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How to Create a Pen Name

by The Procrastinating Writer on June 15, 2009

By Jennifer Blanchard

Many fiction writers now and in the past have written under a pen name: Sophie Kinsella, Mark Twain, Lewis Carroll.

A pen name can be a way to make yourself stand out from the crowd (especially if your real name is something common). It’s also a way to conceal your identity, which is important if you write across different genres or also write non-fiction.

But how do you come up with a pen name? How did these famous writers create their names?

Well…I don’t have an exact answer for that, per se. But I do have a bunch of ideas on how you can create a pen name for yourself:

  • Use a nickname you’ve had forever
  • Pick your favorite girl/boy name
  • Use your middle name
  • Use your sibling’s middle name
  • Use a last name you wish was really yours
  • Pick a name that is easy to write in cursive over and over again (making those book signings much easier, of course!)
  • Randomly open the dictionary and pick a word off that page to use
  • Use the name of your street as part of your name
  • Use the name of your favorite childhood toy
  • Use your mom’s maiden name
  • Use your best friend’s first or last name
  • Open the phonebook to a random page and pick a name
  • Use your initials (ex: J.L. Blanchard)
  • Use initials only for your first name (ex: H. Christina Lindley)
  • Use your favorite food (ex: Alexander Pickle)
  • Pick something that rhymes
  • Use your last name as a first name…and maybe also your first as a last (ex: Smith Jarrod)
  • Ask your friends/family to think of something
  • Buy a book of baby names and look through it ’til you find something good

Yes, these may all seem like goofy options (in a way, they are). But that’s the idea.

A pen name should be something that is extremely memorable. Otherwise you won’t stand out from the crowd (which is pretty important if you plan to make any money as a fiction writer).

Use these suggestions as a jumping off point for creating your pen name.

And remember, you can mix-and-match the suggestions, as well (for example, use your sibling’s middle name and part of your street name).

Do you have a pen name? How did you come up with it? Or if you don’t have one, do you now have some ideas for how to create one?

NOW AVAILABLE–Pen Name: How To Create Yours, an eGuide that will take you through the process of finding and creating your pen name.

{ 50 comments… read them below or add one }

1 DonaldEWQuist June 16, 2009 at 11:56 am

I’ve actually been trying to think up a pen name. Thanks for the suggestions.

2 HD Silversmith June 16, 2009 at 12:13 pm

Writers of creative non-fiction do this, too, of course.

I smiled as I read through this psot because I asked myself all these questions as I debuted a new blog. I wanted my pen name to be separate and apart from my other online personal and professional identities and my earlier blogging identity.

HD = 1) the initials of the first and last names of an historical figure about whom I’d written and done a lot of research; 2) the initials of Hilda Doolittle, American writer.

Silversmith = I liked the connotations of a past era, and it’s also connected to my identity on SecondLife –> old/new combined.

Thanks! Fun to read.

3 Wendy June 17, 2009 at 8:06 am

I have been contemplating using a pen name for awhile, but I had a question about how you get paid and put the money in the bank with a pen name? Or does it matter as long as you are clear with the company that publishes it?

Thanks! Wendy

4 The Procrastinating Writer June 17, 2009 at 9:55 am

@HD Silversmith What a great pen name! I like that you broke it down and showed where you got your name from.

My pen name is Elle Riley–Elle is my favorite girl’s name and Riley is part of my street name.

@Wendy I’m not 100 percent on the answer to your question (time for me to do some research!)…but my guess would be, it’s like using a DBA (doing business as) to open the bank account. You are “doing business as” your pen name, but your real name is Wendy. Many businesses use DBAs, as well.

5 Sharon Smith June 17, 2009 at 12:54 pm

I have such a common name it is almost humorous. I show up at any appointment and have to give my birth date to verify they pulled the correct Sharon Smith file. I have been contemplating using a pen name for my first book, but wasn’t sure if that would help with the name recognition I have been working on as of late through my “platform.”

6 The Procrastinating Writer June 18, 2009 at 10:07 am

@Sharon Smith I have a pretty common name, too (my first name). Anytime I go anywhere…the doctor, the grocery store, work, school, anywhere…there’s always someone else named Jennifer.

