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How to come up with a pen name: A step-by-step checklist

1 minute read

A catchy pen name is a way to stand out from the crowd of writers, attract attention and become recognizable and memorable. If you’ve been thinking about getting a pseudonym for a long time but haven’t found a step-by-step guide on how to do it, you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s find out why you need the pen name, how to come up with it, and what to do after that.

When you should get a pen name

A pen name is not a mandatory attribute of a writer, as many authors use their real names. Also, no one is forcing you to come up with a pseudonym. However, there are several reasons why the pen name may be a good idea. What are they?

Your real name is too common and frequently used

Maybe when you were born, it was fashionable to call all the boys Johnny and the girls Samantha. And among all the surnames, your family got Smith, Johnson, or Brown. As a result, you became one of 48,623 people named John Smith. Not a very recognizable name for a writer, is it? It’s easy to confuse yourself with other people. In this case, the pen name may come in handy for your successful career, helping to stand out from the crowd.

You want to separate your personal and professional life

Not just superheroes who have double lives use catchy pseudonyms. You can also be a successful writer in a stylish suit at book fairs and festivals and a good family person in a comfortable robe at home. It is convenient to use pen names to separate these spheres of life. For example, you can apply it to your social media accounts. Share stories from your personal life and photos of family and friends on the personal page, interact with fans, discuss your books and talk about writing using the professional account.

You keep your writer’s career secret

It’s okay and clear: Maybe you are a famous businessman or politician who writes children’s fairy tales. Or you are still not confident enough and ready to tell the world that you are a writer. It does not matter why you have chosen to keep it a secret because you have every right to do so. If it makes you feel calm, use the pen name.

You write in different genres

And you don’t want to confuse your readers. For example, you write fiction for children and non-fiction for adults. It’s a great idea to mark each genre. Or you may write fairy tales and thrillers like Joanne Rowling does, using her pen name J. K. Rowling for the Harry Potter series and the male name Robert Galbraith for crime novels. In this case, when a reader enters a bookstore and picks up a book by Robert Galbraith, he does not expect to meet magicians and hippogriffs on its pages but is ready to dive into a detective story.

You just want to

That’s it. Probably you dreamed of becoming a writer as a child and came up with the pen name long ago. Maybe you like a specific word that sounds cool. It doesn’t matter. Just take it.

Okay, now we’ve figured out if you need a pseudonym, and we’ve got a new challenge: If so, how to invent it?

How to come up with a pen name

Indeed, you can’t just steal a nickname, like Mark Twain, George Orwell, or Richard Bachman. The pen name should be unique, original, and catchy. Let’s find out where to get one.

1. Use online generators

It is one of the easiest ways. You can do it here, here, and here, or google ‘pen name generator.’ Typically, such platforms ask about your preferences, interests, personal details, and book genre. You can click the generate button indefinitely until you get the most good-sounding one.

2. Take a look at your ancestors’ name

Probably, your grandfather had a beautiful name that sounds perfect to become a pseudonym. Furthermore, it is an excellent way not only to get a nom de plume but also to honor the memory of a close relative. For example, bell hooks, whose real name is Gloria Jean Watkins, derived her pen name from her great grandmother, Bell Blair Hooks.

3. Remember what your favorite book, movie, or song characters are

Yes, some genius has already invented an attractive name that touches you. But it supposedly inspires you to create art. Perhaps, when you are listening to ‘Sweet Caroline’ by Neil Diamond or ‘Billie Jean’ by Michael Jackson, you start writing like crazy. So, why don’t you use it as the pen name? But here’s a tip from us: don’t use the identical name, but mix a few.

4. Play with your real name

Also, there is no need to look far and wide, as you can create an awesome pseudonym using your real name. For example, you should add another word to it or change the order – maybe something interesting will come out. You can also create an anagram using the available letters. Lord Voldemort did the same. If you are too lazy to do it manually, use a particular online platform that offers many options.

5. Do some research

If you want your pen name to have some symbolic meaning, you should do some actual research. This method requires the most time and effort. It’s no secret that every name means something. For example, Merida means Brave, Nolan means Champion, and so on. It would help if you also kept in mind that the meanings of names differ in different parts of the planet. Of course, you can google English names and take the first one with the correct value. But take your time – perhaps a real treasure awaits you among African or Indian names.

6. Think about someone or something special for you

Someone once told you that you would definitely become a famous writer. As a child, you always wrote works sitting on a bench in the street named after someone. A specific flower inspired you to write the first story. And that’s where it all started. Think about whether there is a person or thing that deserves to be part of your pen name.

What to do after picking up a pen name

Choosing a pseudonym isn’t enough if you will use it for your career and not only for fun. After that, you should take some steps to make the pen name work for you.

  • Identify your target audience. What are your readers’ age, occupations, and hobbies? Does your pen name sound normal to them? A funny and sweet pseudonym doesn’t suit if you write scientific books for adults.
  • Make sure it fits your genre. Do you write horror books? Some cute pen names, like Merry Bee, aren’t the best option. And on the contrary, Victorian pseudonyms, like Wilhelmina Jewel Finnerty, don’t fit the author of the children’s books.
  • Ensure it’s easy to spell, pronounce and remember. It’s terrific if readers can recommend you to their friends without spying on Google and transcription. It is better to abandon complex combinations of sounds or letters.
  • Check whether it’s available and buy a domain. Every successful author has a website, so you will not be an exception. Therefore, before the final approval of the pseudonym, check whether a domain with such a name is available. After all, readers will easily find your site if it is enough to enter your pen name in the search engine.
  • Make sure it’s not similar to other authors. It would not be delightful if someone searched for your books on a friend’s recommendation and bought another author. To test the uniqueness of your pseudonym, google writers with that name.
  • Register your book under this pen name. And from now on, publish new stories just under it. But you should consider some cons if you do not use a real name. The pen name does not guarantee that you will remain an anonymous author, even if you want to. You should also think about copyright. Standard U.S. copyright protection on anonymous and pseudonymous creative works is shorter in time than those published under real names.
  • Use the pen name on your social media, website, and while visiting professional events. Your nickname should always be associated with you as a writer. And don’t let the real name confuse readers.

Summing up

Our search for the perfect pen name has come to an end. Now you know why you need it. Maybe you want to stand out from the crowd, separate your personal and professional life, or keep your writing a secret – it’s up to you.

We hope you have been inspired to create the pen name and have already outlined a list of options. It may include anagrams, the name of your favorite aunt, movie hero, and mythical characters. Remember that once you have chosen the perfect pseudonym, you should actively use it in any communication with readers, not just mention it on the book covers.

Do you use the pen name? How did you come up with it? Share your experience in the comments.

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Vasylysa In her spare time, Vasylysa likes reading books, writing fiction, gardening, and walking. She hopes to publish her own book and become a famous author one day.
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