How to Choose a Pen Name │For Authors

What is a Pen Name?

The practice of using pen names has been going on for centuries. A pen name is a false name used by authors to conceal or protect their true identity for a number of reasons. Instead of the author’s real name, this moniker is used on book covers, as part of copyright notices, and in book promotions. Although the usage of pen names has become less common over the years, there are many authors who are still widely recognized by their fake names. Whatever the motivation for using a pseudonym, coming up with a pen name might be crucial in making sure your book sells. In this article, we are going to provide you with an in-depth guide on how to choose a pen name for your publishing journey.

Is it Legal to Use a Pen Name?

If you’re worried about whether it’s legal to use a pen name, we have good news for you – it is! A pen name or pseudonym may be used by an author to publish their works lawfully. Pen names are acceptable as long as you have acquired the rights to use them and have protected your name with copyright. However, you need to keep some things in mind when using a pen name. Make sure you don’t use an already trademarked name, as it could land you in legal trouble. Moreover, using a pen name does not shield you from fraudulent activity. It also does not get you out of a pre-existing contract with another publisher.

Why do Authors Use Pen Names?

Pen names are used by authors for a variety of reasons. These include, but are not limited to:

1. Security Concerns

Many authors may choose to conceal their identity due to a fear of reprisal. This especially applies when they are writing on controversial topics, such as politics or history. Using a pen name ensures that the authors are not recognized and can continue living their lives in peace. Without fear of backlash against themselves or their family, authors are also able to freely express their views and let their creativity flow.

2. Separation of Personal and Professional Life

Despite the fame that publishing a book may bring, many authors might prefer keeping their identity a secret. This gives them the freedom to write whatever they want and to keep living their life normally. Moreover, many authors may not want to be associated with the books they write due to various reasons. People who write erotic novels, for example, may not want their families to know about their work. In this case, pen names come in handy.

3. The Name doesn’t Fit the Genre

Authors’ names can play a role in how well the books sell. Many authors often change their names to make them more congruent with the genre they write. The name Nicholas Sparks, for example, goes well with the genre of romance. Of course, it is not necessary to adopt pen names that fit the genre, but it can definitely help in marketing the book.

4. Same Name as a Celebrity

One reason authors may choose to use a pen name is that someone famous shares their original name. This can create confusion and might even decrease the author’s popularity. Choosing a unique pen name can help tackle this. It can also help the author stand out online. If you had the same name as a celebrity, you would definitely not want people to give them credit for your work!

5. Real Name Difficult to Pronounce

Many authors opt for a pen name when their real name is difficult to spell and pronounce. Such a name may be hard for people to catch on to. Moreover, it might be misspelled in various places, such as in print or while promoting the book online. Going for an easy pen name can solve this issue. It can help market books more effectively.

6. Change in Gender

Earlier, one of the main reasons authors would use pen names would be to change their gender. Meaning, female authors would choose to use male names as it would help sell their books. This is because writing as a profession was earlier seen as more ‘male-centric’. It was more likely for books to be popular if they were thought to be written by men. Conversely, many male authors have also written romance novels under female names, since the romantic genre is usually more associated with women.

These are just some of the reasons why authors may opt for a pen name instead of their real one. There are authors who have written some books using their real names, and some under a pseudonym. They usually do this when dabbling in different genres. Some authors may also choose to use a pen name due to a lack of success in previous books. Further, many might just use a pen name for fun!

Famous Authors Who Used Pen Names (and Why)

There are many authors whose work has been famous under their pen names that you might not even know about. J.K Rowling, one of the most popular authors in the world, chose to use her initials (rather than her full name) as her pen name. This is because her publishers wanted to use a gender-neutral name to appeal to both boys and girls. Moreover, J.K Rowling also writes under the name Robert Galbraith when writing crime novels.

Most people don’t know this, but the popular mystery writer, Agatha Christie, has books published under a pen name. She chose to use the name Mary Westmacott when writing romance novels. This ensured that people did not go to buy a mystery novel by Agatha Christie and land up with a romance novel instead!

George Orwell, the writer of the classic novels 1984 and Animal Farm, chose to use a pen name that sounded like a good English name. Moreover, he also didn’t want his family to find out about his books. This is because when he initially started writing, he was quite poor and he was embarrassed to have people find out about his career. His real name was Eric Blair.

Lastly, the name Mark Twain is also a pen name. His birth name was Samuel Clemens and he was a river pilot by profession. He chose a different name for this profession to keep this new identity of his separate.

How to Choose a Pen Name?

Below, we have noted some things that you need to keep in mind when choosing a pen name.

