How to Choose The Perfect Pen Name

Hi Writerly Rockstar! It’s time to focus on How to Choose the Perfect Pen Name.

“But Celia! I already have a pen name!”

That’s totally, totally fine. You rock that name if you’re already established it. That said, if you ever decide you’d like to establish a second name, or if you aren’t very far into your career and can change without a problem, you’ll have this how-to to keep you on the right path.

Here’s a quick rundown of what you’ll learn in this post:

What is a pen name and why do you need one?

A pen name (also known as a pseudonym) is a name used when publishing a book and when interacting with the public. This isn’t be your legal name, but one which you’ve made up and use expressly for your business persona.  (Super secret, but my real name is not Celia Kyle. *gasp* Due to the sexy nature of my romance works, I chose to use a pen name.)

On to why you need one… There are many reasons, honestly, and probably more than I listed below.

  • You might feel uncomfortable with the general public knowing your real name for personal reasons such as protecting your family from anyone who might discover where you live. (Which is scarily easy to do if your google-fu is strong enough.)
  • Your job might have a contract that prohibits certain types of behavior that your writing might violate. I don’t advocate the breaking of contracts, but just because YOU don’t agree that your romance would violate your contract doesn’t mean your boss would agree. Sometimes it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Your name isn’t something considered “normal” or spelled in a “normal” way.  That was my primary reason for choosing a pen name a gabillion years ago. (2007)
  • You’ve always love a specific name and want to rock it for Reasons. (Capital R)
  • You happen to be feeling froggy and decided “I’m gonna do what I wanna do because I wanna do it.”

Places to find inspiration.

If you’ve now decided to use a pen name for yourself because of Reasons, let’s figure out what it will be. There are several sites I used when searching for a pen name and I still use them now when I need character names. Yay websites that do double duty!

First Names

  • BabyNames.com – The original!
  • The Bump – Preggers tips (if you need ’em) *and* awesome names.
  • The Baby Ballot – These are primarily names that others have voted on and I find their suggestions to be fun and varied.
  • Magic Baby Names – This doesn’t mean that the names are about magic! You can feed in a name you like and it’ll tell you a list of names that are similar. Super awesome if your first selection for a name doesn’t work out but you want something with the same feel.
  • Mom Junction – Want a name with a specific number of syllables? Or tried and true, ageless names? This site has lots of fun collections of names including girl/boy names by syllable!

Surnames (Last Names)

Generally, pen names include a surname in addition to a first name. That said, there are some authors who go by an initial for their last name rather than a full on name.  Totes your choice! If you’re going for a full surname, here are some resources.

  • Behind the Name – Lists by country of origin. Great if you’re Irish and want to rock something from your home country. My family is English and Irish which is where I came up with Celia Kyle. You can find inspiration anywhere!
  • Monga Bay – Not sure how I stumbled across this name, but it’s my go-to when it comes to finding surnames. For realsies.

Grab the worksheet at the end of this post and complete the “Name Ideas” portion using these websites I’ve got listed. You’ll pick ten first names and ten last names for now, but we’ll whittle it down as we go along.

Narrowing down your choices.

  • Ask yourself this: Are the names you’ve chosen spelled in a “normal” way. Meaning, you’ve chosen something like “Caroline” and not “Karoline.”  If the answer is NO, cross that name out. We want something that the average person thinks is the “normal” spelling of a name. Think of it this way: If you were on a road trip and stopped at a gas station, would you find this name on the rack with personalized magnets or pencils? If the answer is NO, cross it out. Seriously. Look at your worksheet and do it now.  This applies to first names and last names! 
  • Using what you have left, make some matches that you like. Pair first names with last names in a way that makes you think, “yeah, I could be this person.” Fill our your worksheet!
  • Now, is the last letter of the first name the same as the first letter of the last name? Those two names can’t go together. Like, ever, at all, not gonna happen. Making the last letter of the first name match the first letter of the last name is asking for mistakes when others go to find you online.  Taylor Reid is not a good pen name. (I don’t know Taylor Reid, I just needed to come up with a random example.)  Cross out any names that violate this rule!
  • We should be pared down a bit now. Next up is how the names sound/feel together.  Do your choices sound like your genre? I own “Jenna Berry” and to me, that sounds fun and light. Berry reminds me of summer and eating fresh strawberries I picked off the vine. Something that makes me smile.  I feel like this is a great name for lighthearted contemporary romances or romantic comedy romances. Something that would make the reader laugh and brighten their day.  In my opinion, it definitely isn’t a name I’d use for dark romance. Make sure the names you’ve chosen match your genre!
  • Do any of the names you like belong to celebrities or other public figures. You don’t want a porn star name if you write sweet romances!  Do a search on the names you have left over and cross out any names that belong to people in the public eye.  Names cannot be copyrighted, so using the same name as someone else is fine. You simply might not want to be mistaken for some random gynecologist if you write paranormal romance.  Cross out any names that belong to public figures!
  • Lastly, search for your “.com” domain name. I prefer to use Namecheap, personally, but you can purchase your domain name at any domain registrar you choose. It’s very important that you purchase the “.com” version of your name. Simply because people automatically think that if they want to find Celia Kyle, they will default to typing celiakyle.com in their address bar.  If I didn’t own my “.com” domain, those readers might be directed to some other person’s site, get annoyed, and stop searching.  That said, unless the name is super important to you and you must have a particular name, I wouldn’t pay a premium for a domain name if someone else already owns it.  Look at your worksheet and start searching for domain names. Cross out any domains already owned by someone and see what you have left.

Using what you have left, pick the one you like best and go buy that domain. Do not pass go, do not collect two hundred dollars. Stop, collaborate and listen. You need to go buy that domain!

Did you buy it? I will beat you with a wet noodle if you didn’t!

Do you have any naming resources you want to share with the masses? How did you pick your pen name? Do you wish you’d read this article before you picked your name? Let me know in the comments below!

Have a rockstar day of writing,

Celia

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