I’ve developed quite a following under my real name (due to this blog), so I had the same thought as you did–will using a pen name help me at all? I’ve decided, however, that I want to keep my fiction work and my non-fiction work separate, so a pen name works well for that.

7 Andy Bee July 9, 2009 at 10:40 am

I’m constantly surprised when I travel up and down (the UK) and see signposts for towns with oddly familiar names.
Latterly I saw Felton (Tom Felton – Draco Malfoy) Elton (Reg Dwight’s alter-ego) Lansbury (Angla Lansbury). There are scores of others – makes me wonder if actors and musicians pick their names from Road Atlases.

There’s an old joke that involves picking your film star name by using your first pet’s name followed by your street name. That would make me Harry St. Godric which I thought would help me to stand out all right, but would cause carpal tunnel syndrome at the book signing…

8 Ryan T July 14, 2009 at 12:44 pm

I can actually open up a bank account useing the Pen name as the business name and the writer as the account signer. My bank in az does not require any paper work to set this type of account up just a valid DL or state id or passport. The account will be opened under the writers social number. Any questions feel to to contact me via rthayer@tcfbank.com

Thank You
Ryan

9 S. Megan Payne October 5, 2009 at 6:54 pm

The pet and street would leave me with Hamlet Rio Secco. Boy, would I be in trouble if I used that! LOL Haven’t found anything I really like. I used to want to go with Megan Pennworthy, but I decided it didn’t really fit with the fiction I’m getting myself into now. And that left me with… Hmm… Considering my first name Shannon, and my middle name Megan (I hate Meg, but like Megs, but can you imagine that on a book cover? :shudders:), and the fact that I seriously want to distance myself from a book I self-published once… I really need to figure something out.

10 I.M.Free October 22, 2009 at 12:22 pm

The basis how I created my pen name was what I wanted to become of myself and what I wanted to share of myself. It was a long time process of self-exploration…read more at http://www.lifeilive.info/blog/creating-my-pen-name-how-and-why.html

11 hannah January 24, 2010 at 12:34 am

This pen name, Hannah Wicklow, was born out of what my Heart finds lovely and beautiful! I’ve always thought that the name “Hannah” was beautiful and I love it’s meaning of “grace/gracious.” Wicklow is in reference to the most beautiful place I have ever seen (at least in pictures and hope to visit someday), which is the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland. So, my “formula” was favorite name for the first name (depending on what gender you prefer to write in) and favorite place for a last name (city, state, country, landmark, etc.). Another name could be “Rose Austin”, “Katherine Dublin”, “Noel London”, or “Audrey Paris”. Yeah, just totally random but so many choices! Look at a baby name book and then look at a globe and you’ll have so many ideas that it will be hard to even “narrow it down”!

12 SC June 15, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Hmmm, Suzanne Capleton.
I like it. 😀

13 Zoe September 25, 2010 at 11:28 pm

I was thinking maybe Victoria Kellett (best friend’s middle name + street name) or Z.A. Taylor (initials + last name I wished was mine) as a pen name. My dad always says that Taylor is a good last name for people who want to be successful, although I don’t know why :/ I just like Taylor because some of my favorite celebrities have that first or last name. But then I would have to change the last name of a character in my book, so I’m not sure… Hmm, I guess I’ll figure it out.

14 joel October 14, 2010 at 3:07 pm

awesome website i have seen

15 Jade Hedrick December 7, 2010 at 4:11 am

Its nice to know how to make a pen name for myself, thanks for the suggestions! I have another question for you though. I am a young, aspiring author and I love reading and writing romance! The problem with that is my family members aren’t exactly thrilled with this. I want them to be proud of me if (ands when 😉 wink wink) I publish my writing, but I’m not sure I would want them to read what i write…I’m not sure wether or not to hide this from them by using a pen name or just come out and show them the writing I love. Any suggestions!!!