1. Identify Your Target Audience

It is important that you consider the demographics of your target audience while choosing a name. If you want to publish a book intended for teenagers, make sure you don’t choose a name that is old-fashioned and dated. You should also keep in mind what region you think most of your readers will be from and choose a name accordingly.

2. Choose a Name that Fits Your Genre

As discussed before, it is important to choose a name that is in congruence with your genre. If you want to write a thriller novel, going for a cute, common pen name might not be the way to do it. People are unlikely to pick up a crime novel by ‘Daisy Jones’, for example. Accordingly, you can also go for a more gender-neutral name if you think people won’t read a romance novel by a male author (or a thriller novel by a female author).

3. Choose a Catchy Name

This is very important. If you are indeed using a pen name, using a complex one would not be a smart idea. Choosing a pen name that is easy to spell and pronounce will also make it easier to remember and catch on to. You can also try using a unique, fun name (like Lemony Snicket did!) that isn’t difficult to say. To test this, you can try having people around you call you by your chosen name for a while and ask them how easy (or difficult) it was to get used to.

4. Check Your Name’s URL and Social Media Availability

For marketing and branding purposes, it is important that the social media handle and URL of your chosen name aren’t already taken. The best way to do this is to choose a name that isn’t very popular. Most importantly, make sure you don’t share the name with a celebrity (or worse, another author). You can also check for domain name (URL) availability using different websites (such as GoDaddy and If your desired domain name is available, you can purchase it from domain providers (the cost will vary depending on the name). Having a domain name that matches your pen name can really help you establish a brand. It can help build your online presence, which is becoming more and more important in today’s world.

5. Mix and Match.

Now, when it comes to actually coming up with a pen name, the first thing to do is brainstorm. Most authors come up with the perfect pen name only after trying out different ones. Moreover, they usually take inspiration from around them.

Mark Twain, a pilot river, came up with a name that has a meaning related to the river. J.K Rowling chose to use her grandmother Kathleen’s initials for a middle name. Many people use either their parents’ names or grandparents’ names, or even the names of the streets they grew up in.

To come up with the perfect pen name for yourself, try mixing and matching different names that have some meaning for you. You can also try keeping the same initials as your real name to maintain some continuity.

Try seeking inspiration from the names of your favorite fictional characters. However, make sure you don’t end up using a popular name (Harry Potter, for example, would be a terrible name to use!).

Use a Pen Name Generator

If you can’t come up with a pen name on your own, don’t worry. There are many pen name generators online that can help you with the same. Various generators also give you the option to choose initials, gender, and language of origin. Make sure to make good use of these. If nothing else, these generators can at least give you some inspiration, or something you can work on.

The best way to check if you’ve come up with the perfect name is by trying it on for size – have others use your new name, and change your social media handles. If it sits well with you (and with others), then go for it. Don’t get disheartened if you don’t find your pen name right away. As they say, good things take time!

How Can you Copyright and Use a Pen Name?

Copyright gives you the sole rights to reproduce and distribute your written work, and you can do this under your pen name. Ensure that you are not using a well-known name as your pen name. Registering the copyright will require you to fill out an application. You also need to decide whether you want to reveal your real name along with your pen name. In some countries, copyrighting your pen name has a shorter registration duration than if you used your real name.
Further, using just your pen name may make it more difficult to prove ownership of your work. It is also easier in terms of bureaucracy to sign contracts using your real name. You can open bank accounts using your pen name and receive payments under the same. You can also set up a business using your pen name. However, make sure you speak to your lawyers and advisors before taking any steps.

Trademarking a Pen Name

While it is not possible to trademark a real name, it is possible to trademark a pen name. In order to trademark a pen name, you have to first ensure that someone else has not already trademarked it. There are various websites and databases that help you check for the same. Secondly, you have to have a good reason for trademarking the name, such as that it represents a brand image that you have created. Trademarking the name will require you to fill out an application. You can hire an attorney to help you with the same. Lastly, make sure that you use the trademarked name consistently, and pay periodic fees to keep your registration active.


A pen name can be crucial to selling your work. Hence, it is important to not make a hasty decision. Pen names can serve as both your brand and your identity. Moreover, it might be expensive to change them afterward. There are various factors that you need to consider before opting to use a pen name, but the decision is ultimately yours. You’re good to go as long as your justification feels right rather than constrictive. Have fun choosing a pen name, and relish in this new identity you have created for yourself.

Payal is a psychology graduate with a keen interest in issues surrounding mental health in the workplace. Her solution to everything in life is to read books and allow them to guide her. Through Ebook Pundit, she aims to help bridge the gap between people and books, one booklist at a time.

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