Do you use a pen name? If so, why? Are you staunchly in support, adamantly against, or somewhere in between, shrugging your shoulders and saying, “It depends?”
Dirty secret revealed: I use a pen name. Initially, I didn’t, partially because, to be honest, I couldn’t think of a name to which I would feel as connected as the one my parents bestowed upon me. Names are powerful things; who we are gets wrapped up in our name. Maybe our name even has power over us, as works as varied as Joss Whedon’s Angel (remember Jasmine, Angel fans?) to Ursula le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea have suggested. You know that feeling you get when someone says your name, your turn, only to find they’re talking to someone else? The names we’re born with us become part of us.
When I got married, I didn’t take my husband’s last name. It was a feminist thing, but also a career thing. I had published journalistic writing under my “maiden” name. But it was also my name. It wasn’t merely my family name, my father’s name. It was my name. I owned it, and I was proud of it. It was the name on my high school diploma, my bachelor’s degree, and my master’s. My education is important to me; it’s shaped me in wonderful ways and opened up doors in my life that would have otherwise remained closed. As the granddaughter of a coal miner, I understand how far I’ve come, the sacrifices my ancestors made for me to have those opportunities, and I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. Perhaps I felt changing my name would distance me from my accomplishments (silly, I know now—those are just pieces of paper, records, symbols, not the journey itself). Maybe it was the feminist in me, railing against the system. Point is, my name meant a lot to me.
So when I considered using a pen name, the idea at first felt strange. But after much debate, I figured I should, if only for practical reasons: my real name is common, the URL is taken, and it’s also the name of an accomplished musician. I also wanted the freedom to write what I wanted to write without worrying what my boss would think. This way, I don’t have to worry about awkward looks over the water cooler if I suddenly decide to write naughty erotica—which isn’t what I write, but hey, a girl likes to keep her options open… It also leaves me free to discuss magical topics without worrying about creating awkwardness at the day job. I am a very private person. I am not ashamed of my faith and will tell you if you out and out ask. But yeah, sometimes the day-job me wears a mask. (Though unlike Clark Kent, I actually need the glasses, just one of many differences setting me apart from the Man of Steel.)
So I decided to use a pen name. I went back and forth. I thought and thought about it and mulled it over some more. Finally, I came up with the last name Madigan, which has a lovely sound to it, yet is easy to pronounce. It feels like part of me. It also means “mastiff,” and I’m a total animal-lover, and it’s Irish, so I like that it pays homage to my family’s Irish roots. (Note that I chose the name before I knew what it meant. Initially, I wasted wayyy too much time pouring over books of names and their meanings–and bear in mind that those books can often contradict one another.) One of my best friends helped me choose my first name. I liked the ring of it, simple but unique at the same time. And it wasn’t taken by anyone in the genre. So off I went.
And yes, just like my “real name” (Hint—it’s not Kal-El.), my nom de plume is a part of me. I can feel it entwining with my heart, becoming a part of my identity. Janelle Madigan. Yep, that’s me.
So I support pen names. If it’s good enough for Samuel Clemens (a.k.a. Mark Twain), it’s good enough for me. On her blog, Kait Nolan offers a couple very valid reasons for using a pen name: one, privacy, and two, writing across genres. And Rachelle Gardner offers a list of reasons why you might want to think of using a nom de plume.
Conversely, Kristen Lamb offered a strong and reasonable case against pen names. In many cases, I find myself inclined to agree. If you have no real need for a pen name, why go to the hassle of having to explain to all two-hundred of your Facebook friends that you’re actually writing under x name and they can also friend you under your pen name or become a fan of your Facebook page? Don’t even try to explain it to grandma. She’ll just be confused.
Many female authors use their maiden names, and I suppose any of us could use a family moniker. But please don’t make it your pet’s name and the name of the street you grew up on. Unless it really works. Like, Sadie Stone. I’d pick up one of Sadie’s books. But, Rocky Elm or Cookie Sunset, don’t go there. Now, it’s getting late, and I’m getting silly…
So where do you stand? Are you using a pen name? Do you write in different genres under different names? Would you consider writing under a name other than your “real” one?