16 Jennifer December 7, 2010 at 2:23 pm

@Jade Hedrick What you’re dealing with is a very common scenario writers face–how do I deal with my family and friends disapproving of my writing? Here is a post I wrote that discusses this very thing: http://procrastinatingwritersblog.com/2010/06/be-a-better-writer-today/ You might want to start by reading this. The best advice I can offer you, however, is write it anyhow. Write whatever is in your heart. A pen name would work, but if your writing got famous they’d eventually find out it was you. I think your best bet is to just write what’s in your heart. If your family really loves you (and I’m sure they do), they will be supportive. And if not, oh well. In this life, you have to do what’s right for you. It’s not about pleasing other people; it’s about pleasing yourself.

17 Matt February 25, 2011 at 10:51 pm

I used a random name generator, sat with it for about 5 hours and eventually got Elowen Anath Kondrat, I’m sure it means something!

18 A.V Fury March 3, 2011 at 9:09 pm

how about this? i took middle initial and my last initial and flipped open the dictionary and randomly found the word fury: A.V. Fury, i think its kind of catchy

19 Jennifer March 3, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Yea that’s definitely catchy!

20 Chalse March 12, 2011 at 10:32 am

I was thinking about a pen name and I am sure I need one. My first name is Chalse (which is pronounced Chelsea, which I figured could be very confusing for readers) and my last name starts with an o and is very difficult to spell or even pronounce. I was thinking of giving myself something with my initials like C.O (Last name) here because I want to put some of my real name there, but make it still stay anonymous.
I was thinking something along the lines of C. O. Scott.

21 Michael Pospical April 2, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Hi Jennifer, (and everyone else reading) I don’t have a Blog Website (yet). I have been reading up on blogging since 6:00AM PST and came across your site. So far, you have held my attention the longest!! Lots of good reading here.
I was telling my daughter today, I can talk up a storm with all the right things to say, but my fingers won’t find the right words to type it into a blog. I go brain dead when I try. Why is that? (still reading for answers)
Now to get back to the subject of your page on a pen name. (sorry for the sidetrack)
I was wondering the about using a pen name for my (future) blog page.
It would not be for the purpose of concealing my real name: Michael Pospical, it would be for sharing who I have been for the life of my career as a truck driver (over 30 years) and now trying to work from home via the internet in network marketing.
So many people know me as “Popsicle” (close resemblance to my last name) and not my legal name.
Would this be appropriate for my blog page and not ruin or hurt me in trying to promote my products? Currently, I only use my legal name on my advertising website and social sites.
I understand I need to brand myself thru blogging.
Any words of advice or thoughts will be greatly appreciated.
Thank You.

22 A young author April 21, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Rose Monroe(siblings middle name + street name)
Thanks!

23 Morley April 29, 2011 at 7:49 pm

I absolutely despise my surname. If you all could assist me in coming up with a new one, that would be just splendid!

24 Lyss May 25, 2011 at 5:43 pm

I’ve been having troubles coming up with a pen name, like literally there is a notebook full of possibilities, and this listed just helped me. -.- wish I seen it earlier.
I used the nickname plus the siblings middle name one combined, worked splendidly.
Thanks so much!

25 Taylor Bird June 27, 2011 at 6:10 pm

My pen name is Alexander Trinity. I am not a published author, i write short stories, i created this pen name using your blog, i combinedd ideas and tweaked. I used my favorite girls name Alexandra, made it male, Alexander, and used my cousins first name as my pen last name. Another one i have it A.T. Tealwood. Using the same ideas but also using my street name.

26 Ashlee July 19, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I came up with a few names but I don’t know if any of them are “catchy” per se. I wanted to see what others thought were the best ones of them:

Lindsay Hayden (Friends middle name and street name)
Heidi Durant (nickname and another street name)
Taylor Gatto (Two jugglers’ last names)
Elizabeth Meiner (Like the name)
Casey Crowley (Friends name and magician’s last name)
May Taylor (Two juggler’s last names)
Marie Gatto (Middle name and juggler’s last name)

What ones do you all like the best? Or maybe if you have any suggestions I’d love to hear them. Thanks

27 Lizzy July 21, 2011 at 10:44 am

Elizabeth “Lizzy” Randolph… sibling’s middle name, street name. What do ya’ll think?

