How to Choose a Pen Name
There are many reasons authors use pen names. It could be for marketing purposes or it could just be for their own comfort.
But regardless of why one chooses to use a pseudonym, creating a pen name can play an important part in your book’s marketing.
In this article, you will learn:
- Why do authors use pseudonyms
- Surprising authors behind famous pen names
- Key criteria to come up with the right pen name
- How to set up a pen name in your KDP account on Amazon
- Awesome pen name generators for authors
Let's dive into how to come up with cool pen names that will work for your books.
What are Pen Names and Are They Legal?
The Pen Name meaning is an assumed name used by a writer instead of their real name.
Some people also call a pen name a:
- fake name
- pseudo name
- nom de plume
You might be wondering are pen names legal? And the good news is that Amazon and other platforms are okay with authors using pen names.
There is nothing illegal about it and as you will see later in this article, there are many legitimate reasons for choosing to work under a pseudonym.
Podcast Episode – Why and How to Choose Good Pen Names
Besides, there are many successful writers who work under famous pen names – not their real name. Some of whom will shock you.
Why Do Authors Use Pen Names?
There are many reasons authors choose to use a noms de plume, such as:
- Fear of reprisal
- Separation of personal and professional life
- Similar name to someone famous
- URL for their name has been taken
- Protect themselves or their family
- Better marketing opportunities
- A name doesn’t fit the genre
- Writing in multiple genres without confusing fans
- Just for fun
I cast no judgment on authors who write under pen names. I myself have published extensively under a couple of pen names – although, Dave Chesson is my real name.
I do this because I work for a U.S. embassy and wish to separate the two worlds for professional reasons.
And I am not alone.
Examples of Famous Authors' Pen Names
There are many successful authors who write behind famous pseudonyms. Below are some examples of famous authors with pen names, the real name of each author, and why or how they chose their alias:
Real Name: Joanne Rowling
Why Used Pen Name: Her publisher wanted to disguise that she was a woman so her books would appeal to boys too. She doesn't have a middle name, so she used K from Kathleen, her grandmother.
Famous Works: Harry Potter series
Additional Pen Names Used: Robert Galbraith for her crime novels
Real Name: Theodore Seuss Geisel
Why Used Pan Name: He was banned as editor-in-chief from a magazine for drinking during Prohibition, so he wrote under the pen name Seuss. He added Dr. for his father, who had hoped he would get his PhD, but he dropped out.
Famous Works: The Cat in the Hat; Green Eggs and Ham; The Lorax
Additional Pen Names Used: Theo LeSieg and Rosetta StoneWhat do Harry Potter, Jack Reacher and the Lorax have in common? Successful pen names. They work...if chosen correctlyClick To Tweet
Real Name: Stanley Martin Lieber
Why Used Alias: He wanted to save his real name for his more serious literary work, so he used Stan Lee for the kid stuff. After achieving worldwide recognition for his comic books, he legally changed his name to Stan Lee.
Famous Works: Spider-Man; the Hulk; the Fantastic Four
Real Name: James “Jim” D. Grant
How He Chose His Pen Name: Grant heard an American mispronounce the car Le Car by Renault as “Lee Car,” and Grant once heard an American mispronounce it “Lee Car.” Anything “lee” became a joke in his family and his daughter, Ruth, was “lee child.”
Famous Works: Jack Reacher thriller novel series
Real Name: Samuel Clemens
How He Chose His Pen Name: He was a licensed river pilot. “Mark twain” is a river term that means two fathoms (or 12-feet) when water depth for a boat is being sounded. “Mark twain” means it is safe to navigate.
Real Name: Eric Blair
Why Used Pen Name: To protect his family from the embarrassment of their time living in poverty. He chose George Orwell as a “good round English name.”
Famous Works: Animal Farm; Nineteen Eighty-Four
Real Name: Agatha Christie
Why Used Pen Name: Genre switch from crime and mystery to romance novels
Famous Works: Murder on the Orient Express; And Then There Were None
The point is, there are a lot of legitimate reasons as to why writers choose a pen name instead of their real name. So, there's no shame if you're considering using an author alias, and here is how to come up with a good pen name.
