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?
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:
- language (English, Chinese, Spanish, etc)
1.1 decide whether to apply the same language to both first name and surname or use different languages
- 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)
- gender (female, male, unisex)
3.1 initials work great to make a first name seem unisex
4.1 decide if you'd rather have all names be long, short or a combination
- common or not
5.1 should they be common, uncommon, unique, have conventional or unconventional spelling, ...
6.1 should they have an obvious meaning (Autumn), a hidden meaning (Sarah = princess) or no meaning
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.
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.
I wouldn't say that you'd need a pen name at all! 'James Thompson' seems easy to pronounce, easy to remember — an overall good name for writing. To be honest, I would think that 'James Thompson' is a very ordinary and writer-like name.
The only problem is that because 'James Thompson' seems so ordinary, there may be a problem with other authors named such. For example, the first result on google when searching James Thompson authors:
James Thompson (16 October 1964 – 2 August 2014) was an American-Finnish crime writer based in Helsinki. He had a master's degree in English philology from The University of Helsinki, where he also studied Finnish, in which he was fluent. He studied six languages.
Unless this is you, there's the problem about the frequency of the name 'James Thompson' (a list of more James')
Thus, it's all up to you whether you want to use a pen name or not, regarding this information. If you would want to anyway, I recommend finding a name that is unique to individualize yourself as an author, but not unique to the extent of being overly flashy or hard to remember. On this site, there are a number of helpful steps which I will list below in my own words:
Step 1: Determine what age you think is right for your pseudonym that you'd think would make a good impression on the targeted audience. From this, you can find a name on, the suggested site, BabyCenter which apparently can give you common names of any year in the past — one that corresponds with the age you've "identified".
Step 2: Find pen names that fit with the genre you're writing in, such as for a fantasy genre you might choose a more unique or striking name.
Step 3: As the site says, since most authors might want to promote their works in social medias or websites, you should check, using SiteGround to see if your pen name domain is available.
Step 4: Make sure the pen name is easy to spell, remember, pronounce — that it's a name which readers can easily share. You can consider using initials, or making a creative name that will stick in readers' minds.
Step 5: Choose a name that isn't too similar to another author who may be famous, else your name may not show up high on Google, etc. The site also states that you could "get into hot water with the famous person".
These "steps" are just my summed up TL;DR versions of the thorough steps on Kindlepreneur.com, so make sure you check it out for more information.
Hope you figure out what to do with pen names!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Names can be a tricky thing yet having a pen name could protect you from the basic harms. If you decide to do it, then do it. Think about what describes you. And don't worry about others judging your name because so far, nicknames are the worse.