In part one of two we discussed the purposes and advantages of using a nom de plume, pseudonym, alias, aka (also known as), or most known by the term: pen name. Several examples were given as to currently used aliases, pseudonyms and pen names found in the entertainment and literary world. Although, we did not spend any time really discussing the use of these “alternative names” by entertainers (actors, musicians, performers), it’s simple enough to lump those folks (respectively) into the “Branding” purposes category. A single name, word, or colorful adjective can be a very powerful and effective advertising tool for a performer. When the majority of the world hears the name “Madonna,” what do they think of first: the singer or the painting? I’m betting that most readers first think of the singer/entertainer long before they consider the painting The Virgin and Child or The Madonna of the Book by Sandro Botticelli, in 1480; or the 13th century painting Madonna and Child by Filippo Lippi, or even Leonardo da Vinci’s 15th century study of the Head of Madonna.
NOTE: For the sake of simplicity and to make this article more SEO and Google friendly, the acronym “PN” will be used in place of the terms pen name, nom de plume, pseudonym, aka, alias as much as possible as long as it does not take away from the message and meaning in the text.
Creating a PN
Authors can make up PNs through anagrams, through a particular word, words with special meaning to the author, by selecting a name or combination of first, last and middle initials pulled from a hat or by searching through the family lineage and select a name that is from several generations in the families past. Additionally, PNs can be created for amusement; sending a personal message by using unique words referencing the authors past; compounding words or names; even by using words or names translated into another language other than the author’s native language.
An anagram PN is simply rearranging the letters of a name to produce a new identity, word or phrase using all the original letters exactly once. For example: an author with the real name of Karen Carpenter could use the anagram Carter N. Keapner, a gender switch or non-specific PN.
For Amusement or to Send a Message
Mark Twain aka Samuel Clemens
Credit: James Carroll Beckwith, 1890
This includes authors writing for the pure enjoyment of writing without a desire or concern to openly present or hide the real identity of the author. Samuel Langhorne Clemens using the pseudonym Mark Twain may be an example of the use of a PN for amusement sake or for a subtle reminder of his past. The meaning of “Mark Twain” has two plausible meanings. First and most referenced is as a riverboat term measuring two fathoms (12 feet) in depth; mark being the count of water depth or fathom; thus it becomes mark the river two (twain) fathoms deep. Secondly, according to Justin Kaplan, the term many also have come from Mark Twain’s time in Nevada, where saloon-keepers used the phrase “Mark Twain” to represent two drinks on credit. Kaplan maybe more correct than the commonly accepted River Boat inference; Clemens first used the pen name on February 3, 1863 Mark Twain after he travelled through Carson, Nevada and signed his “humorous travel account, Letter from Carson – re: Joe Goodman; party at Gov. Johnson’s; music with the name Mark Twain.”
Benjamin Franklin is well known for using the pseudonym Mrs. Silence Dogood when he was a teen in order to get his writings published without his older brother’s knowledge. Other PNs used by Franklin throughout his career include: Harry Meanwell, Alice Addertongue, Richard Saunders, and Timothy Turnstone.Credit: Cory Stophlet, 2014
Name Out of Hat
On separate pieces of paper write many first names and last names (scroll through a phone book or the internet; however, don’t use the real identify of someone currently living) that sound good to you into a box, bowl or hat. Use separate containers to collect first names and initials and a second container for last names. Draw one piece of paper out of the container for a first name and then a piece of paper out of the other container for the last name. This method can be used to create multiple PNs for multiple uses.
Rearranging the Author’s Real Name
This can be accomplished by various means. The first and last name can be flipped as well as dropping or adding one or more letters within the name such as in Mitchel Tyler will create the persona Tyler Michel. A name like Samuel Franks can be rearranged to read Frank Samuels.
Character within the Book
Select a name from one of the characters within your book or from one of your previous writing. This works especially well when the name you choose is also the character narrating the story. Samuel Langhorne Clemens not only used the PN “Mark Twain,” he used the name “Sieur Louis de Conte” as his pseudonym for his book Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc. Sieur Louis de Conte just happens to be a character within the book, specifically the narrator or alleged source of the pseudo-history and the story of Joan of Arc.
Be careful not to use a character’s name that is so well known and established that it has its own unique public identity. This opens you up to law suits by the author of the original story the character appears in. For example, stay away from character names from the Harry Potter series of books and movies: Harry Potter, Dumbledore, and Herminie are fairly unique and a writer using one of those names could appear to be attempting by you to link your work to that of J. K. Rowling. If you want to use a name of a character from a well-known story, select a name of one of the more obscure and less significant characters of the story.
Next in part three of this discussion of why and how to create a pseudonym we will cover additional methods for developing a nom de plume.