Today's hopefully short post from me is about the use of a pen name, or nom de plume. I got to thinking about this topic today while I was at work. I had a stack of reference material that had been loaned to our library, and to make sure it goes back to the right owner eventually, I had to write her name in the cover of each journal- about twenty of them.
As I was scribbling her name, flipping to the next copy, then again, then again, I smirked a little at the thought that this is what it's going to be like to sign my own books one day.
Ha! I'm just going to hang onto that thought, thanks.
Except the only difference was, I wasn't writing my own name. And then it hit me that it's no different at all, because I'm not writing my own name here, either. I decided about three years ago to use a pen name, and that's what I'll be signing my books with in years to come.
Pen names have been used by some of the most famous writers in history, and for a variety of reasons- check out some of these:
George Eliot (otherwise known as Mary Anne Evans)
George Orwell (otherwise known as Eric Blair)
J.D. Robb (who is in fact Nora Roberts in disguise)
Lewis Carroll (whose real name was Charles Dodgson)
Nicci French (who is actually a writing team comprising Nicci Gerard and Sean French)
C. S. Forester (Cecil Smith)
Robert Jordan (James Rigney Jr.)
Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens)
I could go on, but you get the point. Pen names are as common amongst writers as stage names are amongst actors.
So, why use a pen name?
There are a whole lot of reasons why people choose to publish their work under a name other than the one they were born with. Reasons like:
-Pen name sounds better or more distinctive
-Desire for privacy- keeping public life separate from private
-To fit a genre in which the original name might not be as catchy or appropriate
-Because the author writes in more than one genre, and doesn't want their name carrying expectations from one across to another
-Due to controversial themes in the work
-And many, many more
A few of those reasons fit the bill for why I decided to use a pen-name.
My family has always been a little funny about privacy, and I've fallen into the same mode since my daughter was born. Sure, you say. That's why even your daughter has her own blog! But actually, that's exactly why I use a pen name. I don't want to hide away in the dark- I like to blog, I like to share my ideas and experiences, and I think there's a lot of value in it. Using a pen name allows me to do that without fully exposing myself to the wider world.
Some of my other reasons for using a pen name relate to the genre in which I'm writing- it might sound shallow, but I feel like there's a chance I might need to take the George Eliot route and make my name a little more masculine to succeed in the realm of Sebastian Faulks and Ernest Hemingway and the like. If it comes down to that, I plan to use C. S. Gregory as my pen name. Hey, it worked all right for J. K. Rowling, didn't it?
Lastly, I wanted a pen name because I plan to tackle some controversial themes in my stories, in particular those related to the Australian Stolen Generations of Aboriginal people. I feel that fiction writing is a powerful platform I can use to share my opinion on the wrongs of the past- but to do that, I've got to write characters whose views couldn't be more different to my own.
The rub is, I actually work with Aboriginal communities in my day job, and I don't want to associate the views of my fictional characters with my real name for fear of causing hurt.
So, those are my reasons.
Lastly, I guess there's the question of how I came to my pen name. Anything goes if you're looking for one- it's just like naming one of your characters. But for me, I wanted something that sounded literary enough, but also had a level of personal significance. Obviously Claire really is my first name (I thought about changing that, but I felt like I needed it to be "me"). Gregory is a name that bears distant relation to my real family name- some of my ancestors ten or so generations back had a similar name, which later evolved into what my real one is today. So the name isn't totally made-up- for some reason that felt important.
I want to own my work; I want to acknowledge my achievements when they come. I know those are amongst the major reasons why many people do *not* take on a pen name. But by adopting a pen name which is related to my real one, I get the best of both worlds- I'm able to acknowledge my own work, but I'm able to do so without compromising my privacy or offending any friends.
How about you? Have you considered a pen name? Are you using one? How did you choose it, and why?
I bet there are plenty of people out there who are as-yet undecided- maybe you'll read something here that helps!