28 Lizzy July 21, 2011 at 10:48 am

I’m also thinking of:

Stephanie Crowley (friend’s name and other friend’s last name)

29 Sarah July 31, 2011 at 4:15 pm

I was thinking something like S. K. Rena. I find it very catchy.
@ Lizzy I think i like the first one better, but it’s up to you.

30 Samantha August 7, 2011 at 8:31 pm

My real name is Samantha Peterson so the problems are quite obvious. I don’t even have a middle name to help differentiate.
So I decided to keep my first name because I do like it and it’s easy to remember, so it’s fine. The main problem is the last name. I wanted something familiar, was easy to sign with my first name, and kept the eight letter combo. I admit I have grown quite fond of the length of my name. So I tried using words that started with Pe- Sometimes I would cut up words and combine others, but ultimately I ended up with Perillin. Derived from “in peril” because that’s what I would be if I couldn’t find a name.

31 Angel Ardwyn August 28, 2011 at 2:16 pm

I use a pen name because my real name is boring. Angel, from a toy cat that used to be my sister’s before she died, and Ardwyn is the name of the house I live in. Ardwyn House. So I’m Angel Ardwyn, I only ever write fan fiction on the internet though so it makes a great username that noone else has.

32 dave September 2, 2011 at 6:29 pm

ok i have a pen name . what i want to know is hos does it get registered, or does it need to. I actualy have two for two different types of books i am working with or trying to get published

33 Jennifer September 2, 2011 at 9:39 pm

@Dave You don’t have to register it you just use it like you would your real name (other than for legal purposes, obviously!). What you do need to do, however, is create an author persona for your names. Think about a website or Facebook/Twitter account to help people get to know who you are as an author. You will want to take on the pen name for when you publish, when you do book signings, etc.

34 Isabella Lopes September 5, 2011 at 9:59 pm

I hate the fact that there isn’t anything very appealing to my surname, and although I do love my first name, it’s very hard to couple it with a surname that will make it sound cool and interesting. So I thought of Sophie Kellam. I really like the name Sophie and Kellam is a surname that I wish to have 😉 Also I thought of only changing my last name so that it’d be Isabella Thorpe (a character from Jane Austen’s “Northanger Abbey”), however this isn’t a particularly nice character as she is one of Austen’s “female devils”. I have even considered Luisa Denham, my sister’s second name and part of my street. I will list the other possibilities me and my mum have thought up of together with the
ones already mentioned:

Sophie Kellam
Isabella Thorpe
Luisa Denham
Isabella Robinson (my mum insists on having something “English”)
Marina Rose (this is absolutely random, it’s a name written across a T-shirt from H&M)
Elizabeth Drinkhall (my best friend’s middle name and my other best friend’s surname)
Catherine Yorkshire
Hayley Morland
Avril Whittacker

Some of these names (especially the last one) came to me as I was writing them. I am open to any suggestions. The genre of book(s) is children’s fiction, and what I’d like to call dream-related (the latter is a story based upon an interesting dream).

Regards,

Isabella

35 heidi September 22, 2011 at 3:00 am

i’ve recently came upon the pen name kenneth memorized (no capitals). my brothers middle name and a word that i constantly think about.

36 Yvonna October 11, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Well, my name is somewhat unique but I feel too embarrassed to use it in writing. My first name, Yvonna, obviously, is somewhat ‘odd’ and memorable while my last name is plain. Hence me and my 6 siblings: Ada, Titus, Claudius, Thaddeus, Terracina, and lucky youngest Jacob. Plus, I get embarrassed when writing that someone in my ‘real’ professional job will recognize me or link my fictional writing to my scientific writing (which by the way if you have a unique name it makes Google Search much more telling; even my middle name is strange: Ulina so can’t use that). I like to remain completely anonymous in real life as a fiction writer but fear some day, especially if my dreams of making a bestseller (not even close) come true, being found out. Too hard to hide in todays world.

