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View Full Version : When choosing a pen name, how important is uniqueness?



DigitalGhost
08-16-2012, 06:01 AM
There's a name I would love to use, but upon googling it, I found a number of other people on the Internet by that name. It's also a slightly-differently-spelled version of the name of a character in a famous book, and even when I google my spelling of the name, information about the character comes up. How crucial is it to be easy to find in search engines?

Captcha
08-16-2012, 06:43 AM
I'd say it's important that your name be unique among writers in your genre, but good luck trying to find a relatively normal name that's unique overall.

frimble3
08-16-2012, 06:46 AM
How many of those people are writers? How many of them are experts in some field that they might write a book about? Do you want to be competing with them? Or, if they do something unsavoury, be confused with them?
As to the 'slightly-different spelling'- many people are really bad spellers and will get your name wrong, leading them directly to...the famous character.
If they can't find your book, they won't buy your book. Your name is merely a trail of breadcrumbs, and in this case, it's not even your name. I'd find another one.

blacbird
08-16-2012, 07:24 AM
"Mark Twain" probably wouldn't be so good.

caw

LJD
08-16-2012, 07:40 AM
is the domain name available...? something to consider.

If there were only a few other people on the internet with my name....lol. I wish.
There's already a self-help author and a Christian author with my first name + last name. One of them even has my middle initial. Also books published by someone with my initials + last name. Not my genres, but still.

WeaselFire
08-16-2012, 04:51 PM
I have a name shared by about a bazillion other people in the world. Doesn't stop me from using it. My wife has an extremely unique name. Google her name and 90% of the links are her. But 200 miles away is another woman with the exact same name and exact same business. Can't win.

That and her name is a euphemism for a trampy woman in Turkish... :)

Jeff

onesecondglance
08-16-2012, 05:00 PM
Must - not - rant - about - degrees - of - unique...

Pari Vella
08-16-2012, 05:45 PM
Check it against Amazon, BN, etc. That's where most peeps will be looking for you or the title of your book.

James D. Macdonald
08-16-2012, 06:48 PM
"No, actually, I was looking for a book by the other Herman Melville...."

The rules for author names are:

1) Should be easy to spell,
2) Should be easy to pronounce,
3) Should not be embarrassing to say aloud.

Since "Don't confuse the readers" is one of the Stronger Guidelines, trying to avoid a name that's the same as a well-known author's (even if it's the name on your birth certificate) would also be good

veinglory
08-16-2012, 07:07 PM
Consider me a cautionary tale....

Cyia
08-16-2012, 07:16 PM
If your given name is taken, try using a nickname. Works for me.

VanessaNorth
08-17-2012, 02:01 AM
My given name wasn't taken, but it was VERY close (two letters different on the first name, same surname) to an already published author. She was there first.

I chose to use my middle name and did some searches on a handful of potential surnames, came up with one that I felt sounded good and did not point to anywhere ugly on the internet... voila a pen name was born.

Unique? No, there are other people named Vanessa North. As far as I can tell, none of them write romance or sci-fi with romantic elements.

WildScribe
08-17-2012, 02:08 AM
I just found out that my pen name is also the name of an author who "founded her own publishing company" in the 90s. Oops... I wonder if she's irritated with me when she googles herself, considering my genre. I DID check Amazon before I took my pen name in 2010, but she apparently didn't really have any ranking, and her book(s?) didn't show up.

Anyway, it's not that important that it be unique, but I'd steer away from existing literary references (like famous characters) and existing authors (again, oops.) Otherwise... unusual is okay, but completely unique may be untaken for a reason. ;)

mscelina
08-17-2012, 02:13 AM
I see so many piss-poor pen names. TO be blunt--none of that matters at all. If you're an attorney and write erotica on the side, then you need a pen name. That's cool and totally understandable. Just make sure it's a name that a normal person wouldn't be ashamed to use. My name isn't all that usual--Celina Summers is a blend of not-so-normal and kind-of-run-of-the-mill. When I google my name, I get all my hits fairly high up-and then the Buffy the Vampire Slayer hits and then the WoW potions seller, a high school athlete in Ohio, and the obituary of a lady who died at 89 a few years ago. All of this doesn't bother me. Not in the slightest. Because in the end, my name is easy to read, fits comfortably on a book cover without having to go to smaller print (BIG print is best for book covers with MY name on them ;) ), and isn't hard to pronounce if someone goes into a bookstore looking for my books. But when pen names start to rival drag queen names, I just grind my teeth. Sure--Miss Demeanor is a great stage name, but on a book cover it just looks goofy. In the end, it's far better to have a name that pops up a few times for other things in a search engine than to look like an idiot while you're trying to be unique.

