Embracing Our Other Selves: Formula for Creating Your Literary Name

Interesting post expressing irritation about midlist authors in a “death spiral” of reduced sales having to use a pen name. Thanks to Gwenda for the link. (My current pen name, btw, which I’ve been using for over 25 years, is “Stephen King”.)

Really, though, I think we should embrace our other selves. A pen name provides a kind of freedom to reinvent oneself. It also depends on how much ego you have tied up in your name. If necessary–and even if unnecessary–I’d happily write under other names. In fact, should I ever finish this book for middle schoolers that I’m working on, I’ll be using the name “Buckwaldo Mudthumper” (so back off, Felix Gilman, Mr. Punkpunk–it’s taken!).

So, what’s your literary pen name? THIS IS THE OFFICIAL FORMULA (as created by, um, me):

(1) Use the first name of your favorite writer as your first name.
(2) Use the name of your first pet as your middle name or for your middle initial (if your pet had a separate last name…you’re a freak).
(3) Use the first or last name of your favorite character in fiction–your choice–as your last name.

Thus, I would be Vladimir Tiko Ahab…er, or not.



  1. says

    Poul J. Bedlam

    The last name was the hardest to choose to be honest. I don’t really have a favorite character. Poul J. Pepper was another one I thought of too.

  2. says

    The formula to find your drag queen (or king) name is usually more manageable: name of your first pet plus the name of the street you first lived on. Mine is Judy Conway which is nice since it matches my initials. I think Jeff should use Amber Gris before someone else does.

  3. says

    It could either be China Benson Coldwine or China Melissa Coldwine, depending on which of my cats was born before the other.

    (My drag king name would be Benson Byfleets.)

  4. says

    China Tiddles Kovacs

    hmm… not sure I’d get much kudos from my middle name, unless you’re a cat I suppose?

    Drag name:
    Tiddles Edward

  5. says

    Tad T. Crowley, which actually has something of a ring to it, now that I look at it…

    My stripper name would be Tigger Milbank, which is also frighteningly workable, for that particular profession, at least.

  6. Andrew says

    John L. Baggins

    Your stripper name is your middle name and then the street you were born on.
    Mine would be James Galaxy. LOL

  7. says

    I think that makes mine John H. Lucifer.

    I should also point out that in the post I explicitly distinguish “I just want to use another name” from “this is how publishers are going to trick stores into ordering a book they wouldn’t otherwise order (for really dumb reasons)”. It’s the second one that annoys me–if the publisher thinks a book is good enough to publish, knowing an author’s sales record, then there should be a way for them to get it in stores without having to trick the ordering software (or the buyers, if there are actually any of them left that pay attention at the line level) with a pseudonym. I don’t how to solve the problem, and kudos to the publishers, I guess, for finding a workaround and getting books out anyway, but it still annoys.

  8. says

    Flannery S. Motes or Flannery S. Tarwater, are the first to come to mind, though it seems like I should spread the love among more than one author.

    If you count from the first pet that I adopted myself, the S stands for Stagger, which sounds a lot cooler than the Silly it stands for if you count from childhood pet whose first name I can remember. How can I not remember my first two dogs’ names? I’m a horrible person, even if I was only 5 or younger at the time.

  9. says

    Wait, if you go by your middle name, does that mean you only get a stripper last name? Sadly, Lane Poinciana sounds a lot more like a stripper than using my first name would.

  10. says

    Chris: Oh, absolutely! Sorry if that wasn’t clear in my post.

    I think this is also a situation where you laugh about it or you cry about it, and I’d prefer to laugh. Writers are so oppressed and privileged at the same time.


  11. Josh Byrnes says

    Brian B. Vimes….hell, B. B. Vimes has a nice ring to it. Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming B. B. Vimes novel.

    Well played, Mr. VanderMeer. Well played indeed.

  12. PhilRM says

    Jack Midnight Woland.

    I think this means I have to (a) legally change my name right now, and (b) become a pirate lord.

  13. says

    It’s really tough picking favorites… and we had three pets growing up…

    Ray P. Dent? Kurt J. Buendía? Paul B. Kinbote?

  14. says

    Jeez, mine’s way too boring — Jane Cordelia Bennet. that’s what I get for naming my cat after Lear’s third daughter, which is unspeakably pretentious to begin with.

  15. says

    Actually, this is my pen name. My real name Judy del Fuego. I am 26 years old and work for a powerhouse hedge fund. Every January I get about 15,000 dollars in bonus money but end up blowing it at the casino. I like par-boiled shrimp and running in the sand. Anyone who wants to date me (and I mean anyone!) can call 204-567-3256. That is my mobile number. If I don’t answer please leave a message. I am really looking forward to hearing from you!

  16. says

    Oh boy, is this going to get some strange looks from the few in the know:

    Jorge W. Sorel

    A pseudonym that only an Argentine-French lover of German Shepherds would love.

  17. James says

    Donald H. Springer, reporting for duty. Sounds like a name that once was prefaced by PFC or Midshipman, anyway. You know, the name of the older guy down the block who served in the Pacific, wore half-framed glasses and a crewcut, and used to mow his lawn every other day until his heart gave out and he wound up in a convalescent home . . . .

  18. Laird says

    Hmm. Death Spiral has a nice pseudonomic ring….I’ve always wanted to pen an Executioner installment.

  19. says

    I can’t think of a favorite character. And my favorite writer is male. And I can’t think of a favorite female writer. Pff. So I’m Roger J. something.

    Roger J. Deschain sounds good, and Roland is definitely *one* of my favorite characters… Roger J. Corwin sounds good too, but choosing the author of ‘Amber’ and the main character is a bit too much.

    (Roger Zelazny and Roland Deschain for Dark Tower, of course… J stands for June, my first sort-of pet, a cat that I took care of at my country house. I never had a *real* pet because my mother hated furry and clawy animals getting near her furniture…)

  20. says

    Very difficult, but fun! Like you, I don’t really want to be Vladimir. So I’m picking my favorite contemporary novelist Kate Atkinson and end up with:

    Kate P. Bezukhov


    Kate P. Pierre

  21. says

    Damn! Now I’m totally conflicted…which would look better on a royalty check, Lulu Roxanne (the ubitquitous porn name) or Pamela Daisy Carter? It’s also fun figuring out what characters and authors folks are referring to in the previous posts…!

    I have to confess, though, our SECOND pet was named Scottie…after Scottie! My dad always got a kick out of telling said bassett hound to beam him up…

  22. Heep O'Trouble says

    Harlan F. Russell. Boring!

    (Stripper Name – Frosty Iberville…I like it!)

  23. says

    Edward A. Sun – how generic is that?!

    Edward – Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany
    A. – Amigo, my late chihuahua
    Sun – Sun Wukong, the Monkey King (Chinese last names come first)

  24. says

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  25. says

    I would be Clive S. Okada (S is for Simon). This is fun. I am a girl but I liked my name. I will use this name. Clive is for C.S Lewis, S is for Simon (my cat), Okada.. Mr.Toru Okada (The Wind Up Bird Chronicles) Cool article.

  26. says

    Using Pen Names is sometimes a necessity
    if I put my data into your formula my pen name would be “Marcos S Kaliman” Think better change my favorite fiction hero. lol

    Congratulations Great Post

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