What’s In a Name? A Bunch of Letters

Recently I’ve been thinking about what name I should use as a writer. I’d never really given this much thought before. I always assumed I’d use my real last name. It’s unique, definitely makes people pause at it to figure out how to pronounce it. But a recent discussion with a friend and a few other observations made me realize that most writers have pen names.

The reasoning for a pen name (instead of using their real name) is different for every writer. The usual- you don’t want readers to know your real last name for security purposes. You know, those fanatical readers who’ll look up your home address and phone number and come knocking or ringing at 3am. (Who does that?)

At least, that’s the major reason that comes into my head as I ponder this conundrum.

Or, you don’t want close friends or family members to know what you write Example: you write erotica and your family is from the Land of Zion. Or you write Christian Fiction when your best friends are radical Muslims (if that’s the case, you have much bigger problems to worry about).

I’ve come across other reasons that are much more capitalistic in nature. They want a last name in the middle of the alphabet, because their books will be at eye

Eye-Level Shopping

level in the middle of the bookshelf at a bookstore. Thereby increasing their chances that a browsing reader will pick up one of their books first (goes into a lot of market research. Much like in a grocery store. Eye level products get purchased drastically more often).

I’d heard of another author who changed the last name of their ‘nom de plume’ to the middle name of a beloved family member. As an honorarium kind of thing. Very sweet.

Or perhaps their real last name is way too complicated. Mesostophilorgos

Readers would run from trying to pronounce that. And, how would that even fit on the front of a book cover?

All of these thoughts made me wonder perhaps I should consider writing under a different name. Yes, my last name is unique. But is it too unique? I’ve rarely encountered a person who pronounced it correctly the first time. Or second. Or fifth. (It’s become quite entertaining)


Pronounced ‘Shee-hee’

But more often I hear “Shay-hay”… “Shee-lee”… “Hee-shee”… “Shee-hay”. And then finally… “Hey-You”

Would being unsure of how to pronounce an author’s name deter readers from picking up their novel? Among the thousands of options around it?

I could use my maiden name. It’s in the middle of the alphabet.


But then would people assume I’m related to Jack Nicholsonand write horror

Crazy Uncle Jack

stories much like ‘The Shining?’ I’m sure we’re related somewhere down the line, but it’s not like I call him crazy Uncle Jack or anything.

Hmm… what’s that rule about using your old street name and a favorite pet’s name? Oh wait… that’s an entirely different industry.

4 thoughts on “What’s In a Name? A Bunch of Letters

  1. I also relate to the fact that people mispronounce my last name a lot. Like you, I’d never really given much thought to using a pen name. As I’m currently working on my first novel, I’ll definitely have to keep the possibility of using a pen name in mind.

    • Yeah, no one ever says MY name right. S-Z-A-R-E-K and it’s not really as difficult as it sounds. (just lose the S and you have it) However, it’s mine and it’s unique and I am going to use it unless they make me change. I do however have a plan to change if my books change genre. I don’t want to mix my fantasy w/ my cop stories.

      As far as your dilemma, personally, I would go w/ Sheehey!

  2. You’ve touched on a couple of the reasons I write under my maiden name – P is in the middle and I haven’t come across another author with the last name of Packard. Plus, as a little girl, I used to stand in the P aisle at the book store and imagine what the spine of my books would look like. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Nom de plume or not? (8 days to go) « The Write Inspiration

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