Embracing Our Other Selves: Formula for Creating Your Literary Name

Jeff VanderMeer • April 28th, 2008 @ 10:29 am • Uncategorized

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.

Jeff

79 Responses to “Embracing Our Other Selves: Formula for Creating Your Literary Name”

  1. Rob Davies says:

    Gene Repeat Hamlet

  2. mhayinde says:

    Looks like mine is George T Gully!

  3. Matthew Dyer says:

    Jorge Lucky… oh man, I just realized I don’t have a clear cut favorite literary character. This is going to consume my afternoon.

  4. Robert Devereux says:

    Jeff W. Steerpike

    I’m not sure if I have a favorite literary character, but Steerpike was the first really interesting character who came to mind.

  5. SMD 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.

  6. John Coulthart 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.

  7. Alex D M 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.)

  8. Bob Lock 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

  9. Corey Redekop says:

    Kurt T. Garp

  10. Zach says:

    Grant Yoshi-Dracula.

    (Yoshi Viola)

  11. Phil says:

    Neil Ripper Holden

  12. JesseFord says:

    Marcel T. Spider-Man (the T stands for Thudwimple)

  13. Nadine 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.

  14. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Wow. These are complex. But, hey, stripping’s easy (I hear), writin’ stuff–that’s hard. Or something like that.

    Jeff

  15. 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

  16. Andrew says:

    That L stands for Lisa.

    John Lisa Baggins. That just sounds WEIRD.

  17. Andrew says:

    That L stands for Lisa.

    John Lisa Baggins. That just sounds WEIRD.

  18. Chris McLaren 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.

  19. Magnus says:

    George T Vimes

  20. Lane 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.

  21. Lane 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.

  22. Piruett » Blog Archive » Vilken är din psuedonym? says:

    [...] Vandermeer uppmanar alla att välja sina författarpseudonymer enligt följande: (1) Use the first name of your favorite [...]

  23. Jeff VanderMeer 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.

    Jeff

  24. Chris Billett says:

    Kurt Tasmania Malachi! Or maybe Kurt T. Malachi?

  25. Luí­s Rodrigues says:

    I had two first pets, so I’m either Mervyn Zürich Steerpike or, more entertainingly, Mervyn Lassie Steerpike.

  26. Homo Sum » Blog Archive » In which I embody the Internet as infinite recursor says:

    [...] gone with the “rather laugh than cry” route and has introduced a new Internet meme for book nerds: So, what’s your literary pen name? THIS IS THE OFFICIAL FORMULA (as created by, um, [...]

  27. Luí­s Rodrigues says:

    PS: Now I’m wishing I was really called John H. Lucifer.

  28. 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.

  29. Eric says:

    Samuel W Flesh

  30. Livia Llewellyn says:

    Caitlín Sandy Plantagenet.

    Amazingly (or perhaps not), this is also my stripper name.

  31. 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.

  32. Zach Taylor says:

    Mark Ginger Tuttle

  33. Zach H. says:

    Gene G. Caine

  34. Deightine says:

    Porn name style pen name it is… Hmm.

    Samuel Barkley Kovacs

  35. Fred says:

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

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

  36. Grant Stone says:

    Hm. A lot of Kovacs fans I see. OK then…

    Michael Garfield Jesperson

  37. Fábio Fernandes says:

    Joseph S. Holmes

  38. Fábio Fernandes says:

    S. stands for Shanna, a flamboyant name I chose for my pet Dalmatian when I was eleven, so you´ll forgive me, I believe… ;-)

  39. Terry Weyna 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.

  40. Brendan Connell 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!

  41. Larry 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.

  42. 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 . . . .

  43. Jami JoAnne Russell says:

    Arthur Bitty Holmes? Doesn’t work. Especially for a girl like me.

  44. Laird says:

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

  45. j m mcdermott says:

    Homer “Cuddles” Carraway

    That does have a ring to it.

  46. Jen 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…)

  47. Matt Staggs says:

    Gabriel M. Durden, here.

  48. Kelly 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

    or

    Kate P. Pierre

  49. Pen Names « educating alice says:

    [...] Ecstatic Days » Blog Archive » Embracing Our Other Selves: Formula for Creating Your Literary Name [...]

  50. Gretch-a-sketch says:

    Jane B. Samwise, which is slightly too close to Johnny B. Goode for my own comfort.

  51. Ink » A Novel Blog » nice day to start again says:

    [...] however, waste time on the Literary Name meme2 , but sometimes one must indulge in a little time wasting to put the project back into [...]

  52. Ink Mage says:

    Tough choices on favorite writers and characters, but mine might be Monica Viva Kington.

  53. David Moles says:

    M.N. Smiley.

    (M is Michael, N is for Nobody. Which was in fact the name of a cat.)

  54. RM1(SS) (ret) says:

    Poul? Andre? Arthur? S (for Steven)?
    J (for Josephine – earliest cat I remember)
    Greystoke? Amberglas? Vorkosigan? Mayo?

    Decisions, decisions….

  55. Amy Strecker says:

    Julia C. Jo

    Julia Glass
    Cinnamon, the dog
    Jo March

  56. SlyGly says:

    Charlotte T. Valjean

    Charlotte Bronte
    Tippy the Sheltie
    Jean Valjean

  57. markeades says:

    I would be Warren J. Baggins

  58. Kristi(e) says:

    Kurt P. Ginerva

  59. Lone says:

    Diane Sebastian Sarek

    …hmmm

  60. Rina Weisman 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…

  61. Heep O'Trouble says:

    Harlan F. Russell. Boring!

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

  62. Bookish Links « Teen Book Review says:

    [...] Find your pen name! Link via various other blogs. I couldn’t really pick one because I have lots of favorite authors and lots of favorite characters, but the first one that I came up with was Rachel Abby Stargirl. Which is stupid and if I were to choose a pen name in reality that would not be it. [...]

  63. Paige says:

    Sarah S. Dexter. Not too bad!

    :]

  64. Jeremy Boland says:

    Kurt B Constant

  65. Alex Carnegie says:

    China S. Flashman

    hmm.

  66. Bill Ectric says:

    Wow, my drag queen name is Duffy Thirdstreet.

  67. Emily says:

    Charlotte T Gamgee

  68. Ben Seeberger 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)

  69. Litaker says:

    Great reading material. I’ve learned a lot by reading here. Thanks!

  70. Failed Promo Ideas | Epiphany 2.0 says:

    [...] sell a ton of copies right out of the gate — thus saving us from the midlist death spiral, the dreaded penname change (Octavia M. Tarrant!), and so on. But Book 3 has also been eating my soul, leaving precious little [...]

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  74. Kuchiko 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.

  75. Girl Puppy Names says:

    Oh dogs are so gorgeous, i wish i could have my very family members of dogs. It would make my day time each day to see them have fun.

  76. Dog Guide Training 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

  77. jeredoc says:

    Nice great post !
    i would more great read !
    thanks !

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