The choice to take up a pen name can be either a deeply personal or purely business decision. It can also be quite a complex process as there are a fair few different facets to consider.
Who else has the name?
David Chitty is not my real name and it’s a name I decided to write under many years ago for personal reasons. I didn’t check to see if there were any other ‘David Chitty’s in the world. It turns out that there’s quite a few. You don’t need to find a name that is perfectly unique, but you really should check to see how popular your new name is. Just by my name, I’m a model in London, an economics text book writer, a prominent accountant, an Australian stunt man, and a few more. What all of that means is my Facebook, Google, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms’ rankings will be contested. I’m going to have to fight all those other people for the top spot in the digital age. Most of these platforms have these ranking algorithms under lock and key, but one thing that always helps your climb to the top is time. The longer you’re around, the better you look to these rankings.
So, shop around, find a name with minimal competition and start building your online profile. As a side note, it’s also worth checking news sites for the name too. I know of a writer who was debating what name to use for his writing career; his real name, one that he was going to be using, was also the name of a sex offender. So check all sources.
Does the name stand out?
You want the name to stand out from the crowd. John Smith is very forgettable, whereas Alix Vanguard is very different and definitely does draw your attention. One thing that does need to be considered with choosing your name is that you want people to be able to find you. While Alix Vanguard is okay, it’s likely that when your prospective reader searches for you on Google, the search will change that to Alex Vanguard and, as Vanguard is not a particularly common word, it’s quite easy to misspell. In your attempt to stand out you’ve forced people into searching for another name entirely. Something like Alex Van would be much stronger if that’s the direction you wanted to go down.
Consider the name standing out for the wrong reasons, as well. Ashley Itman or A Itman would be wiser choices than Ash Itman, specifically for both the pronunciation and the arrangement of the letters in a website: ashitman.com is just asking for trouble. Consider your name without spaces to see if it reads any differently.
How does it stand against others?
While it may not be a massive concern, it is something that needs to be considered. A lot of places will organise their authors alphabetically and by surname. How many popular writers’ surnames start with the same letter as yours? Will you be in good company on a shelf?
There is also the idea of placement: if your surname starts with a ‘z’, then you’re already at the bottom of the list before you’ve even started. This isn’t an Earth-shattering problem, but if you want to have a little edge against others it might be worth having a surname in at least the first quarter or third of the alphabet. That being said, it is entirely unnecessary unless alphabetical ranking is of particular importance to you.
Choosing a pen name isn’t something that’s a requirement for writing. It comes down to whether or not you want to have one. If you do decide to have one, don’t just jump into it and start building your brand without making sure it’s the right name. Once you’ve invested a lot of time and energy into developing a following and a presence you can’t really change your name. But, first and foremost, pick a name that you like. It’s going to be with you for the entirety of your career as a writer, so it needs to be one that you’re happy with.
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© 2018 David Chitty
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.