How to Pick a Pen Name

What do Anne Rice, Mark Twain, and Ayn Rand all have in common? They are all pen names. We are all exposed to works written under a pseudonym, whether we are aware of it or not. As a writer yourself, you may want to consider adopting a pen name. This article will help you determine whether or not that’s a good idea and set a framework for choosing your own.

It is generally a good rule of thumb to use your legal name and not a pen name. Promoting your work becomes more difficult if you’re using a pen name, and many critics find the use of a pen name to be pompous or old-fashioned.

Why use a pen name?

Despite the recommendation to not use a pen name, there are many reasons you might want to do so anyway.

  • Your legal name is common or already the name of another famous author.
  • Your writing may be controversial and could damage your career or safety if it were traced back to you. Political and morality-based musings may fall under this umbrella as well as erotica.
  • If, for example, criminal undertakings are described in a hard-hitting exposé, a pen name may be used to protect the identity of the writer.
  • The assumed gender of your name may discourage the readership you’re targeting. Many 19th century women (like the Brontë sisters) wrote under a male name since writing was viewed to be a man’s job. Now, like writers using a gender-neutral pen name, you may want to shed the opportunity for gender-based prejudice.
  • Similar to gender bias, you may want to avoid religious or racial bias. A pen name may also allow you to choose a name that is easier for your target readership to read and pronounce.
  • You’re too prolific! While a good problem to have, readers of a magazine may tire of reading articles from the same author, so the magazine may suggest using a pen name for a portion of the articles.
  • Do you normally write about medieval medical practices but want to try your hand at romance without confusing your typical readership? Consider using a pen name!
  • Multiple writers for a single work may opt to choose a single name to write under to simplify accreditation.
  • Have you always wanted to use a pen name? Is it really important to you? Go ahead and use one if you will find it fulfilling.


Choosing a pen name

The pool of names you can choose from for your pen name is infinite! Here is some advice to help you narrow down that pool.

  • Determine your readership to gain clues toward suitability. For example, young readers may take to a simpler name more than a long name with difficult-to-pronounce syllables.
  • Authors within a genre sometimes have similarly styled names (think of the 20th century poets T. S. Eliot and E. E. Cummings using initials). Do you want to fit in with your compatriots or diverge from the fold?
  • Make sure it’s not already used! Choosing a name identical or similar to another author will make it difficult for people to intentionally find your work.
  • Many names may already be attached to non-authors who have come before us. Make sure the pen name you choose won’t be associated with a person to whom you object.


Are you having difficulty thinking of a good name? Find a name generator online and get a taste for what’s out there.

I’ve chosen! What now?

Claim, use, and register! Search for the website domain with your pen name. Append a “.com” to the name to ensure that it isn’t taken, and go ahead and claim that domain. This is crucial for advertising and branding.

From there, communicate with your publisher about when it’s advisable to use your legal name and when to use your pen name. You may also want to reach out to a legal professional to trademark your name.

That’s all there is to it! Now it falls to you to write a work worthy of your perfectly chosen pen name. Best of luck!

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