Choosing a pen name is an essential part of writing professionally. You don’t want to use a name that people can’t pronounce or remember, and you certainly don’t want your pen name to be confused with existing authors’ names. A pen name lets you get away from your writing style and genre and allows you to experiment with new ways of writing. In this post, we’ll explain how to choose a perfect pen name for yourself and how it will help you grow as a writer!
Table of Contents
1. Decide if you need a pen name
If you don’t need to use a pen name, then don’t. Don’t feel pressured into using one just because it’s popular or someone said it was necessary. It may not be suitable for your genre or style of writing, and that’s okay!
Also, remember that even if you decide that a pen name is right for you, it might not be right forever. Pen names can change with different projects under the same author’s name.
For example, JK Rowling started publishing Harry Potter under her name but switched to Robert Galbraith when she wanted her non-fantasy novels to get more attention from readers who were only familiar with her work through the Harry Potter books.
If you decide to use a pen name, there are some things to remember. First, make sure that your real and pen names are different enough so that people can’t easily guess which is which (e.g., don’t use the same first letter). Also, if possible, come up with something that has some personal meaning to you or relates well to what you write.
2. Choose a name that supports your brand
Branding is important. If your brand is a business, consider the name of your pen name to match what type of business you are running. For example, if you own a bakery or other food-related business, consider choosing a name that sounds like something that would be used in the food service industry.
If you are writing in a genre that has been done before, consider using an uncommon name for your pen name to stand out from others who have written about the same subject matter. Your goal with this should be to make sure people remember your pen name!
3. Consider using your real name
If you’re writing non-fiction, or your goal is to use your real name for personal branding purposes, a pen name may not be necessary. Writing fiction, however, is a different story. While many authors first create their pen name as an extension of their own identity—and indeed, this can work very well—you must stop and consider what might be more appropriate for your specific situation.
If your writing contains elements of the genre in which your character is based (for example, historical romance), using a pen name that fits within those parameters may help to set the tone and keep readers engaged with the narrative.
A good rule of thumb here is to choose something that sounds like it could belong to an existing character in the book world rather than trying too hard with creativity because often, these types of names come off as forced or contrived when they aren’t needed at all!
You can also consider the tone of your writing and whether or not you want to keep a certain level of anonymity. For example, if your main character is a bit edgy and uses strong language throughout the story, then perhaps using “Jane Doe” instead of your real name might be appropriate.
4. Brainstorm ideas in your genre
Another way to brainstorm ideas is to consider the genre you write in. What types of pen names are prevalent in your genre? What are other authors doing when they choose their pen names? Are there any trends you can identify, like having a play on words or using initials instead of first names?
Additionally, take into consideration what you feel comfortable with as an author. If you’re writing romance novels but aren’t good at creating creative titles, maybe something simple would be best for you (examples: Jane Smith).
However, if humor or wordplay is your strong suit, then perhaps a punny title like “Jane Bites Back” would work better (and if so, go for it!).
You should also think about what your pen name will be used for. If you’re writing a book with no sex scenes, then maybe it’s best to use a more formal-sounding name like Jane Smith. On the other hand, if your book is filled with explicit content and profanity, perhaps something like “Dirty Dancer” would work better (and if so, go for it!).
5. Make it easy to pronounce
You’ll want to make sure that your pen name is easily pronounced. That way, when people read it, they’ll be able to say it correctly and not risk mispronouncing the name.
Some names are hard to pronounce or at least sound similar enough that new readers might mistake one person’s work for another’s. If you have a long, unique name like this (or one with more than two syllables), choosing an alternative will help keep you from being confused with other authors who share a similar moniker.
Other times authors choose short names that can be easily pronounced, but if there’s an alternate spelling or pronunciation for these words, some people may end up saying them incorrectly instead of pronouncing them correctly!
So if you choose something like “Katrina” instead of “Katerina,” don’t be surprised when someone pronounces it “Kate-rin-yah” instead of “Kat-erin-ah.”
6. Make sure no one else is using it
Use the trademark search tool on the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) website to check if anyone else has already trademarked your pen name. Search for your potential pen name and variations in case someone else has registered a similar or almost identical name.
If you’re expecting to be published by a publisher that will own the copyright for your book and may require you to use their pseudonym, do not choose a pen name already taken by other authors or publishers.
