online or trying to ask for your book.  

Sometimes writers use different names for different genres; sometimes a woman might want to ‘disguise’ herself as a man.  The Bronte sisters did this when they first submitted their manuscripts, fearing that women would not be taken seriously in the male-dominated Victorian world.  But then so did J.K.Rowling, because she thought young boys might not want to read books written by a woman.

There can also be times when a writer wishes to take another name because of their ‘other’ careers.  A doctor might not want his/her patients to realise he/she is a paranormal writer; a first grade teacher might not want the parents of his/her children to know he/she writes erotic romances or horror stories.

I use a pen-name.  Why? 

Not for any of the above reasons, but simply because I don’t like my real name!

I hated my first name from being a child.  No-one I knew at school had the same name, and I longed for a what I considered a more ‘normal’ name like Anne, Margaret or Elizabeth (hardly surprising, therefore, that these were the names I gave my heroines in my very early stories). 

My surname is still that of my ex-husband.  I kept it when my daughters were younger for their sakes, since it was their surname, of course.  They’ve now both changed their surnames because of marriage, so I suppose I could have changed mine since I dislike it.  But (a) it’s how everyone knows me and (b) it’s too much hassle to change my bank accounts and other ‘official’ stuff like that.

When I wrote my early novels (in the 60’s and 70’s), I used my first name combined with my mother’s maiden name (which is actually my middle name – another grumble there, since I hated having a surname as a middle name, but that’s another story!).  Trouble was, that surname had a fairly unique spelling, so of course it was frequently spelt wrongly!

Fast forward 30+ years to when I re-entered the world of fiction writing, and decided I needed a different pen-name.  Paula was an obvious choice as a variation which I preferred to my real name (and which, in fact, several people actually call me).  I toyed around with various surnames – but people who know me well understand why ‘Martin’ eventually won.  One friend did suggest, however, that I should have called myself ‘Sheena Martin’ – no prizes for working that one out!

Maybe I should have chosen a more ‘unusual’ name but at least my pen-name is easy to remember, easy to spell and easy to say.  And I’ve now got used to signing it on the first page of ‘His Leading Lady’ too!


  1. I hadn't thought of choosing a penname based on its ease at booksignings! When I first applied to RWA, I looked at the penname line and impulsively typed Ana. My real name is Anne, so it's not much of a cover. Since then, I've quit worrying what my mother will think when my bedroom scenes are published.

  2. Anne is one of my favourite names! It's what I called my first doll! I LONGED to be called Anne!
    My early books didn't have any scenes I couldn't let my mother read (it was the Mills and Boon 'chaste' era!).
    Now I don't care who reads my bedroom scenes (not even my daughters).
    Someone once told me I wrote 'classy' sex scenes, so I'm happy with that :-)

  3. I want to write sex scenes that people go back and read again. Not to gape at the spelling errors, but to savor the feelings, and secretly imagine themselves in the act. That's my dream.

  4. As long as readers think my sex scenes are an integral part of the relationship between the heor and heroine, I'm happy. I don't want to write gratuitous sex for the sake of it (which I've read sometimes in so-called 'romance' novels)
    How did we get on to this? We're supposed to be talking about pseudonyms LOLOL!

  5. Hi,

    I think pseudonyms can be great fun!

    Ha ha, it's kind of fun going back through one's family history looking for names ideal as pseudonyms!

    I have some interesting ones, de la Roche, and strange as it may seem, ten miles away there happens to be a ruined castle Roch(e) Castle - once owned/built by a de la Roche. The castle features in The Highwayman's Mistress. They also owned substantial properties in Ireland.

    My West Country links involve Harvey (Somerset), Angel (Dorset) and Knight (Dorset/Hampshire), the latter connected to Jane Austen. Ain't that a hoot!


  6. I considered some of my family history surnames, Francine - but didn't have anything as aristocratic as de la Roche! Mine were mainly from the Lancashire and Yorkshire mill towns. I did quite fancy my paternal grandmother's name - Catalina Dalton. Disovering the origin of her first name (not very common in a 19th century cotton mill town where they were all called Mary, Sarah, Jane etc!) proved to be an interesting journey!

  7. I promised my late FIL that I wouldn't use "his" last name when I got published, because I write romance novels with sex scenes, and he was a devout Catholic. I'd love to have him haunt me, because I miss him, but you don't break a promise like that! My real maiden name is WAY too ubiquitous on the internet, appearing where-ever people of Gaelic extraction live, like Australia and South Africa! So I MADE UP a last name that doesn't exist! Now if you want to find MY books, that's all you'll find!

  8. Good idea, Fiona, it helps to have a unique surname (and yes, I checked, it does come up every time!), so well done on creating something that sounds authentic! I'm thinking I should have made mine more 'unique' - but too late now!

  9. I chose a psuedonymn to separate my writing career from my 'real' career. A grade school teacher who writes spicy romance isn't really a good idea. (Now, most of the teachers - and some of the parents - at my school know I write, I still try to keep things as distant as possible. I usually don't post pictures of myself as an author on the net.)

    When I thought about choosing a pen name, I wanted something that meant something, and that I would respond to at a conference or such, so I wanted the first name to at least be similar to my real name. I chose a variation of my real name (a different spelling), and the St. John comes from my hubby, John.

    When I first dreamed of writing I came up with Alina Brant, (the names of my childhood Cabbage Patch Kids!) but ultimately went with something a little closer to home!

  10. LOL Debra, love the idea of your Cabbage Patch kids' names! Alina Brant is a great name!
    Like you, I chose a first name not too far removed from my real name.

  11. I always assumed I'd use a pen name when I wrote and played around with names--couldn't use my mom's maiden name because they're actually fairly well-known authors (or used to be) and I wasn't looking to cash in on the connection (or to appear to be). I tried some middle names as last names, but they sounded too Danielle Steele characterish (no, I'm not mocking the author!) My maiden name started with a Z, and I didn't want to use that because it's too far down on the shelf (not that a W is much better). I also considered not using my real name because I wasn't sure if it would hurt my "reputation" as a freelance writer and editor of technology and business articles (it hasn't!). My mom ended up convincing me to just use my regular name. So far, I'm not disappointed!

    Debra, I think I'd giggle if my kids' teachers wrote romance! ;) My Cabbage Patch (one of them) was named Diana, which I loved, but totally forgot about until now. Oh well!

  12. I use my own, and separately, a pseudonym. Ironically, it is the pseudonym getting more attention. lol

  13. Fiona...that is a good call. When I Google Debra St. John a photogrpaher comes up first, but I'm running a close second these days! does make for some interesting conversation around school!

  14. I use a psuedonym for the reasons (a) I never liked my real name (b) both my maiden surname and married surname are common as dirt (c) a bookseller told me that in a brick and mortar store new authors whose last names began A-F sold more books and (d) I was afraid a book which included sex scenes would embarrass my family. So I use Clemmons, which is my paternal grandmother's maiden name and Caroline, a family name close to my legal name. As for the sex, I need not have worried.