Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Finding a Pen Name

I need to create a pen name, a pseudonym. My current Local Foods Mysteries contract stipulates that I can't publish a different mystery under my real name (or any name resembling it) during the term of the contract. Kensington Publishing doesn't want the competition, I guess. I agreed to the clause.

I want to publish Speaking of Murder, the first in Speaking of Mystery series with Quaker Linguistics Professor Lauren Rousseau, sometime soon, however. So I have to come up with another name.

My father, Allan B. Maxwell, Jr was a big writer but not a published one. He nevertheless had a pen name he was fond of using: R.J. Nalla. Clever. Pronounceable, spellable, and with logic behind it: Allan Jr spelled backwards. Somehow I don't think LLewxam Htide is going to really catch on with readers. I wish Daddy were still with us so I could ask for his ideas.

So I went looking for guidelines on creating a pseudonym. Jamie Hall's essay on the topic made a lot of sense to me. Besides a name that is pronounced and spelled unambiguously, it should also have the following characteristics:
  • Be short (you hope you are going to have to sign it dozen of times in a row).
  • Be toward the front of the alphabet, so it's shelved at eye level in a bookstore or library. Of course, with ebooks this loses all relevance.
  • Have the URL/domain name available.
  • Have few or no existing hits in an Internet or Facebook search.
  • Be available as a Twitter handle.
  • Be a name you aren't going to mind responding to.
  • Sound like the gender in whose voice you wrote the book.
  • Preferably have a two-syllable first name and a one-syllable surname.

That's a lot! I was also hoping to work in some kind of family name. Lots of people already call me Max, but I think that a male-leaning name doesn't fit with the voice of my book. Maxie seems perky but perhaps too cute. While the book is a traditional mystery, it isn't a cozy. I'm not really interested in using initials instead of a first name, either.

I'm still working this. I want to come up with name I'm happy with so I can start building that "brand" -- web site, FB page, new photo, and so on (a somewhat exhausting prospect, frankly). Avery Aames did it for her Cheese Shop mysteries, and admirably, successfully (she also got a separate picture taken), so I know I can, too.

What about you? Have you created a pseudonym? Is it working for you? If not, how have you felt when you discovered an author you like was operating under a hidden identity? What kinds of names attract you or turn you off?

(And if you start to see Ruthie Drew popping up here and there, well, maybe she'll seem famliar...)


  1. Edith, have you thought about running your name through the Anagram Generator? With Advanced Search, you can instruct it to return proper names only (in the "Generate anagrams in this language" menu): It might not turn up anything immediately, but it's worth a shot. :)

    I just read about Diane Mott Davidson and her sister writing as "Maddie Davidson," which is neat. Good luck!

  2. Isn't it fun to think about re-inventing yourself?
    How about Maxine Drew or M.E. Drew or E.M. Drewe?
    Maxine Allan ... E.M. Allan ... the possibilities are endless!

  3. It's all fun! EF, I tried, that but the only two-word hit was pretty much unusable: Wellhead Mixt. Thanks for stopping by!

    Pat, Maxine just isn't acceptable, and Allan can be spelled three ways, so that's out. I have been enjoying the process and also agonizing about it!

  4. How about a name that is a tribute to your Mom and to your Dad? Too bad you don't want to use just initials since E.D. sounds good and is not too far removed from Edith and Edie. There's always Effie (F.E.) which is one step alphabetically past E.D./Edie. No, wait. . . . how about Natasha Bratislava? That sounds quite mysterious. (I know . . just having some fun.) You've got me thinking, Edith. Axwell could be a great name for a mystery writer. Emma Axwell. Emma. . . .derived from your initials. In any case, I know you'll come up with something just right. Keep us posted!

  5. Thanks for stopping by, Janice! I'm pretty sure Axwell would be too close to Maxwell for Kensington's comfort. I'll definitely keep you all posted.

  6. How about Maren Edwards? You could use the first two letters of your last name as the first two letters of the frist name and vice versa. While Maren is a German name and probably nobody knows how to pronounce it, it is easy to remember how it is spelled. Marie is nice too. :)


  7. As a long-time genealogist, I use family names whenever possible, although I'm the only person it matters to. Sarah Atwell was a great-great...great-aunt from Lynn, and, as you will note, her surname starts wuth that convenient A (Avery Aames came after that!).

    My Irish grandmother's maiden name was Lawless--I've always wanted to use that as a mystery pseudonym.

    So just crawl up the family tree and see who pops out!

  8. Corinna, a common surname like Edwards would need an unusual first name like Maren! Thanks for stopping by the blog.

  9. Sheila, I have been poking around the tree. Ruth is a big family name and I love it. I could use my great-great aunt's name of Ida Etta Rogers - except I don't like it much! Other possible names are either non-mellifluous, too long, or too common. But I'll keep looking. You SHOULD use Lawless!

  10. Edith, thanks for the posting the guidelines for choosing a pen name. I can empathize with your problem. I'm only on my first pen name and I'm stuck. Cindy Smith doesn't sound memorable, and it's way down there in the alphabet, but it may be what I end up going with anyway. My full, maiden name is Lucinda Monroe, but that sounds more like romance than mystery. I thought of writing under the name of my protag--Beebee Sharpe--but that feels kind of weird. As I said, lots of empathy here.

  11. Cindy, thanks for the visit. How about Cynthia Monroe? Or Lucy Monroe?

  12. Edith, my daughter created my pen name, Kaye George. It's my middle name and my husband's middle name. If I ever do another pen name, I'd like to include my maiden name of Snyder. But Kaye is not unambiguous. It can be spelled with or without the E. And I remember Snyder getting spelled every whichway, from Synder to Snider to Schneider.

    I like Ruth. Could you use R. J. Nalla? Or Ruth J. Nalla?

  13. I got my pen name by taking the first letter of both my Grandmother's and then took my mom's maiden name. That's how I came up with C.V. Beane

  14. Why not use your middle name and keep your last name?
    Or use your father's pen name.

  15. Bunches of great suggestions, Kaye, Emily, and Gloria! Thanks.

  16. Have to two Friends with first names Weatherall and Wealthy. Actually they would work for first or last names. Ruth Weatherall is comely. Can't wait to hear what you come up with, Edith.

  17. Hey, Ann, thanks for the suggestions and for stopping by.

  18. Some unusual Quaker female first names from


  19. Edith, can you keep your last name? Penny Maxwell could be darling.

    Or can you keep your first: Edy ? (Easier at conferences, I promise you)

    Avery aka Daryl