To Pen a Name for Thyself (Pros and Cons of Pen Names)

Or to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…

penname blog Some of you may have noticed I have decided to change my publishing name to my actual name from the initialed, androgynous version of it, A. B. Davis. This is sometimes an involved decision for writers. This post explains my reasoning for a pen name in the first place and my reasons for ultimately, making the switch back to my real name. My main reasons for going with a pen name: Anonymity

  • I’m not one of those writers who want to be known in every facet of my life as a writer, specifically because I have a day job (that I will probably be at for a very long time) in which I have to maintain an assertive and professional persona at all times. And I would never want that confused with my authorial persona, because if my real name were published, clients who learned I was the author of those books might make the mistake of likening me to my characters or thinking they could be my friend because they know about my work outside of work. Until I was able to make money off my writing, then I figured I should keep my two personas separate to save the one–just on the slim chance a client were to find one of my works and actually like it enough to read it. And then actually like me enough to try to overstep a boundary. It’s a long shot, I know. But we live in a realm of possibility here.

Just didn’t like it

  • I just didn’t like my real first name. But it is time to embrace the being that is me, and that I am named after a tree–or at least, the Old English, æsc, stems from the ash tree and lēah from meadow. Others are named after worse things. And besides, the proliferation of gum-popping, hair-flipping valley girl Ashleys does not define this one.

Gender Equality

  • I did not want to flag my gender, because I don’t like the associations of my genre (one of them anyway), paranormal/urban fantasy, as being pure romance with no story. I wanted (and still want) men to pick up my books and enjoy them as well. In short, I wanted to be universal. I realize that might have been asking too much. I was also concerned with my gender regarding publishing in general. Because of years of discrimination against women, our books and novels and poetry are inevitably published less and our byline count in literary magazines and academic journals tends to be much smaller.

Reasons I’ve decided to embrace my real name:

  • The most shallow: The penname was ugly. Even though A and B are right next to one another in the alphabet, I always worried people would think ‘Ab’. And I didn’t want to falsely advertise, as I do not have any of those.
  • The most functional reason: The anonymous, initialed penname felt sterile. I’m more human with my real name, less of a nameless, faceless, genderless amoeba. Right?
  • Other reasons: The anonymity is pretty likely to remain regardless of what I publish under. Even my family doesn’t stalk my authorial persona and publications, so I think I’m safe there.
  • My name isn’t THAT bad (See name etymology above).
  • Most important reason: In hiding my gender I felt as though I was contributing to the disparity between male versus female authors published and successful. And some genres truly need women to speak up as this blog points out. As a female writer, one may have to work harder to break through the residual, sometimes even unconscious discrimination against female authors, but they have to know you are a woman for your efforts toward that end to make a difference.

[note: I am never for discounting the work of one gender/ethnicity/age group/etc. in favor of boosting the other. That completely defeats the purpose of equality. But just for fun, here’s a lit journal I found in my research for this blog made by women composed of women writers. While some of it is a little too reminiscent of my graduate days discussing too much pretentious, intellectualist theory, I love the cover art, the poem, “Pulling It Off”, and the interview with Katherine Angel in the 4th, most recent issue]

Do you choose to work under a nom de plume? Why? What do YOU see as the pros or cons one way or the other?

4 thoughts on “To Pen a Name for Thyself (Pros and Cons of Pen Names)”

  1. I didn’t put as much thought into my writer identity as you did. I never considered using my initials and any pen names I came up with were just for fun. I did waver briefly between using my married name or maiden name, but even that choice didn’t take too long. Carie Juettner comes with it’s advantages and disadvantages. Advantage: it’s rare. Disadvantage: No one can pronounce my last name or spell either of them. 🙂 (Hint: It’s YOOT-ner.)

    1. True, Carie. I may have overthought the entire thing. It’s something I’m working on. Another reason I had wanted to go with my initials actually coincides with your advantage for using your married name–my name is so sickeningly common. First and last. But alas, it is more human A.B. (Ab) Davis. 🙂 Thank you for your comment!
      Ps: As you know, I was mispronouncing your surname in my head for a good half a year at least until you righted me.

  2. Am I allowed to say “I’m proud of you” without sounding old and/or presumptuous? Cause I am. 🙂 It’s a scary decision to make our writer identity match our real life one, but you have the best reasons for embracing it. Mine is actually my maiden name, which is now my “middle” name, but everyone in my real life knows that anyway, so it’s less of a pen name than a distinction. (It was also my compromise to myself for taking my husband’s name when we married.)

    And Carie, mine is the same as yours. It’s unique, but no one knows how the heck to say it. =)~

    1. Thank you, Annie; you’re right, terrifying decision. Yes you can say that. Ha! Funny you should mention the knowing how to say your last name. I am usually pretty good at figuring out name pronunciations. But I got both Carie’s AND yours wrong. I realized this after reading an old blog post of yours laying out the phonetic sounds of Neugebauer. I was thinking you were NEW-ga-bower, for sure!


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