It’s best to avoid names already trademarked as well—unless permission has been given to use those names by their owners—especially if they’re popular brands like “Nike” or “Apple.” When choosing a pen name, ensure it doesn’t infringe on someone else’s trademark or copyright.
7. Keep a list of several potential names
A pen name is not a decision you should take lightly. You should keep track of your ideas and consider how each name will fit into the rest of your writing career. This can be done by keeping a list of several potential names and selecting the best one when the time comes.
You can use a spreadsheet, note on your phone, or even a piece of paper if it works! The key is to keep track of all the names that come to mind so that when it comes time to decide which one will be right for you, there won’t be any confusion or delay in finding what makes sense.
When you’re thinking about your name, keep in mind that it should be easy to pronounce. It doesn’t have to be fancy or unique, but it does need to be something people will remember and associate with you.
When choosing a pen name, think about how many syllables it has and whether that will make things difficult for readers trying to say it out loud. If there are too many syllables in the name, people will likely have trouble remembering how to pronounce each one.
8. Decide whether to use nouns or adjectives in your pen name
You might wonder if you should use a noun or an adjective for your pen name.
Well, here’s the thing: most people choose nouns because they are the more common choice. This means that if you use a noun for your pen name, it won’t stand out as much as possible.
On the other hand, adjectives can be used as both nouns and adjectives! So if you want to stand out from the crowd and make sure people remember who they heard back in school, maybe use an adjective as your pen name.
Adjectives are also easier to change than a noun – say some bad reviews come in, and now people don’t like how unique your pen name was anymore. With just one word change (from “uniquely-named writer” to “I am more well-known now than before”), all is good again!
Nouns are easier to remember than adjectives.
This is because they are more common, and people have heard of them before (for example, “writer” is a noun while “unique” is an adjective). Using a noun for your pen name won’t stand out as much as it could.
On the other hand, you can use adjectives as both nouns and adjectives! So if you want to stand out from the crowd and make sure people remember who they heard back in school, maybe use an adjective as your pen name.
Adjectives are also easier to change than a noun.
Say some bad reviews come in, and now people don’t like how unique your pen name was anymore. With just one word change (from “uniquely-named writer” to “I am more well-known now than before”), all is good again! Nouns are easier to remember than adjectives.
This is because they are more common, and people have heard of them before (for example, “writer” is a noun while “unique” is an adjective). Using a noun for your pen name won’t stand out as much as it could. On the other hand, adjectives can be used as both nouns and adjectives!
9. Use a foreign language dictionary for inspiration
You can use a foreign language dictionary to help you find words that meet your criteria. Consider the following:
- Look for words that have an exciting meaning. This is especially important if you’re writing fiction since you can play with your characters’ names and give them descriptive meanings. For example, if I write a story about a character named “Carmen,” it might be more interesting if Carmen means “song” or “poem.”
- Look for words that have an interesting sound to them. What does this mean? Simple: do people say it in their language? Or could they pronounce it easily? If so, it might be worth considering as a title for your pen name because people will be more likely to remember how it sounds when they see or hear it later on down the road!
- Look for easy-to-remember words (not necessarily easy-to-spell ones). You want something memorable but straightforward enough not to overcomplicate things—you don’t want readers feeling like they need a dictionary as soon as they pick up one of your books!
10. Observe acronyms and initials as potential pen names
Acronyms and initials are two common pen names to observe if you’re looking for inspiration.
Using your first and last name in combination, such as “John Smith” or “Jane Doe,” is popular among authors. However, it’s important to note that this may be too obvious—it takes away from the mystery of your pen name, which could also benefit some readers.
The same goes for nicknames (e.g., Joe or Sally). Some people choose their pet names or childhood nicknames as their pen names because they’re memorable and easy to spell; however, they don’t fit into our top 15 tips above since they’re too familiar in real life!
You can also choose a more creative approach, such as using your favorite song or movie title. For example, if you love “Twilight” and want to incorporate it into your pen name, try writing down the first letter of each word in the series (e.g., T-A-M) and then add a letter at the end that starts with “a” (e.g., TAM).
11. Avoid nicknames (unless you’re comfortable with them for life)
While some writers may be comfortable using their given name as a pen name, most will want to choose something different. A good pen name should be memorable and unique, but it must also fit in with your writing genre.
If you don’t want your real name on your book covers or business cards, consider using a nickname just for writing purposes. Some people choose names that are similar to their name (like spelling “Jennifer” with an “I” instead), while others go for something completely unrelated like “Jenny Jones” or “John Doe.”
