RWA Literacy Signing List: A Pen Name Primer

Thanks to Katie, I have a link to the list of authors appearing at the RWA Literacy Signing in San Francisco. Every year the Literacy Signing raises Big Money for a local literacy organization, so bring your wallet and your comfy shoes.

But suppose you’re not going to be there, which is a big bummer. Consider alternate uses for the list: pen name selection! You don’t want to use a pen name that’s too similar to another author’s nom de plume. Granted, this list doesn’t encompass every romance author ever, but there’s plenty on there to give you ideas.

My pen name of choice would be a weird combo of my pet’s names and the porn-star name rule of “street I grew up on,” and I have so many pets I have a name for every subgenre. Ergo Grace Reynolds. Or Oliver Reynolds, if I write mysteries. Or Logan Reynolds if I write, say, Westerns. Or Fukui-san Reynolds if I were to write something Japanese. Or Ohta Reynolds if I write sports books or food commentary. The possibilities are endless!

How did you pick your pen name? What’s your preferred faux name, if you’re not using a writing moniker already?

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  1. 1
    Suzie says:

    Susannah Kline. I always knew I’d change my last name for writing because my actual last name is Russian and I’ve had a lifetime of people pronouncing and spelling it incorrectly.

    So I took my great-grandmother’s maiden name, since I’m named after her, and then switched from Suzanne to Susannah, because I find it more euphonic when paired with the last name ‘Kline.’ And there we have it.

    Also, my Jewish mother specifically told me that I couldn’t publish under a name that made me sound like a WASP or she would have a stroke.

  2. 2
    Kristie(J) says:

    My pen name, should I ever write a book, would be my first name (I go by my second name) and my maiden name.  I can come up with a name to write under – now all I need to do is write a book! *g*

  3. 3

    I write the dirty stuff as Jane Lockwood (it was a contractual obligation thing), a name I chose because Lockwood is the narrator of Wuthering Heights. And then my buddy Colleen Gleason pointed out that lock is eighteenth-century slang for a woman’s genitals and wood…well, we all know about wood, right?
    Talk about being hoisted by your own literary petard.

  4. 4

    I write paranormal romantic suspense as TL Schaefer, but when I added the spicier stuff to my writing, I didn’t want to totally shock the readers who’d taken a chance on me at the beginning of the e-book revolution (and dammit, I WILL think of it in those terms *g*).  Anyway, when I was looking for a pen name, I offered up a contest to my newsletter reades, and they picked Keira as my alternate personality.

    The overwhelming participation was pretty cool because at the time I wondered how many folks were actually reading the newsletter versus being on it for the prizes.

  5. 5

    My pen name is sort of the middle of my real name. It’s my middle name and maiden name, so technically it’s really me. :)
    Of course, my married name is one of those confusing Dutch names no one in their right mind can spell or say. It was an easy choice, believe me.
    I have heard of the first pet name and your mother’s maiden name – I’d have been Missy Peters. Blech – talk about country club. Then there’s the middle name and street you lived at when you were born – I’d have been Beth Oneida. Not bad, but not great.
    I stick with one pen name because I want people to be able to find any book I write, whether sweet, steamy or sweaty. ;)

  6. 6
    ev says:

    I play out in the www with a variation of my first name and my original (pre-adoption) last name. Nobody would know that one to figure out who it is. I like the anonimity that it gives me. And a future boss would never find me if they went googling and looking

  7. 7
    katiebabs says:

    If I wrote erotica my name would be Cinnamon Overlook. :D

  8. 8

    I use my real name. Angelia Sparrow sounds fake enough that most people think I pulled it out of a hat.

    If I found myself in need of a pen name, it’s be Cynthia Wishom or Michael Raleigh, as suited the situation.  Wishom is my grandmother’s name, and there was brief talk of naming me Cynthia. Michael is the name I would have were I a boy, and Raleigh comes from Rolla MO, the town I went to college in. (Rolla is named for Raleigh NC)

  9. 9
    Amber says:

    I am amazed at how many authors on the list have the same surname! 

    I already use the name Amber online but if I was going to get published I would use the name Cerys Atkins.

  10. 10
    Ann Bruce says:

    Variation of my middle name and best friend’s first name.

  11. 11

    It’s no secret that I write under a pen name, and not, as my son suggests, because I’m embarrassed about pirate porn.  I did it because I wanted to keep my real name in reserve in case I ever write a SF novel.  I’ve been a longtime SF fan and have some name recognition in that community.

    Anyway, my pen name was a no brainer.  I took my middle name and combined it with my husband’s middle name to get the euphonious Darlene Marshall moniker.

  12. 12
    MJ says:

    My pen name is my first initial, my son’s first initial and my husband’s name. Believe me, tough to come up with something I liked!

  13. 13
    cindy holby says:

    I’ve got two pen names.  I write YA under the name Kassy Tayler.  Kassy and Tayler are my bff’s daughters.  I write Scifi romance under the name Colby Hodge.  I took Cindy and Holby and squished them together to get Colby and Hodge is my mother’s maiden name.  It also helps that Cindy Holby and Colby Hodge look similar when signed and my books are located close together on the shelves.

  14. 14
    Sam says:

    My pen name is my regular first name.  I hated it as a kid, but think it a beautiful name now.  My last name is my Mom’s maiden name + a letter or two….so I would be:

    Samantha Hartke (Hartkey)….

    HMMM…sounds better than it looks…


  15. 15
    dillene says:

    So my pen name would be Lucille Wabash?  I’d have to write honkytonk romances.

  16. 16
    Jan says:

    I write category romantic suspense under the pen name Leah James. Leah, because it’s a name I’ve always loved and James because it would put me in the middle of a book rack if shelved alphabetically. I didn’t want to use my real name while still teaching. Just the thought of standing in front of a room full of smirking college students gives me the willies. My collaborative pen name is a combination of the two authors’ names: JC Taylor.

