10

Try having the name 'James Thompson'. It doesn't really sound like a name a professional writer would have, does it? Because I don't think so. So here is my question: Should I have a pen name instead of my actual name for writing books? And if so, how do I create the perfect pen name?

  • 4
    "A novel by J. Thompson" looks pretty professional and writer-ish to me. Also, It doesn't appear to be difficult to pronounce or spell correctly if we simply apply the international English understanding of names. Try Having a Danish name like "Gustav". I guess "G. F. Hagen" works pretty well internationally if needed.. – storbror Mar 1 '17 at 9:55
  • I am reminded of the late Jeff (or Jack) Lint: "His first published effort appeared in a wartime edition of Amazing Stories because he submitted it under the name ‘Isaac Asimov’." A pen name is a powerful tool. – David Aldridge Mar 1 '17 at 20:53
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    I'll see your James Thompson and raise you a Dan Brown. Your name is just fine. It isn't Jeff Lint. There are plenty of famous writers with perfectly ordinary sounding names, and like storbror says, J. Thompson is perfectly respectable and writer-ish. – Erin Thursby Mar 2 '17 at 23:45
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Do keep in mind @RobtA's advise concerning copyright.

I'd also like to suggest that you look at what you write and decide what type of name fits. Take steps:

  1. language (English, Chinese, Spanish, etc)
    1.1 decide whether to apply the same language to both first name and surname or use different languages
  2. quantity of first names
    2.1 one or two (some languages with short names can make two desirable)
    2.2 use initials only for first name (two first names could make this sound better)
  3. gender (female, male, unisex)
    3.1 initials work great to make a first name seem unisex
  4. length
    4.1 decide if you'd rather have all names be long, short or a combination
  5. common or not
    5.1 should they be common, uncommon, unique, have conventional or unconventional spelling, ...
  6. meaning
    6.1 should they have an obvious meaning (Autumn), a hidden meaning (Sarah = princess) or no meaning
  7. sounds
    7.1 a strong sound (e.g. with p, b sounds) or a soft sound ( e.g. with s, l, sounds)
    7.2 abundance of consonants or vowels (Fred vs. Layla)

Now, start making a list of names and a list of surnames. Mark the ones you like, the ones you dislike and the ones that are ok. Erase the ones you don't like.

If you chose initials, it's easier, just check the alphabet (so much shorter) for the letters that have the right sound and feel.

Start combining favourite first names and surnames, and then also mix some of the ok names/surnames. If you chose to have two first names, try first deciding which two go together before adding the surname to the mix.

I strongly suggest that you end up with half a dozen possible names, even if you fall in love with a particular combination.

Last stage: get a pool of people and tell them that you have a list of writers. One of those writers is famous for their [genre] books. Can you guess who is it? Or just get the pool to vote on their favourite. It works best if you ask this to 20-30 people rather that 2-3.

Good luck.

4

I've been through this. My real name sounds like I should write combat fiction. But I write something else. So, I picked a pseudonym that sounds right.

So: Do it!

Just be sure that the copyright can be identified with the real you. In my case, I put my real name in the copyright notice. No point in concealing it. But if you wish to conceal it, be absolutely sure that you personally can be identified as the real copyright holder.

How can you pick a good one? Be natural. Ask yourself: Who would write that? In my case, it was an Italian-American female. I'm neither.

  • 1
    If you're in the US, the copyright registration form has a place to indicate that the author name is a pseudonym and you can, but are not required to, give your real name. So you don't need to put your real name anywhere in the book. You can just put it on the copyright registration. I don't know how copyright registration for other countries handles this. – Jay Mar 2 '17 at 16:20
  • I am an Italian-American male. I totally get what you mean by having a name that doesn't fit! Well, I don't feel like my last name would work.... it's a bit long and most people struggle to pronounce it... though it sounds exactly as it is spelled once you hear it! Been debating that if I ever do manage to get a book published, should I use a pen name or not... – ggiaquin16 Mar 7 '17 at 21:22
3

Of course if you want to use a pseudonym, go right ahead. But "James Thompson" seems like a perfectly usable name to me.

Normal reasons to use a pseudonym include:

  1. You don't want friends or business associates to associate you with this book. Like if you're writing pornography, or extremist politics. Perhaps you're afraid of repercussions of one kind or another.

  2. You're name is difficult to pronounce or strange enough that it would be distracting to potential readers. Like if your name is "Poopy McSnotface" and you're writing technical chemistry books.

  3. You think your name sounds inconsistent with the type of book you're writing. Like your name is "Bambi Loving" and you write technical books.

"James Thompson" sounds like an ordinary, respectable name to me. I don't know what your problem with it is.

But given that for whatever reason you don't want to use it ...

If you're publishing through a traditional publisher, you just tell them you want to use this pseudonym and they should handle the details.

If you're self-publishing: Put your pseudonym on the spine, title page, back cover, wherever you put author name. When you file your copyright registration, in the US the form has a place to say that this is a pseudonym. You then may, but are not required to, give your real name. Copyright registrations are public record so if you put your real name there, someone could research and find it. If you don't put your real name, I'd guess this makes suing someone for copyright violation more difficult as you'd have to prove that you are the author. I don't use a pseudonym and I've never sued someone for copyright violation so I don't know the details of that.

If you're not in the US, I don't know how they handle pseudonyms on copyright registrations in your country. You probably would want to look into it, just to make sure there are no gotchas.

2

My background is in digital marketing and I'll answer first from that point of view. "Thompson" is a complex name even for English natives - with or without the "h" or the "p"? By the time you prepare your marketing for all iterations of the spelling, you'll have spent more than others. There's also the chance that as a reasonably common name, there might be a writer with the same Christian name but a variation on Thompson. Even worse, there might be a politician.

Also, I've chosen a pen name because my irl surname is so English that it takes my postman three attempts to say it. I chose something simple, common and two syllable without any major variations internationally.

1

As an aside, you may want to see the discussion here: Would there be any problems with choosing a pseudonym of another ethnicity and sex?

I think if you are using a pseudonym to pretend to be something you're not, that may not be a great thing. It sounds like you are mostly looking for a more exciting or unique name or something that ties more to your subject. That's fine, just be aware of not putting in a layer of meaning you don't intend.

I think @Sara_Costa has a good answer for an approach. I think you may have fun playing with the meanings of names as well as the sound (baby name books or websites are a good source for that information) because you may find a good tie in with your subject matter.

  • Example: "Lemony Snicket." – user23046 Mar 1 '17 at 22:07

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