Pen names

A writer friend, poised on the brink of publication stardom, polled us on the subject of pen names. She has an uneasy relationship with her in-laws, so doesn’t necessarily wish to carry her married name into posterity. Likewise, she has no compelling attachment to her maiden name.

“I want my writing,” she says, “attached to a timeless name that is significant to me.”

Several women we know have kept their first married names (and publish under them) to avoid confusion for their children, and for professional reasons.

I decided to publish under my married name because my maiden name–Babic–coupled with my already unusual first name–Loranne–was just too much. Readers would never spell both correctly in an amazon search, I figured. (“Brown” at least they might get right, although you’d be amazed how many people try to add an “e” to Brown.  What’s with that? “Browne” is ever so much less common.)

As for the six people who might remember me from school–well, I hoped they’d be drawn by “Loranne,” check out my bio and photo, and realize–hey, that’s the kid from kindergarten we always called “Lorraine.”

We all agreed our friend should choose a name she’d like to carry with her into the future, something she’d be proud to have engraved on that Pulitzer or Nobel Prize.

Nonetheless, when choosing a pen name, you have to weigh the anonymity against the potential for recognition by the network you already have. Some things to think about:

  • If  you’ve been through an MFA program and developed a community, how will the 100+ fine writers who already know you recognize you behind a new name?
  • How many old friends who know you as YourNameHere will pick up a magazine article, story, or book and buy it because you wrote it, even if they never read it?
  • How will you explain the pen name to interviewers on the book tour? Pen names are rarely secret identities unless you’re also a super hero.

Your nom-de-plume: maiden, married, invented?

To me, pen names make the most sense when you’re writing and publishing in two genres.  You don’t want to compete with yourself or cause confusion in the marketplace. I publish my literary fiction under my married name.  My line of steamy romances (yet to be written, I hasten to assure you–but you never know when you’ll need a potboiler or 10 to pay off the student loans) will be published under the name Lauren Mitchell: nods to various members of my family.

Have you used a pen name or intend to publish under one?  How’s that working out for you and your career?
Lauren Mitchell


About Loranne Brown

Loranne Brown, MFA: Journalist and novelist (The Handless Maiden, Doubleday Canada 1998) teaches Professional Writing at Trinity Western University, Langley, BC. Blog: Twitter: @MFAGals @LoranneBrown View all posts by Loranne Brown

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