Pondering Nom De Plumes Part Two | How To Choose A Pen Name

In last week’s post, I shared a list of reasons an author might publish a pen

This week, I’m looking at some of the places an author might find inspiration for their pen name. There are similarities between this process and deciding on a name for your characters, so I’d recommend checking out the post I did on that topic via this link for further insight.

I suppose the best way to start this post is by breaking down my own.

Avril Marie Aalund is what I would really call a half-pseudonym, in that only the first name is fictitious.

Marie is my legal middle name, and Aalund is my mother’s surname; Aalund has a place in my legal name but it kind of acts as a second middle name while my surname is my father’s. Though not an immediate influence, I do think part of my deciding to make Aalund my professional name was because of my grandfather, who immigrated to America from Estonia as a WWII refugee, out of a need to honor that side of my family’s history.

As for Avril, as you may have already assumed, that was greatly inspired by Avril Lavigne, who was everything I wanted to be when I was in middle school (around the time I first realized I wanted to pursue writing). Even now, in my twenties, I still admire her.

One of my long-time contenders for a pen name was April, in part because I’d had a few teachers over the years who would misread my actual name on class rosters and would call out April when taking attendance, but also because one of my absolute favorite characters in television is April Ludgate of Parks and Recreation. Avril is a French variation of April, so it just seemed to fit. It felt right.

That’s all there was that went into my pen name, but if you’re looking for ideas about discovering your own, check out these ideas.

Genre

As with naming your characters, genre might influence your pen name.

If you’re writing a space saga, maybe consider names associated with the Final Frontier such as:

For first names, this might be something like

  • Stella or Estrella
  • Luna
  • Celeste
  • Rosalina, taken from the character first appearing in Super Mario Galaxy
  • Scott, as in Beam Me Up, Scotty.

In romance, it’s not uncommon for authors writing historical fiction works to take on a name that was popular in their time period or region. For example, someone working on a story set in 1700s Scottland might write with a last name like MacDonald, Duncan, or McGregor.

Genre may also be the difference between an author writing as Samantha or Sam.

Samantha might be a good name for something like romance or chick-lit, but Sam might work better for a Dystopian or Adventure work. This is partially because of the point I’ll be covering next.

Target Audience

As with choosing a pen name that evokes elements of your genre, it might also be useful to consider your target audience.

That is to say, you could pick a name that is common within the book your book is written for. If you’re writing for older adults, maybe pick something like Mabel or Robert. A book geared towards younger audiences might be received better if written by Tiffany or Brad.

While not necessarily true for everyone, there are readers who prefer to read books by male authors or by female authors.

We may also be prone to subconsciously link certain genres with specific genders. Adventure and science-fiction tend to be associated with male authors while romance is more closely associated with female authors.

So a male romance author named Joshua might decide to write as Josephine.

Author J.K. Rowling also writes crime fiction as Robert Galbraith. Rowling published her Harry Potter books as J.K. Rowling after her publishers suggested that her target audience of young boys might not be as interested in reading a book written by a woman, so she went with the initials J for her name of Joanne and K in honor of her grandmother Kathleen.

This is one reason I’m planning to publish Guises to Keep with a different pseudonym, one that utilizes initials in addition to a different surname. While it is still a historical fiction work and set in the Regency Era like all of my other stories, it’s more complicated in terms of plot and something I consider to be closer literary fiction rather than fitting into the realm of historical romance (you can find more information on that matter here).

Family Ties

Another option for your nom de plume is to base it in your family’s history.

Some authors will write using their maiden name, or use their middle name as a first name.

Others might draw from their relatives.

Let’s say your Grandmother’s name was Alice. You could write as Alyssa or Alicia.

Don’t just take a person’s name, though! And if you do get inspiration from a family member’s name, make sure you get their permission first because your cousin Marshall Brown might be a little weirded out by you publishing werewolf erotica as Amber Marshall.

Starstruck

As I mentioned at the top of this article, Avril Lavigne was one of the inspirations behind my choice of pen name.

Your pen name can allow you to pay homage to people who have influenced your writing journey.

Think about the authors whose work inspired yours. Favorite film directors. Artists. Musicians. Anyone that has had a hand in guiding you to be the creator you are today.

It’s worth noting that your pen name does not have to come from a celebrity, but could also be inspired by a favorite work of fiction.

Love The Count of Monte Cristo? You could call yourself something like Crystal or Christopher in reference to the title, or a variation of Alexander after author Alexandre Dumas, like Alex or Alexa.

You could also mash things up. Let’s say your favorite Jane Austen character is Emma and you grew up loving The Magic Treehouse. You could create a name like Emma Jackson, with the surname being drawn from The Magic Treehouse protagonist Jack.

I would, however, advise against using a pseudonym like Katniss Frizzle or Draco Cullen unless you’re writing fanfics. To me, a pen name is the name of your author brand so it should embody what you’re writing.

Why Not?

Lastly, just like deciding whether or not to use a pen name, the pen name itself might be inspired by a whim.

Make a list of names you just like. There doesn’t have to be a specific reason behind them. Just dot down whatever comes to mind.

I like to think that pen names are like so many other things in writing. When you’ve gotten it right, you just know.

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