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Using Pseudonyms … And The Real Author Is …

Scarecrow girl as pseudonymYou’ve got a glorious name.  Why change it?  Why even think about using a pseudonym?

I’m nobody.
Who are you?
Are you nobody too?

Do you recall that wonderful little poem by Emily Dickinson?  Would Emily be as famous if her name had been “Daisy Scarecrow”? or “Marguerite d’Artagnia Dickson”?  Probably.  But she is Emily Dickinson.

You and I are fish of a different color.

In the world of business and art and poetry it does matter whether you choose to call yourself “Elizabeth” or “Betsy” or “Liz”, or go by your middle name “Rosalind” or “Rosie”, or drop your first name altogether and just call yourself “Taelin”.  Did you feel the difference in your reaction to those names?

While using a pseudonym is often not a critical decision, it is an important decision.  You identify yourself to the world when you publish your first book, or when you set up your FaceBook account, or when you get a website url with your name in it.  It is our way of saying, “This is who I am”.

Even if you like your name, there are reasons you may want to change it.

Suppose you’ve got a decent job now.  You actually like it.  But this creative bug keeps nagging at your gut.  If you are okay with sharing your creativity with your fellow workers, that’s fine.  If you really don’t want them to know that you ever wrote a dorky romance novel, well …

Or suppose your name is so common that it borders on absurdity.  “Jane Doe” is probably not the most saleable name for a history of women’s liberation in Ohio.  “Mary Harris Jones” isn’t all that ordinary, but she became “Mother Jones”.

Or your name is totally unpronounceable to your likely audience.  There are so many glorious — and truly beautiful — names from other languages, others cultures.  I hate to even suggest that these names be dropped for a “proper” pseudonym, but I know that it happens a lot.  “Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso” became just “Picasso”, and no one in the art world would have suggested differently.

There was a time when Jews and Italians didn’t want to be recognized as being from a different culture, so they used pseudonyms, like Marc Chagall (b. Moishe Shagal).

Or you just simply want a prettier name, like Natalie Porter (b. Natalie Hershlog), or Marilyn Monroe (b. Norma Jeane Mortenson).

I can’t even begin to name the number of women who used male pseudonyms, or were simply “Anonymous”.

Millions upon millions of public figures use pseudonyms.  What about you?

When beginning to establish a public identity, even an online identity, what name to use can be a major stumbling block, for any number of reasons.  There are ways of handling it that allow you to keep a semblance of personal identity, and still remain anonymous to your immediate circle of friends and colleagues.

The simplest way would be to use a variation of your real name.  “T. Rowe Price” could have been (but wasn’t) “Teresa R. Price”.   Who would ever have guessed?

Try switching your first and last names.  “Mavis Bloom” could become “Bloom Mavis”.

Many women choose to use their mother’s maiden name, especially actors.  There is a big caveat to this technique.  Your mother’s maiden name is often one of the identifiers in your bank account or other personal papers, so although this is tempting, I would look elsewhere.

Use the name of your favorite aunt.  Or invent a brand new name.

The name you choose is likely to last a while, perhaps even for your whole career.  Should you choose your current married name, be prepared to hold onto it even if a divorce ensues, even if a re-marriage happens.  Remember when Roseanne Barr changed her name?  A bunch of confusion popped up.  But gorgeous Liz Taylor kept her name through five marriages and divorces, and no one ever mistook her for anyone else.

This is neither a plea for you to use a pseudonym, nor a plea for you to keep your name as it appears now.  It is a recommendation that everyone consider just what face they are presenting to the world, and why.

(Incidentally, even I use a pseudonym.  My first name is just “Mary”, but I thought “MaryAnn sounded softer, so that is what I have used, personally and professionally, for decades.)

 

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