Pseudonyms for dummies: Forging a new identity
26 Thursday Jan 2012
Written by Laura Roberts in Writing Tips
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Hi! My name is Nora Roberts, and I write romance novels. I’m also Julia Roberts’ younger, hotter sister. And no, I did not have relations with that hamster.
What’s that? You thought my name was Laura Roberts? And that I wrote erotica? And that there’s no family connection to Julia? Clearly you’ve been deceived!
Actually, this post is all about pseudonyms, which for writers are a socially acceptable form of lying about yourself. Seeing as there are quite a number of ladies named Laura Roberts in the world (some of whom are also, oddly enough, writers), I’ve recently been thinking about changing my name to something a little more vivacious. Something that really screams “erotica writer.” You know, something like Cherry Poppins.
WHY USE A FAKE NAME?
There are actually a lot of different reasons for using a pseudonym, whether you’re trying to get away from a boring or over-used name or need to disguise your true identity. Mostly I’ve encountered the question of the false name with respect to my past life as a sex columnist, and current life as a trashy novelist. Some people think I should be ashamed of writing about sex, while others just think my name should be a little more Anaïs Nin than *yawn* Laura Roberts.
Seriously, though, how cool would it be to have an umlaut in your name?
Other good reasons for getting yourself a pseudonym include:
- “I write about personal subjects, and don’t want my family to get mad at me!” (see: David Sedaris)
- “I work as a schoolteacher, and don’t want my students—or their parents—to find out about my double life writing erotica!” (see: Judy Mays)
- “I wrote a ‘memoir’ that turned out to be fiction, and now no publisher will touch me with a ten-foot pole!” (see: James Frey)
- “I started off writing mysteries, but now I write horror and suspense novels, and my agent doesn’t think fans from one genre will cross over to the other!” (see: JA Konrath, aka Jack Kilborn)
- “There are already 90 different writers with my name!” (see: Laura Roberts—oh, hello!)
So, are there any drawbacks to using a pseudonym? Yes, if you want the people who know and love you to be able to Google your work. Or if you end up having to convince a would-be employer that you really wrote those awesome novels they are all excited about, despite the fake name (and bio) on the back of the book. Or if someone unmasks you as that whore, Cherry Poppins, in front of your co-workers, students or peers.
It can be a tricky subject, explaining your double life to people who don’t really understand the concept of fiction.
But if you like to write about taboo subjects and don’t want anyone to know that you’re really just a kindly old woman who loves dogs and knits afghans in the UK, then a pseudonym generally provides pretty good protection—so long as you’re not out tweeting and blogging and generally giving away the fact that your fake name is, well, fake. Be sure to keep a separate website, and social media accounts, for any names you’d like to keep separate from your real-life alter ego. Otherwise, you may end up like Penelope Trunk, who formerly used the name as a pseudonym, and later ended up changing her real name to fit the popular persona she’d created!
PICKING A PROPER PSEUDONYM
Okay, okay: I’ve convinced you. Now, how do you come up with an awesome pseudonym that fits your need for a convincingly different name? First you’ll want to consider the type of writing your pseudonym is for and tailor it appropriately. For instance, “Mysteria, Goddess of the Night” is great for a gothic novelist, but not so awesome for a political blogger. (Or, at least, not for any of the political bloggers I’ve ever read… your mileage may vary.)
Here are some tried and true methods for coming up with a genuine-sounding fake name:
- Riff on the old “porn star name” method of combining the street you grew up on with your middle name or the name of a favorite pet: Mine would be Nicole Melrose, which sounds like a pretty good name for a writer of erotic fiction.
- You could also try spoofing an existing celebrity name, like Perez Hilton. Lots of celebrities have also grabbed their first or last names from movie marquees, like Michael Caine (who jokes he could’ve ended up as “Michael 101 Dalmatians” if The Caine Mutiny hadn’t been playing that day), so give that a whirl.
- Maybe you’ve got a nickname that’s always suited you better? You could be Lucky Leroux or Johnny Aces. This seems to work well in the world of crime fiction, so embrace your inner gangster and give ‘em both barrels.
- Take a page from the lady novelists of the 18th century and abbreviate your first and middle names to mere letters! L.N. Roberts sounds a little clinical to me, but maybe it could work for a medical thriller.
- If you’re really stuck, let a computer pick out a new name for you. Try the Internet’s slew of name generators, and keep reloading until you find something you like. I recently stuck my full name into an anagram generator and came up with Liberator Larcenous. What a great name for a crime novelist—or a literary gang!
Coming up with your pseudonym should be fun, so get creative! Just remember to pick something you won’t mind being stuck with for a while. After all, who knows how far you’ll go with your new name?