How to Pick the Right Pen Name For You
The biggest mistake authors make in choosing a pen name is that they don’t consider the marketing value a pen name holds before rushing into a decision.
Understand that the pseudonym you use for your writing can have a large impact on your book and your platform, such as:
- It can become the domain name of your website
- It stares your reader in the face on your book cover
- It can be something people easily recall or repeatedly forget
In essence, it becomes your author brand. So you want to be sure to choose a pen name that evokes the right emotions for your target audience.
So, before you choose your author alias, consider the following five criteria:
Step 1. Identify the Right Age For Your Pseudonym
The age of a writer plays a huge role in the psyche of the readers.
If you are writing an instructional book, then it isn’t a good idea to choose a name that sounds younger than your target reader.
Who wants to learn from someone who is younger, am I right?
Later on, you will discover my strategy to find which names are perfect for the age of your readers, so keep reading…
Step 2. Does Your Name Fit Your Niche?
Allison Potter was ready to publish her new thriller book until her publisher told her that her name had to go.
“Allison” sounded safe and old, while “Potter” conflicted with the Harry Potter series – something we will discuss in step 5.
She needed something that was risky and dangerous–like her books. So after much deliberation, she chose the pseudonym “Ali Knight”.
Sounds much better, right?
So, a key thing to consider when choosing your author pen name is whether or not it fits with your genre.
If you are not sure, check the other books in your genre and category on Amazon.
- Do you see any similarities popping up?
- Are others using initials?
- Are they all male or female?
As an author who understands your target market and your competition, you’ll more easily be able to come up with a pen name that fits the vibe your readers are looking for. You can use a pen name generator for authors further down in this article too.
Step 3. Is the Pen Name Website Domain Available?
You may or may not intend to brand your pen name or write more books under it.
However, if your book takes off and you want to pursue it, it will help if your name’s domain is available. Otherwise, you will be stuck with a second-rate URL or have to pay a boatload of money to get your name’s URL from a squatter.
So, before picking your pen name, go to Siteground and check if the domain name is available. This one step could save you a lot of heartache in the long run.
- Type the pen name you're considering into the domain search bar
- Click ‘Search'
Siteground will tell you if that domain is available or give you alternative suggestions if it is already taken.
Note: No, DarthVader.com is not available…but TheDarthVader is…hmmm… 😉
Step 4. Is the Pen Name Easy To Remember and Spell?
This isn’t a shot at all those difficult names out there, but understand that someone is more likely to remember you if your name is something that sticks out and is not too hard to spell.
Just imagine your fan sitting there struggling to remember your pen name.
“Oh, what was it?” they say scratching their head. Or worse…it's something they can’t even begin to spell.
How will they ever search and find you in Google or Amazon?
Step 5. Is it Close to Another Famous Person’s Name?
Beware of choosing a pseudonym that's similar to a famous author, person, or character. Leeching off someone else's fame is not a good tactic.
More than likely, you:
- won’t get your author name URL
- might get into hot water with the famous person
- it will be near impossible to rank on Amazon or Google for your name
People who search for you will have to go through pages and pages about the famous person before they can even find your work or website. So, having a name that's close to someone else who is more popular than you can be a real killer.
Before you choose a pen name, do a Google search and see what shows up.
When I do this for “Dave Chesson,” it turns out there is a famous skateboarder in the UK who has the same name. Luckily, he isn’t uber famous or else we would be in major competition for Google space…although safe on Amazon space since he hasn't written a book. Hopefully, he doesn't get mad at me for overtaking the “Dave Chesson” search…sorry bro!
Now you know the criteria for picking good pen names, but you might need a little more help generating pen name ideas.
Easy Trick for Pen Names That Are The Right Age
If your ideal reader is 35, then your name should sound 35 or older. But how do you know whether your pen name sounds like a certain age?
