True Confession: I want to change my name.


a pooks by any other name

Why? I can’t pin it down. Partly as a marketing move, because there are so many Patricias around, far more established than I am.

Partly, for privacy. In today’s world the only way to possibly (emphasis on possibly) maintain some sort of privacy is to use a pseudonym that isn’t linked to any address anywhere.

Oh, and yes, there is that pesky little detail that Patricia is evidently a middle-aged name and the books I’m writing now are targeting a very wide audience which includes YA readers.

I wasn’t sure I wanted to admit that part in public, but then I read this article about a new author in the UK, Ali Knight. She writes thrillers.

She had to come up with a pseudonym at her publisher’s request because in the UK her real name “Alison” is seen as middle-aged and safe, boring. And her surname “Potter” creates other issues. Does she want people to see her name and immediately think of wizards or rabbits wearing jackets?

This bothered her.

And me? I’ve been itching for an agent or publisher to tell me to create a pseudonym for my new books.

And we get back to why. And I don’t know. It’s just an itch, and more than that, a “knowledge” that it’s something I really should do when my fantasy novels are published.

So, you’d think this would thrill me. “Okay, let’s do it! Let’s come up with a new name!” But it’s hard. It’s hard because every first name I think of, I immediately think of another author–often someone I know–with the same name. And it feels particularly awkward when that author is using their real name. Like I’m stealing.

I thought of Phoebe. Why? Because it’s almost PB, my initials.

Then I thought of family names. Vida, Carrie, Demma, Josephine (yikes). I think of family surnames. Nicholas, Beasley, Walden, James. This isn’t helping, is it? (Although I have an urge to use some combination of the above, feeling very Victorian about it all.)

But if I do, isn’t that negating my initial acknowledgement that a new pseudonym should reach to a younger reader?

So, I continue to ponder.

Have you ever wanted to change your name? For real life purposes? For writing purposes? Do you know what you wish it to be?

And what about my options? Do any work for you? Demma, Vida, Carrie, Phoebe or Paige?

Tell me about it!


Patricia Burroughs
“If at first an idea isn’t absurd, there’s no hope for it.”
Albert Einstein



True Confession: I want to change my name. — 22 Comments

  1. I hate my real name. It’s never felt like me. But at the same time, I don’t want to use a pseudonym…and changing it legally seems too expensive and too much trouble.

    Maybe put two of the first names together? (Just don’t make it “Phoebe Paige.” That sounds too much like something out of Charmed.) And change a spelling perhaps. Kerri Vida, maybe? Jo Nicholls instead of Josephine Nicholas. Demma is odd enough to be memorable on its own. And, depending on how modern you want your name to sound, you can go through Social Security’s lists of popular names for each year from 1880 to 2011.

    • Paige actually came from the Social Security lists as a name that is common in Millenials, so that’s a great idea. Thanks for the variations. I have a lot to play with here!

  2. As a young reader, I didn’t even look at the authors name when choosing books. I looked at the cover, and the title, and the back blurb, and might look for authors whose other books I had enjoyed. Maybe I was atypical, but I don’t think it’ll be your name that draws readers to your books our drives them away…

    Which is not to say that you can’t use a pseudonym! What about initials, like J K Rowling, or a nickname, a replaying name, or a favorite character name?

    • I agree about covers. I am still easily drawn in by a cover that hits the right buttons. I’m glad to know that can trump the name itself!

  3. Deciding to use a pen name was a no-brainer for me, because my real name is already thoroughly owned by lots of people who are doing interesting things with it. If you search on my real name, you’ll get over 100 books on Amazon, about 10 million hits on Google. Search Sarah Wynde, though, and Amazon takes you straight to my books while Google — well, people get different results with Google, but I suspect the first page of your search results would all be me. I have to go about ten pages down to find a link that belongs to one of the real Sarah Wyndes. I think there are only two of them, and they really weren’t using their name much.

    If you’re going to use a pen name for marketing purposes, your first goal should be online findability and search engine optimization. Publishers used to tell authors to pick names from the middle of the alphabet so that their books would wind up in the middle of the shelves at the bookstore: today, it’s more important to make sure that your name is going to be easy to search on and easy to find. And easy to remember is handy, too. Wynde is unusual enough to be unique but easy to explain to people that I’m casually chatting with. (It’s Wendy, but the y and the e change places, and yes, my real first name is Wendy.)

    Of the names you listed, I wouldn’t chose Carrie or Paige because of the alternate spelling problem. When a reader tells her friend, oh, you should check out this book by a great author I found, Carrie Burroughs, you don’t want the reader going home and typing Kerrie or Kerry or Cari into her search engine (or Page, for Paige). My general sense would be that Demma or Vida are a little too unusual. With Demma, I think you’d wind up with people thinking it might be Emma, because that name is more familiar. In fact, a quick check later, Google tried to give me Donna or Emma as alternatives.

    But Phoebe is a nice name, familiar to most people, and reasonably popular these days. Another quick check — can you tell I’m doing some serious procrastinating this morning? — says that it’s been in the top 1000 most popular names since 1989. Perfect timing for you, since it’s most popular among people aged 24 and younger. Quick google search and although there’s a lot of hits on Phoebe Burroughs, the top hits all belong to genealogy sites, which means no one’s actively using it. That’s a good sign, it means your SEO would be easy.