  17. 17
    Carrie Lofty says:

    My best friend teases me that I’m using my real name for my historical romances (the sexxxorin’ books) but I plan to use a poshed-up pen name for historical fiction (the classy books). She thinks I have it backwards. But as for any other future names, I have four to choose from: Carrie Lindsey Stone Lofty… lots of combination potential.

  18. 18
    Barb Ferrer says:

    I only ever intended to use Barbara Ferrer which is my real first name and my maiden name for writing purposes.  Then when I sold the YA novels, my first publisher wanted my first name to be something more obviously “Latina.”  So I dragged the middle name out of mothballs, which gave my mother evil fits to no end, since for years, I’d been very firmly writing “C, period” whenever a middle name/initial was required.  Because you know, Caridad, while a lovely name with a lovely meaning (Charity) does not exactly roll trippingly off most Anglo-accustomed tongues.  But you couldn’t get a whole lot more Latina than that.

    Now that I’m with a different publisher, although still doing YA, I’m debating what I should do—whether I should add Barbara back to my name and use the full shebang, Barbara Caridad Ferrer or just stay with Caridad Ferrer.  On the one hand, Caridad’s how I’ve been published to this point, on the other, Barbara’s my name, it’s what I answer to, and it’s going to have been nearly two years between releases so I can almost look at it as a fresh start.

    Decisions, decisions…

  19. 19

    I use my real name.  But I’m not on the list!  *getting worried*  Now I have to go find out why…

  20. 20
    Kalen Hughes says:

    I use a “version” of my real name: middle name + stepdad’s last name (the name I grew up using). This way I actaully answer to it, LOL!

  21. 21
    karmelrio says:

    Jeebus, there will be hundreds of people in attendance just counting the authors! 

    I’m an RWA Conference virgin.  I get that the signing is for a great cause, but… I’m already anticipating/dreading the sensory overload.  Any coping mechanisms anyone can suggest?

  22. 22
    Sarah says:


    I have been thinking about this for a long time… Cause well… I have been in RWA for almost 15 years.  If people know me, they know me by my maiden name (well, I still haven’t changed my name since marrying) – though people either ask me how to pronounce my last name or how to spell it.  I want to keep my first name… Cause it is my name – even though people ask me how to spell it.


    I don’t know what I would do.

  23. 23
    Silver James says:

    What an interesting question! Under my real name (married), Penny James, I’m known for my technical work and writing in the fire service and law enforcement (and a military dictionary). I tended to pen fiction under my first name and maiden name initials – P. T. James but…being called Petey and/or the mind-leap to P. T. Barnum had me rethinking. I developed an “on-line persona” named Silver and some friends in my writing circle suggested that Silver James sounded like a romance/romantic suspense/urban paranormal writer so it stuck. SB Sarah, using your suggestion, I could be Adidas Hudson. *gigglesnort* Or…Tucker Hudson…or Kodi Hudson, which aren’t too bad actually, should I ever branch out into other genres. Personally, though, just getting a manuscript “sold” is the first hurdle. Working on that… *closes this window and goes back to writing*

  24. 24

    Marie is my middle name, and “Brennan” morphed out of “Bryn” + N.  Why those?  Because my legal name is Bryn Neuenschwander

    And now you know why I don’t use my real name.

  25. 25
    Lorelie says:

    My pen name came from the first name of an internet handle I’ve been using for 10+ years and my maiden name.  I’d go by my regular but being google-able is kind of a bad idea for day-job reasons.

    Pet + Street = Ace Manzanita.  Crime novels, maybe?

  26. 26
    Zoe Archer says:

    I write under a psuedonym because I also write straight fiction (not fiction for straight people, but non-genre fiction) under my real name—Ami Silber.  The two identities were created in order to minimize reader and shelving confusion. 

    My husband and I arrived at Zoe Archer because it’s our two initials, Z for Zack, A for Ami, and I wanted my books shelved at the beginning of the alphabet.  I also liked the mythological connotations of the archer (Cupid, Eros, Amor).  But it does create a weird dissonance when I see my stuff for sale and it almost feels as though Zoe wrote it and I didn’t.

  27. 27
    Jessica says:

    I use my middle name and my husband’s last name.  I’d use my own last name, but it’s misspelled so often, it’s terrible.  I feel like I end every phone conversation with G as in George, A as in Apple, yes, there are two Ds, or you forgot the S, grrrr.

  28. 28
    Bithalynn says:

    I couldn’t do the pet-name/street-name thing, I’d be Polar Bear Ross!!
    I won’t use my last name either, too difficult to pronounce, my mother’s maiden name is too, so I’ll probably end up using one of my grandmothers’ maiden names instead, which would give me Rinal or Potter…
    I thought for a while about calling myself Elizabeth Darcy as an homage to Jane Austen…

  29. 29
    Beth says:

    I have used “Paige Turner” for a humorous working-mom column I wrote for a local paper. I think I’ll need to come up with something spicy for my vampire paranormal, when I eventually finish it. One of my friends suggested “Scarlett Rivers”! Any suggestions?

  30. 30
    Suze says:

    No pets (or kids, or houseplants…) but a few years ago when I was living with my sister, the pet/porn star combo would have been Monty Boisvert.  Gah.

    I had a job for a while as a file clerk, and had access to thousands of real people’s odd names.  Favourite last name: Metallic.

    I’m thinking Cherie Metallic, just cause it has good rhythm.

    People have problems spelling/pronouncing my (Irish) last name, and my mother’s (Norwegian) maiden name, so I’ve given up on the thought of using either of them.  My grandmothers’ maiden names were Brown and Larson, which are just too boring (although phonetically spelled and short, which are plusses).

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