Monday 7 February 2011

What's in a name - pen names

Actually, his name is Lucas, he doesn't need a pen name (yet) , and he has nothing whatever to do with this post, except that proud dad has just sent it to me, and it's a lovely pic for a grey Monday morning.

I have had a (vague) discussion with some MNWers about pen names, and would welcome more thoughts. For instance, why do successful writers use two names (Ruth Rendell, aka Barbara Vine, springs to mind)? Why do people choose particular names? Do you use a pen name, and why? When my first book was published, Macmillan wanted me to use my married name, but I preferred Garrood, not least because my children are Garroods (so is Lucas - so there is a connection!), and it's unusual, so easy to Google (if anyone wants to). But as I've already mentioned, I do hanker after my great-grandmother's name, not least because it's beautiful (I'm no longer saying what it is as Len has already threatened to pinch it!). Does anyone else have any thoughts?


  1. When I had my pocket novel published it was as Hannah Fox. Hannah was my first golden retriever. I think having a pen name can free you up to try out different kinds of writing, without being pigeon-holed. Much as I enjoyed doing the pocket novel, my heart isn't really in romance, so sadly I think Hannah may not get her name in print again.

  2. Lovely picture, Frances!

    Olivia Ryan is my pen-name - I took it on at my editor's suggestion when my sixth book was published - the first in a series of three - as a marketing strategy. I still write short stories under my own name (Sheila Norton)and would be happy to use it again if I get a new publishing contract. I found it quite awkward being Olivia, as I was supposed to keep my identity secret at first - but it was a challenge, and fun too!
    I wrote a feature for 'Writers' Forum' last year about the reasons why authors use pseudonyms, interviewing various RNA members about it. Quite surprised how many people do use them, (sometimes more than one), and the variety of reasons!

  3. Hi, Joanne. Yes - I can see that a pen name does free you up, but you must be sad to be burying Hannah!

    Hi, Olivia (Sheila). Yes - Frances Garrood has alwyas been my short story name, but I've been wondering whether a different name might be better for novels. My jury is still out (and my agent's away. I coudnt do it without her approval!).

    By the way, I let my RNA membership lapse. Do you recommend it?

  4. I use a pen name for a few different reasons.

    1) My actual last name confuses people enough in everyday life. No one knows how to say it and no one can remember how to spell it. People even add syllables to it. Bad idea for an author.

    2) I find that writing with a pseudonym helps me "get in character" as an author. That has really helped me free my writing voice. It's like dressing for work, I suppose.

    3) I have a few scholarly publications and when I was doing forensics, my name got on legal reports. It seems to make sense to me to avoid the immediate Google association of that name with fiction.

    4) My dad has a lot of academic publications and his works are well regarded within his field. While he is personally proud of my writing and has no desire to distance himself from it or from me, I don't want compromise his standing. When your name is uncommon, people automatically link instances of it together.

    5) Honestly, I want a bit of a firewall between the people I work with and my writing. I work at a private Christian university. While my writing does not violate any policies and while I feel at peace with how my own faith sits with the ideas I explore in my writing, it would raise a whole lot more eyebrows and cause a lot more concern than I really want to deal with.

  5. I like the idea of "dressing for work", Nevets. That really makes sense.

    So - are you really Nevets, or are you somebody else? I do hope you're Nevets - it would be hard to change mY idea of you now!

  6. Nevets is my pseudonym, but I first started using this name(for different reasons) when I began writing "seriously" at thirteen, so it fits me like a glove.

    There are a couple of folks first came to me as Nevets and have since learned my "real" name, and they sort of move seamlessly back and forth in what they call me.

    Except for one who invariably calls me Nevets.

    Which is totally fine by me. Fortunately, at this point in my life, the main mental differences for me are (a) when I'm writing as Nevets, I'm very focused and driven on the writing and that (b) when I'm working with people as my name that no one can pronounce I'm a little more guarded and reserved. Otherwise, what see as Nevets is what you get. Especially with people who know me in both worlds.

    Someday, should we ever get to meet in person, I'm sure you would find the same! :)

  7. Oh, come on, Nevets! what's' your real name? You have to tell me (us?)now!

  8. Never mind pen names - what a gorgeous picture!
    He's lovely :-)

  9. I have sent you an e-mail, Frances, including all the juicy details on the last name.

    There's actually probably a good story in the last name. Hmmm.

    The tale kind of sounds like something from Mondia. haha

  10. Thanks, Teresa. He's very special (well, they all are) as his parents have had a tragic time baby-wise. But he is particularly beautiful!

    Thanks for the email, Nevets. I now know why you hide your name - complicated but very interesting!

  11. Hello again Frances. For some reason, I've only just noticed your question about the RNA. Yes - I do recommend it, although I rarely go to any of the functions, mainly because they're expensive. But there are local 'chapters' and we have an Essex one, where I've made some good friends. And I also joined ROMNA, the internet forum, where you can join in discussion (or not!) and you can usually find someone who can answer all sorts of queries - writing, research or techie!