Pseudonyms or Pen Names

Have you ever published something under a pseudonym?

I never have, but I have been tempted to. My name in real life also happens to be the name of a rather popular English actress, so that might cause a bit of confusion if I ever published anything. Plus, I have a super-common last name, so that might be a problem somewhere down the line. A pseudonym like “Lemony Snicket” is a lot more recognizable than the ordinary “Daniel Handler,” but I don’t think I’d go the strange/absurd route with a pseudonym.

I would think that pseudonyms might cause issues in the publishing world, especially if you published traditionally. You’d have to make sure you weren’t violating any copyright by using the particular name you chose. But I also think that using a pseudonym would help you separate your identity as an author from your identity as a regular person.

Or, if you write in different genres, a pseudonym might be useful. Writing romances under one name and sci-fi under another, if you’re so inclined. It makes sense. If you’re like Stephen King and you’re very prolific, you could use a pseudonym so that readers won’t think that your books are flooding one genre.

Another thing to consider if you’re looking into getting published…

13 thoughts on “Pseudonyms or Pen Names

  1. I published my books under a pen name, and I have been happy with it. I like having this other sense of self, separate from my daily chores. I found it was a way to identify the part of myself that is writer from the part that is mommy, business person, etc.

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  2. I don’t think copyright laws apply to pseudonyms.
    I know they don’t apply to book or movie titles.

    So, for example, someone could title their book “Harry Potter and the Temple of the Lost Dragon” and publish it under the pseudonym “J. K. Rowling” without violating copyright laws ~ as long as they didn’t plagiarize the content.

    That said, assuming a notable name for you own might run afoul of some other legal restriction . . . but offhand I can’t think of anything that J.K. Rowling could do . . . UNLESS you tried cashing HER royalty checks. :mrgreen:

    If you decide to use a registered trademark (like Coca Cola, IBM, or Margaritaville) as a pseudonym, be ready for the pending lawsuit.

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    1. Nancy,

      You’re right about copyright law, but I would bet that “Harry Potter” is a registered trademark. Otherwise anyone could sell Harry Potter merchandise (and if they could, they’d be doing it).

      At a certain point (late 1960s or early 1970s) the comic book companies figured out about trademarking names, and Marvel, for example, created and trademarked Spider-woman, so DC wouldn’t get to it first, and also a new character named Captain Marvel (despite the fact that DC owned the original Captain Marvel character from the 1940s, which had never been trademarked).

      (This is the very simple version of that story, but you get the idea. It’s the same reason George Lucas and Disney, for example, can bring actions against fan-fiction sites that use their characters in original stories.)

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  3. I switched to a pen name after I got accepted into graduate school. I’m working toward my Masters in Counseling Psychology. I knew if I kept using my real name then there was the chance that potential clients would be able to find personal posts of mine online. Self-disclosure on the counselor’s part is a big issue in our field. I decided it would be best to separate my professional identity from my writing identity. Sometimes you have to take things like that into consideration. How personal your writings are and how much you want people to know about you are important things to evaluate.

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  4. I’ve never not published under a pseudonym. 🙂

    I always felt like it would be really egotistical to have my own name on things. I know that’s how most people do it, but it wasn’t for me. I figured that out very early on.

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    1. I also think it would be egotistical, especially if you ever got the point where they were printing your name larger than the book title on the cover.

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  5. I always thought I would never publish under a different name. I have an extremely unique (yet hard to spell) last name. How bad could it be? However, now that I’m older and one day getting married, this last name will no longer be mine. It’ll go from being unique and hard to spell, to very, very common. Because of this, and the idea that I don’t want the strict church family I was raised in to read my books, I have been considering one. Hopefully I can make up my mind by the time a pen name is needed.

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