    On Amazon, you might need to spend a little more time. Ideally, after you’ve picked a first name, you want to be the author that appears first as soon as someone types the first initial of the last name, or at least to be non-competitive with them. So when I type Phoebe B (assuming you’re thinking of using Burroughs), Amazon wants to take me to Phoebe Bright and she has many listings under Children’s Fantasy. I doubt her books would really be competitive with yours, but you might want to consider a different last name. If I were you, I’d work my way through the alphabet, looking at all the Phoebe letters and seeing which ones are already in use by authors who might be competitive, then work on a last name from there.

    Wow, this turned into a lengthy answer. And I bet it took all the romance out of picking a pen name, didn’t it? I think Phoebe could definitely be a winner, though!

    • This is an amazingly helpful response with information and strategies I hadn’t read before. Thanks for going into such detail. I’m really thrilled!

      • Me <– former acquisitions editor for a division of Pearson that published books on graphic design, web design, and marketing. I thought when I left that it was such a specialized field that I might have essentially made myself useless, but I'm discovering that it's actually a sort of perfect range of knowledge for the indie-publishing world.

  4. My only advice is the same that I give to young writers who are making up names for their fantasy heroes — Google. If your brawny barbarian king has a name that in Serbo-Croatian is slang for someting unpleasant that horses do with their manure, then you do want to know this.

  5. I see your wrestling match and join it. I know Phyl recently chose a name that would show first in catalogs (“A” last name) where I’m not sure that matters as much. When I made the slight tweak to Cat for the SF, it was purely to try and have my name show up on cover icons. I went to the real Cat spelling to avoid the fact that search engines (ie Amazon) automatically use a variant spelling for my first name — and that keeps the books from pulling up together, because it was misspelled on my third inside cover.

    Simplify, and a unique combination. ARGH

    There’s an adult urban fantasy in my future, and I suspect it will be pseudonym unless my agent gets crack at it. But no one ever asked for a pseudonym. I was told that the stats on earlier sales had fallen off, leaving the good press for my name. But my full name is too long for books now, so I’m guessing that change will happen on works unconnected to prior worlds. If I need a woman’s name, I might use Eliska because it is fairly unique. But also very female. Maybe if I try romance? Feeling a need for unisex this time out. I tried bucking the “pretend to be male” and I believe it hurt me.

    • I love Eliska. I envy people with cool and pretty names. Or cool and unusual names. Oh wait, I don’t have to envy. Even if I don’t use Pooks on books!

  6. I think I’m the queen of pen names at BVC. I first chose Irene Radford as my primary pen name because there was another author with my first and last name (different middle) both were not usual. We even wrote on similar topics. This was before Google and the internet. I still get requests to autograph her books because my copyright name is so similar.

    Secondly I chose my middle and maiden name (now my legal name) because at the time there was a BIG kerfuffle in the romance field about the publishers insisting on a pen name and then owning it. Authors couldn’t take the name to another publisher. Even though SF/F isn’t as fussy about that (except in work for hire) I still wanted a name I legally owned. So I became Irene Radford

    But then the numbers game hit and my publisher wanted a new name. P.R. Frost (Phyllis Radford and my grandmother’s maiden name). Then I wrote something totally off the wall and different. New name C.F. Bentley–more family names. Time passed. Things changed. Traditional publishing still moving at the pace of a giant three-toed sloth. New book proposal and a new name and no numbers yet on other pen names. I write too fast for them. Phyllis Ames–top of the catalog rather than eye level in the middle of a brick and mortar store. Then another new proposal with no numbers to back me up. Since this is Steampunk and I have no desire to hide behind the author name Julia Verne St. John.

    I’m starting to look at a single name lustfully. Demma. No last name. Phoebe. No last name. Whatever works for you.

    • Demma really does have a certain sumpn-sumpn, doesn’t it?

      Why did Radford become your legal name? Are you still married or did that change so you went back?

      • Still married to Tim. 42.5 years. It became easier to cash checks made out to Irene Radford if Phyllis Irene Radford was the name on the account. Other business reasons. A lot to shed the connection to the other author with my first name and the same strange spelling of the my husband’s last name. Also the last step in shedding my professional doormat personality. I am me. I don’t take my identity from association with another person.

    • I envy you people who have so many family names to choose from. My options are:

      My own name, which I dislike;

      My mother’s maiden name (which has a LOT of spelling variations and which I have never seen anyone spell correctly the first time);

      My maternal grandmother’s maiden name (which is so identified with a deceased British author that I don’t think this would work); and

      My maternal great-grandmother’s maiden name (the same problems with spelling variations).

      I can’t use anything in the paternal line because my paternal grandfather changed his name. My father never knew what he changed it from.

      Obviously, I could just come up with a random name. But it does seem as if those of you who know your family trees have a certain advantage.

      • Honestly, I always assumed I’d come up with something random. It’s kind of like naming a character, figuring out the effect you want the name to have on the reader.