Why would a writer use a different name?
I asked this question the other day in class. The middle school students were exploring the author Hector Hugh Munro (better known as Saki) and his experiences in WWI.
For a brief moment, the topic of name-changing turned into a more general discussion.
People use pen names because...
- They don’t want people to know who they are in real life.
- Their name is hard to remember.
- Their name is hard to pronounce.
- They want to try something new and not lose their reputation.
- They are writing something others disagree with and don’t want to be thrown in jail.
Thank you, savvy students, for some clever brainstorming! You summed up some thoughts I’ve been having.
(Related Article: Anonymous Blogging: Three Pros and Three Cons)
Pen Names: Mystique or Tax Confusion?
Apparently, if you don’t mind a publisher knowing your real name, you don’t have to do anything legally to write under a pen name. You simply tell the organization you are writing for your real name for the sake of getting paid correctly and having the payment linked to your social security number. Then you plainly request they use your pen name in your byline.
If it’s your mission to not even have a publisher know your real name, that’s when you need to create a separate business identity and file a “doing business as (dba)” status. This can be complicated of course, but several people do it once they are taking their business seriously. They also do it for several reasons other than anonymity.
Why Is Savvy History Looking Into This?
I have some ideas bubbling up that I’ve been wanting to write about in-depth. I’m trying to decide whether to flesh out these ideas on the blog or pitch them to others for freelance writing opportunities.
My thinking was recently augmented after watching this interview on Kristin Wong’s channel with Paco de Leon. It's about when to do a DBA (Doing Business As) versus LLC (Limited Liability Company).
For me personally, after one year of writing articles instead of songs, I like the idea of building up the blog, keeping ownership of the subject matter, and frontloading Savvy History with well-researched articles that belong to me (before turning the spotlight even more on business history and songs about inventors).
At the same time, I’ve always been drawn to the idea of freelance writing for established publications. Since I was a freelance musician before ever hearing about the “gig economy” or freelancing, I have an honest sense of what freelance writing would entail. A lot of pitching, a lot of negotiating, a lot of follow-ups, and a lot of patience.
Savvy History is a Published Poet
Whatever I decide to call myself while blogging or freelancing (or both), I’m trying to come to terms with my real name. Savvy History could be a stellar first and last name (and I recently published a poem with Z Publishing House under this name), but I don’t think anyone will buy it as my real writing name in the long run. In fact, I’ve heard many publications refuse to publish work by someone who doesn’t have a NAME name.
I’ve found it interesting to read on Reddit about publishers who seek out new writers to publish.
As far as Z publishing, they contacted me first, it was an easy submission process, and I only make money if I (or the other poets in the series) sell the pieces of work and sign up for their affiliate program. Therefore, they didn't need my real name except if I registered with PayPal to be paid. (It sounds harmless to me but I probably won’t set up anything through PayPal with them at this time. I’m simply happy to be published by someone other than myself.)
Pen Name Exploration: Turning to History!
My first name (Michelle) is out in the open. It doesn’t irk me very much. It’s my unpronounceable last name that seems to be an unwise creative business decision. It has no ring to it. Plus, I like the idea of maintaining an ounce of anonymity.
While beginning to write for others, I think it would be wise and interesting to look up pen names chosen by people in the past.
From Silence Dogood (Benjamin Franklin) trying to sneak around his judgemental brother to Olivia Wilde (Olivia Cockburn) liking playwright Oscar Wilde during a theatre performance, I’m enjoying the research for next week’s post. Stay tuned!
What do you think? Do pen names prompt creative freedom? Do they look pretentious? Or do they signal someone in the midst of an identity crisis?
DISCLAIMER: AS ALWAYS, IF YOU NEED PSYCHOLOGICAL OR BUSINESS ADVICE PLEASE SEEK A PROFESSIONAL FOR YOUR SPECIFIC SITUATION.