37 Carey December 26, 2011 at 8:44 pm

I am writing a romance novel, but only my friends know about it. The truth is, I’m kind of ashamed to show it to anyone especially my family, since I usually write more meaningful sentiments. I am trying to come up with a pen name to use, to keep it slightly more anonymous.

I love the name Carey, after my favourite actress (Carey Mulligan), but I am stuck on a last name.

Any suggestions?

I have tried street names and pet names, but they didn’t really work. I love names like “Jane Austen” and “George Orwell”, so I am looking for a kind of old fashioned but catchy last name that is easily recognizable and memorable.

Please help! Thanks in advance!

38 Slee December 27, 2011 at 4:12 pm

I keep wanting to use something like Strange for the last name. Lizzy Strange. Haha, but of course, I’m a nerd and will likely keep something very close to that with which I was born.

39 Nomface January 6, 2012 at 10:28 am

Hi. I have been doing my book for six months now and have gotten over halfway through. I am near publishing and want to know: Is it okay to use a random pen name?
If I do, is there any legal difficulties that would stop me?
I am thinking the name “Daisuke Takoyaki” (I love you fried squid. LOL)
I am obviously whit so the name would standout, true?
I am in Australia, so, any Australian law stopping me using that name?

40 Jennifer January 6, 2012 at 11:42 am

@Nomface As far as I know there aren’t laws around what your name can be, especially a pen name. But you should keep in mind that your pen name needs to be 1) easy to remember (people need to be able to remember who you are in order to find you/buy your books) and 2) should be something you can comfortably and confidently build a platform around (if you choose a bad name a few years down the road you may want to change it and then you’ll have to start back at square one). Other than that I say choose whatever name you love. Good luck!

41 Nick Haynes January 15, 2012 at 12:18 am

Ok so I was thinking about some different pen names!
– pierce halliwell
– Phoenix halliwell
– Samuel chamberlain
Email me ur answer! Nicholashaynes12@yahoo.com

42 Maude Prepson February 1, 2012 at 1:55 am

I use Maude Prepson which is actually an anagram for three different words. Try and figure out what they are 🙂

43 Libby February 17, 2012 at 9:16 pm

Thanks so much for the suggestions. I came up with a few pen names and I would appreciate it if I could get some feed back. My real name is Libby Graham but I can’t sign the name Libby well to save my life. Here they are:

Ainsley Oak (I know Ainsley isn’t very easy to spell but I find it has a nice ring to it.)
Ivy Dakota (The opposite of the 2 – 1 syllable rule but…)
Peyton Anderson (The last name is my my friends)

Please tell me which one you like most. I would really appreciate it!

Thanks,
Libby

44 Sophie Ryder March 17, 2012 at 7:11 am

What do you guys think of Sophie Ryder or maybe Sophie Elliott? Sophie is my favorite name and Ryder and Elliott are my best friends names.

45 Jared Fasching March 20, 2012 at 6:47 am

What about the name WIlliam Flash for a pen name? I am going to be writing some sort of Fiction/Fantasy book

46 Jared Fasching March 20, 2012 at 6:48 am

*.

47 Tina April 17, 2012 at 8:26 pm

I have a pen name and was trying to look up how to go about using it legally on my books. The way I chose my pen name was I don’t really like my name, Tina, because I got teased as a kid. I decided I liked something else better and put it together with my stepdad’s last name.

48 Jennifer April 18, 2012 at 7:37 am

You can legally use a pen name. All you have to do is research to make sure no one else has the name copyrighted o trademarked. Then just get a DBA (Doing Business As) filed with your county so you can do business legally under your new pen name. Pretty simple!

49 SamanthaEmmett April 29, 2012 at 10:43 am

I took the first sound of my last name and made it the first sound of the first name, and vice versa. Therefore Elizabeth Sutton becomes Samantha Emmett.

50 Zack May 1, 2012 at 8:02 pm

Hello there and thank you for this wonderful blog. I have so many great ideas for a book, but whenever I go to write them, I either forget them or when I write it, the words do not feel right and I start the idea over. Should I just go with my gut and keep it, or rewrite it so it sounds more professional.

Also, can you explain a DBA to me… If you are not over 18 (I am 15) is it still legal for me to do this?

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