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Taking some advice here

You might notice that pen names usually sound like names a real person would have. So when you want to make a writing career under a pen name, you might want to pick a less obvious pseudonym than Memor-X.

I was thinking up names I could use currently coming up with a lot of female Japanese names, the latter probably influenced by all the anime/manga/light novels/games I have.

Being male and not of any sort of Japanese descent, could I run into any problems down the track particularly if people find out who I really am?

Note: This question is in the context of self-publishing.

  • In what kind of context do you want to use this pseudonym? I suspect most people would be OK with it on forums, more will find this choice weird if you decide to self-publish under this pen name. – Babika Babaka Aug 29 '16 at 8:06
  • @CerisestHilaire i figured the context would be obvious from the link. just in case this would be to self publish – Memor-X Aug 29 '16 at 11:35
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    It's not at all obvious. There is nothing in your post that talks about self-publishing. Links are for additional information, not core information. Also, just because the other question is about self-publishing doesn't mean you are self-publishing, since you're only talking about the pen name part. – Cyn says make Monica whole Feb 11 at 5:12
  • Out of curiosity, did you pick an answer which discourages you just for the cultural appropriation point? Imho this is a very misleading aspect. – Helen - down with PCorrectness Sep 3 at 7:58
  • This white guy got into some trouble for publishing under a Chinese woman's pseudonym. – Ken Mohnkern Sep 4 at 16:54
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Using a deliberately deceptive pen name is essentially a marker of fake authenticity. It can lead to success, but also criticism on the grounds of cultural appropriation. I would personally recommend against it. While not illegal, or even particularly uncommon, it strikes me as a little ethically suspect.

There are two cases I would exempt from this blanket ban:

  • Case 1: If the name change is unlikely to make any difference in how the work is received.
  • Case 2: If you have very good reason to believe the name change would make the intended audience more likely to judge the work solely on its own merits, not less.

The first case is fairly straightforward, the second might be more difficult to judge. In general, if you are disguising the fact that you are a member of a generally disfavored minority solely in order to escape prejudice attached to that minority, I would personally find that acceptable --for instance a female author taking on a male or androgynous pseudonym because of writing in a time and place where only male authors get read and published.

If you were writing in Japanese for a Japanese audience, I might place you in that second category (you would be seeking to escape the negative prejudice attached to foreigners), but if you are writing in English for an English-speaking audience, I would not (you'd be attempting to cash in on a positive assumption of authenticity as attached to a Japanese name). In other words, people would give your writing a presumption of authority and legitimacy it really isn't entitled to. Whether or not you personally agree with it, you need to be aware, as a writer, that we are in a cultural moment that prizes authenticity. Today's literary audience harshly judges those who are considered to be claiming false legitimacy.

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    The Japanese do not seem to have concerns about cultural appropriation, at least in Japan. Like a lot of cultures, the Japanese appear to take great pride in theirs, notably their craftsmanship. However, unlike other cultures that are more sensitive to cultural appropriation, a lot of things that people might copy from Japan are either more traditional (kimono, headbands, hairpins), therefore only used in specific circumstances in Japan, or more esoteric (cosplay). A lot of these traditions are also acknowledged to be borrowed from China, so much more acceptable to borrow again. – MXMLLN Sep 1 at 20:49
  • @MXMLLN Thanks for rushing to assure me how much the Japanese love cultural appropriation. However, while that may be arguably true, it really doesn't change anything in my answer. – Chris Sunami Sep 2 at 23:40
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    Oh, come on with cultural appropriation... Once upon a time, celebrating other places' culture was judged very harshly by conservatives. A few years later, and these conservatives mask themselves as progressives, with the exact same results: stopping others from enjoying what civilisation has to offer and the technological ability to learn about it and do so. Life is for enjoying, culture is for sharing, difference in people is for celebrating. – Helen - down with PCorrectness Sep 3 at 7:54
  • @Helen: I'm not the cultural police. I happen to be very much in favor of people learning from, borrowing, and being inspired by each other's cultures. But far too often it's done in ways that are disrespectful, arrogant, inaccurate, offensive, or just plain wrong --and often without proper credit given to the originators. // Agree with it or not, writers need to be aware that at this particular moment in history --in America (at least) --the audience is very sensitized to issues of authenticity, and inclined to judge harshly those who are seen as claiming it illegitimately. – Chris Sunami Sep 4 at 13:08
  • I don't know... I see your point but it looks to me that too many people lately pretend to be offended by things only to have the proverbial baby thrown away. – Helen - down with PCorrectness Sep 17 at 18:39
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There's a long history of women using male pseudonyms to be taken seriously. It's a sad fact that there's still prejudice, even in academia, against female authors. And so the practice continues; by women publishing anything from research to fiction under a male pseudonym.