Bluntly, uniqueness runs a poor second to memorability.

Fallen
08-17-2012, 03:00 PM
I didn't really realise the trouble you can have with choosing a pen name.

I went with a pretty run-of-the-mill one, choosing my shortened name (Jack) and my partner's surname (hell, we've been engaged for 14yrs). Anywho... submitted it with manuscript, and my editor, in all her patience with handling the naive and witless, did her checks and said "You're a furniture company."

A few alterations later, I got my name.

I didn't go for unique; I just went for a name I could remember easily enough. I'm too old for fancy.

shaldna
08-17-2012, 04:21 PM
I hate the word 'unique' when it comes to picking names, because I envisage a whole generation of writers called Ebony Dark'ness Dementia Raven Way.

A name needs to be easily identifiable as you the writer - by that I mean, it shouldn't be the same as another well known writer, or famous person - that just leads to confusion.

Also, how well does the name fit your genre?

Mr Flibble
08-17-2012, 04:37 PM
It doesn;t have to be unique, but you may not want it to be associated with certain things.

Julia Knight (one of the not me ones) writes books about feminism in German Cinema etc, so no real crossover there. Others make ceramics, or work at unis. One is a drag queen. None of these is really a problem - I am easily distinguishable from them.

I did think about going with my initials, but there's apparently a certain lady in the US who uses the initials and surname and, well, my editor suggested the association might be a problem. (Said lady...er...channels a 30 000 year old man in her head. Among other things)

My pen name is far from unique, but as a fantasy author I am hardly likely to get mixed up with a photographic studio or estate agents, and them being around won't harm me, so that was fine. If there was someone very famous with the name (or another writer in this or a similar genre), I'd have picked another, purely for googlability - don't want to get lost in the millions of other hits.

You don't need to be unique, but you do want a name that won't be confused with anyone else writing what you write, and you don;t want any bad associations from the name (Fred Phelps might be a bad one, Or in the UK, Fred West)

JamesOliv
08-17-2012, 05:04 PM
I just found out that my pen name is also the name of an author who "founded her own publishing company" in the 90s. Oops... I wonder if she's irritated with me when she googles herself, considering my genre. I DID check Amazon before I took my pen name in 2010, but she apparently didn't really have any ranking, and her book(s?) didn't show up.

Anyway, it's not that important that it be unique, but I'd steer away from existing literary references (like famous characters) and existing authors (again, oops.) Otherwise... unusual is okay, but completely unique may be untaken for a reason. ;)

You know, I once had a philosophy professor who had the same name as another, more widely published philosophy professor. To make matters worse, they were both at the Universityof Toronto at roughly the same time (one was an associate professor, the other was a grad student at the time).

It causes confusion. People may get irritated. But if you have a website that clearly lays out your genre and your list of publications, I think you are much less likely to cause confusion.

This professor once said "By the grace of God and Google, most people can figure out we are two different people within the first five minutes of their Internet search."

Ken
08-18-2012, 03:02 PM
... names for periodic elements are one thing. Baryliam or however it's spelled is Latin or something. Ditto for the other elements. With names for peeps they're a dime a dozen. There are millions, no billions of "Janes" and so on down the line. That said, uniqueness goes out the window. YOU ARE NOT GOING TO ACHIEVE IT NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU TRY when it comes to names. You might get something a bit so, but no more than that. So don't knock yourself out trying. Settle on something you like, which suits you and your writing. And if some other bloke is already using it OH WELL. That's just how it goes. Nothing to get bent out of shape about. G'luck.

J.W. Alden
08-18-2012, 03:52 PM
I chose my pen name specifically because my birth name is extremely common, so it was somewhat important for me. But like others have said, it's pretty difficult to find a name that's entirely unique without getting into goofy territory. For me, the big decision was whether or not I should go with the name I liked despite knowing that the domain jwalden.com was not available.

As you can tell from my screen name (and avatar), I pulled the trigger anyway. It's worked out just fine for me thus far.

JamesOliv
08-18-2012, 06:36 PM
I see so many piss-poor pen names.

I see a lot of them. I can only imagine how many make it across your desk.

On the plus side, the quoted text gives me an idea for a pen name I will release into public domain:

P.S. Pennington

If you're going to have a piss-poor pen name, put it right in the name.