Whatever you decide works best for you!
11. Consider keeping the same initials for continuity’s sake
If you’ve decided to keep your name but still want to write under a different genre, there are ways around that. For example, if you use first initial and last name and then change genres, the reader might think they’re reading a different author and become confused.
If you decide to change genres but still want to keep your name as well as create some continuity between books in the same series or genre (like using the same pen names), consider switching up just one letter—for example, “S” instead of “K.” This will help readers realize what’s going on without having any issues or confusion about which book was written by whom.
12. Test the sound of the name with people you trust
The name you choose for your writing career is not just for the public. It’s also for you and the people closest to you. You need to say it without cringing, and it has to flow easily off your tongue.
The best way to test this is by asking trusted friends and family members if they like it when they hear it. It can be awkward asking them what they think, but this step will help ensure that there are no major issues with how people perceive your pen name before going public with it.
If someone looks confused or reacts negatively when hearing the pen name, then make sure that this person isn’t part of your circle anymore (or at least don’t ask them for feedback).
If you want to write under different names, and each name has multiple books in your series, consider how readers will find the next one. Will they have to search for it? Will you cross-promote between series on social media?
When it comes to naming your pen name, please take into consideration how easy it is for people to say and spell. You don’t want readers feeling like they’re struggling over these things when they’re reading your books!
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are answers to some of your frequently asked questions about choosing a pen name!
What is a pen name?
Many authors use pen names to protect their identity and privacy.
The pen name is a name that an author uses to write literary works. Authors will often use pen names when they want to separate themselves from their previous work or when they want to keep their work anonymous.
Sometimes, an author may want to use a pen name for another reason, such as a desire for privacy or to keep their real name private to avoid harassment from fans or other people who might recognize them.
Many famous authors have used pen names throughout history, including Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), Charles Dickens (Boz), and George Orwell (Eric Blair). Some authors have even used multiple pen names throughout their career, like JK Rowling, who writes under both Robert Galbraith and Joanne K. Rowling; Stephen King under Richard Bachman; and Harper Lee as Nelle Harper Lee.
You can use pen names for any writing: novels, short stories, poetry, nonfiction essays, screenplays, etc. A writer may decide to use a pen name because they don’t want people to know that they’re writing about something personal or controversial.
What are the common reasons for using a pen name?
There are many reasons why an author might want to use a pen name:
- To protect their privacy
Anonymity can be essential for writers whose work might make them unpopular with certain groups of people — for example, novelists writing about controversial topics like feminism, racism, or homosexuality.
- To separate their writing from other activities
Some writers have separate careers as journalists or academics; others may have children’s books published under one name and adult novels published under another. Some choose different names for different types of writing (for example, fantasy stories under one name and horror stories under another).
- To experiment with different styles
An author may wish to test new genres or styles before committing to a more extended series of books. A good example is a poet John Milton (1608-1674), who wrote several epics in Latin and Greek as well as English verse; he also wrote prose works like Paradise Lost under his real name before adopting the pen name John Milton to publish Paradise Regained (1671).
- To avoid confusion with other authors
An author may wish to publish under a pseudonym if they already published a book in their real name and fear that readers will be confused as to why there are two books by the same person with different titles. This is particularly common when an author has written one successful book but feels they can’t live up to its success with future works.
What are the common mistakes when choosing a pen name?
Choosing a pen name is not an easy task. It takes time, research, and consideration to come up with the perfect name for your writing career.
Here are some common mistakes that writers make when choosing a pen name:
- Choosing something too close to your real name.
It’s essential to remember that people will associate your work with you, so it’s best not to choose a name that is too similar to yours. For example, if your name is John Smith, you probably don’t want to choose “John Smith” as your pen name!
- Choosing something that doesn’t have any meaning or significance behind it.
Your pen name should have some meaning; otherwise, it will sound like every other author out there who has picked a random string of letters at random without thinking about what they mean or how they will reflect on their work and the overall brand image they want to portray through their writing.
- Not researching alternatives before deciding what kind of pen name you would like to use (if you are writing under multiple pen names).
If you’re going to write under multiple pen names, it’s good practice to research different variations of each potential pen name before making a final decision.
Ultimately, there is no right or wrong way to choose a pen name. It’s all about what feels right for you. But be sure to think about these things when making your decision so that you have an informed opinion about what works best for your situation!