It's also been noted that applicants using the exact same CV/Resumé with a "black" name attached get asked to substantially fewer interviews than those with a "white" name in the USA. Similar situation in France regarding Arab and French names respectively. So Pseudonyms are often used to help negate prejudice. For similar reasons sometimes male authors write under genderless or female pseudonyms because of a belief that men can't write female protagonists.

So if you were writing a story which was immersed in Japanese culture, and worried that it wouldn't be taken seriously because you were not Japanese, you may adopt a Japanese pseudonym if your writing could otherwise pass. So it depends entirely on what you want to achieve. If you want to write a novel set in a Japanese setting, whose protagonist is female, and if (big if) you can pass as a Japanese author, then maybe that makes sense?

It has to be given serious consideration, because people are often prejudiced by author's names.

5

I think a lot of people find issues with being blatantly mislead, such as a white American male pretending to be a Japanese female. There have traditionally been women using men's names and so on, as described in the other answers, but there is the cultural appropriation issue when done in reverse and many women who find that a man pretending to be a woman seems like encroachment.

If you don't want to be obvious about your gender, then I suggest using either an historically gender-neutral name (Robin, for example) or simply use initials and let people guess or make their own assumptions.

As for pretending to be from a culture other than your own, I think folks are more likely to feel tricked if they find out. There's marketing and then there's false pretenses. If your writing is good enough, work the marketing. If it isn't, pretending to be something you're not probably won't get you passed the bad reviews anyway.

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    There is no cultural appropriation issue. There are only people who want to stop others from celebrating different aspects of civilisation. I, as a woman, would be very glad to see men starting taking up female pen names. – Helen - down with PCorrectness Sep 3 at 7:56
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No. But take into account the context that you are passing to the reader and whether it is the intended one.

Also, in countries like USA people have actual names from all over the world. Nobody complains (okay, I guess that a few do, but you get the point).

As a woman, I find it very interesting that men would like to try out female pen names. Speaking pure aesthetics, it's nice. Speaking historical legacy, it's a nod to a time that women couldn't publish without doing the other way round.

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    One problem with men using female pen names is if they do that with the intent of getting women to subscribe to some male POV on women's place in the world. For example, "lighten up on the date rape talk, sometimes I really do say No when I mean Yes." In other words, using a pen name to impersonate a member of an abused class in order to represent a false view of that class from within, and perhaps perpetuate abuse of that class, seems wrong to me. Be it woman, Muslims, Blacks, Hispanics, etc. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Sep 3 at 11:02
  • @Amadeus I see your point and agree, but I think it's not adequate reason to stop every case of using pen names based on the other gender. – Helen - down with PCorrectness Sep 4 at 7:44
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    Agreed, I am not opposed to the practice, and I don't consider it a lie or a fraud if it is being used to defeat bias, I am generally opposed to using it to perpetuate harmful inequalities. It's like free speech: Lying to your coworkers about personal matters that are none of their business is fine, lying to commit fraud and steal their money is not fine. Cross gender pen names are fine, using them maliciously is not, especially if used maliciously to impersonate a member of an abused class, to "speak for them" in a way that perpetuates their abuse. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Sep 4 at 10:22
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How can you market a book if you don't speak the language in that country?

This overlaps a bit with your previous post, but might be the most challenging part of this approach. Unless your Japanese is advanced, you might have to pay people to help you translate marketing materials. Luckily, Japanese social media is particularly private and it wouldn't be unusual to not have any personal photographs.

Using a pseudonym from a different race automatically create expectations for the reader.

A very relevant example is 石黒, 一雄 (Kazuo Ishiguro). Ishiguro is Japanese, but moved to England when he was 6. I like to approach books without any context and didn't read anything about him or the book before reading Remains of the Day. However, I was trying to broaden the amount of Japanese authors I had read. While I certainly don't regret reading the book, especially since Ishiguro is such a famous author, I don't consider Ishiguro "Japanese" and presume he has more in common with an English person. I would have preferred to have read a book by an author that lived in Japan until they were at least 18.

Note that other ethnicities living in Japan will also use Kanji names - Wikipedia.

More and more fans of Japanese culture are adopting Japanese names.

It looks like this is now a norm. I looked up "spam calls" on Twitter to check for reports on malicious calls and one of the first few entries was あかり (@manekikarasu), not sure if it appropriate to share Twitter links though). Do note that this Twitter user is using kana, which makes it unclear whether they are Japanese or not.

Other options - Transparent Bio

There's an important difference between using a pseudonym and pretending to be a different ethnicity. If you use a Japanese name, but openly state authentic information in your bio, no one will likely have a problem. This is analogous to when I use female avatars in games. Why would I use a male character and stare at a male all day? Instead you simply put "male" under gender and people might not be bothered by it in a MMORPG. Similarly, you could state that you are using a pen name, but then go on to describe a fictional author. However, those option wouldn't be very interesting, would they?

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