Wednesday, February 20, 2013

What's in a name? (Or why I'm thinking of using a pen name.)

What do Maurice Micklewhite, Archibald Leach, Stephen Tallarico, Robert Zimmerman, Eric Blair, and Charles Dodgson all have in common? What? You say you've never heard of these people? Sure you have - just not by these names. So, let me rephrase my question: what do Michael Caine, Cary Grant, Steven Tyler, Bob Dylan, George Orwell, and Lewis Carroll all have in common? You guessed it. They all use stage/pen names. And that is, of course, just a small sampling. The full list is pages long. (It really is. The Wikipedia list was in three columns.)

Actors, musicians, and writers all have a few things in common. We all want to be famous. We all want to see our names... somewhere. For actors, they want to see their names in lights, whether on a Broadway marquee or in the opening credits of a blockbuster movie. Musicians want to see their names on the marquee at Madison Square Garden. And writers? We don't dream of bright lights. After all, we tend to be introverts who would pass out if met by thousands of screaming fans. We just want to see our names on the spines of books - lots and lots of books. But, there's one other thing that writers and entertainers have in common. For some of us, it isn't necessarily OUR names that we want to see. Some of us would be just as happy to have some name that we made up be the one that becomes famous. After all, WE still know who we are, even if the rest of the world doesn't.

The reasons for using a pseudonym vary. Everything from being easier to pronounce, to being easier to remember, to avoiding stereotypes and prejudice, to (especially for writers, who don't necessarily have their face out there) anonymity, to simply liking the new name better. After all, that's another thing we have in common - how many people get to pick their own name?

Personally, I've gone back and forth on it. Back when I was a kid I came up with Diana Godfree. Don't ask me where or why. I think it just popped into my head one day. Now it sounds kind of ridiculous to me. I went through a phase in high school where I was going to use my first boyfriend's last name. Recently, I've been thinking of just using my real name. And then I read The Time Traveller's Wife. And while I can certainly respect Audrey Niffenegger for wanting to have her real name out there - I can never remember her name, much less how to spell it, and I can't quite figure out how to pronounce it, either.

And this got me thinking about my own name. Let's face it, back when they were giving out last names in Germany they weren't thinking about 20th and 21st century Americans being able to spell them or pronounce them. And they weren't thinking about if they would even FIT on the cover of a book. I love my parents, but my name is just impossible. My last name has 12 letters - then they went and added Jennifer in front of it. Riiight... So, I'm now on a quest for a pen name. I had thought of just shortening my last name - but had one of my fellow Scribbers say that "Kling" made her think of Klingons... And of course after that was said, that was all I could think of, too. Which led me to trying to find names in my family tree. The obvious one, my mother's maiden name, is actually not a whole lot better than my last name. And it just gets worse going back in her family. (Please don't ask me my maternal grandmother's maiden name - I couldn't begin to tell you.) Okay, that leaves my dad's side. And... my paternal grandmother was born Evelyn Conrad. I kind of like the sound of Jennifer Conrad, actually. And right now, I'm leaning towards using that. Though, there's this little part of me wondering if I should try to find something a bit more... exotic. After all, I write paranormal romance. And Jennifer Conrad seems an awfully NORMAL name. Which is probably just me being weird, I know.

What's your opinion on the pen name question? Fellow writers, do you use or are you planning to use a pen name? What was your thought process that led you to the decision - whether you use a pen name or your real name?

And that's my semi-coherent ramble for today. Come back on Friday to meet Elijah.

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