It's not like you can quantify the age of a name, right?
Well, it turns out BabyCenter.com has a list of the Top Names of every year.
So, let's say your target market is 35-year-old females and you want your pen name to be perceived as a 41-year-old female.
- Go to Google
- Type “Top Names of 1977 BabyCenter” then click Search
- Select BabyCenter's link (should be #1)
This will give you a list of the most popular male and female baby names in the U.S. for 1977.
Then choose a female name from the list that fits all the criteria above.
In many cases, people choose two first names for a full pen name. Using this list from BabyCenter, we can come up with pen names like:
- Katherine Michelle
- Stacy Dawn
- Wendy Nicole
Still not set on a good pen name? You can try a pseudonym generator or anagram name maker below to create cool pen names.
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Use Author Pen Name Generators
A pen name generator is a piece of software that randomly goes through a database and finds legitimate-sounding names.
If you use the steps above, then you likely have a first name in mind. However, sometimes figuring out an interesting last name that doesn't scream “I'm a fake” can be difficult. This is where a pen name generator can come into play.
One that I like is the Fake Name Generator.
This pseudonym generator is above and beyond any other. Not only will it generate legitimate names, but it will also create a real address, phone number, occupation, and even a credit card number so you can give your new persona supporting context.
The Fake Name Generator is one of the only pen name generators that lets you specify a gender and culture.
How about them apples?!
If you want to try more alias name generators, choose one that fits your genre and needs best from the list below:
Last Name Generator – Get a list of last name ideas after adding details about your first name, religion, nationality, etc. You can even choose zombie, vampire, or wizard names.
Victorian Pen Name Generator – This Victorian name generator will give you 10 random names from the Victorian era. You can pick male or female.
Edgy Name Generator – Choose male, female, or neutral name to generate a list of edgy pen names
Steampunk Name Generator – This is a completely random generator for Victorian names for both male and female pen names.
Fantasy Name Generator – Choose male, female, or neutral and this random pen generator will give you a list of 10 random pen names
Evil Name Generator – Lists random creepy names for all your evil naming needs
Use an Anagram Maker
Finally, some writers like pen names that use the letters of a word, sentence, phrase, or name to create a pen name with hidden meaning. An anagram maker makes this super easy.
I like this pen name generator anagram tool because it lets you customize more and gave better results than the other anagram makers I tried. The results were actually really cool.
The letters from David Chesson can be turned into:
- Edison Chad
- Vance Sho
- Issac Devon
- Vince Ash
- Denis Vasco
- Noah Vic
- Neo Issac
- Sho Davis
While Igne's Anagram Generator used the letters from “Jonathan Blackwood” to generate names like:
- Janna Woodblock
- Honda Bowjack
- Jakob Landon
- Landon Jackboot
- Jacob Landown
- Dalton Johan
- Kahn Tojo Waldon
- Jonah Town
- Joanna Wonk
- Johan Walton
Whether you call it a pen name generator, an alias generator, a fake name generator, a pseudonym generator, or an anagram maker, these tools can help you come up with a pen name that makes both you and your readers happy.
Once you finally choose a pen name, make sure you have it set up correctly in KDP.
How to Create a Pen Name in KDP
Watch the video below to see how to set up a pen name in your Amazon author account. I'll show you exactly how to use pen names in KDP to make sure you get paid for your book sales.
Want more videos like this? Then click HERE to subscribe to my YouTube channel
So, What's Your Author Pen Name?
As you can see, there are many things that go into choosing a pen name.
It shouldn’t just be something you quickly decide because it can actually help you market your book.
Pen names can be your brand and your identity. And they shouldn't be just erased and restarted either. So, choose wisely using the tactics and criteria listed above.
Did the pen name generators give you any perfect or terrible pseudonyms? Let me know your results in the comments below.
Hey Guys, I’m Dave and when I am not sipping tea with princesses or chasing the Boogey man out of closets, I’m a Kindlepreneur and digital marketing nut – it’s my career, hobby, and passion.