Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Pen Names

When you write with a pen name, there are invariably two questions you will always get asked:

Why?

and

How did you come up with it?

Here’s my story.

I remember back in high school, when I was just dabbling in writing, I thought about creating a pen name. I wanted something that would stand out, that people would remember, that sounded cool. I thought my real name was too plain, too boring. The only one I remember coming up with was Jessica Reeves, and it never stuck.

Years later, when I was way more serious about getting published, the desire to change my name was so that I would stand out. Jessica Robinson is fairly common. Back then, if you Googled it, a country singer would pop up. Now, it’s a various assortment of Jessica Robinsons, and I’m sure I’m in there somewhere, but I get lost in the shuffle. I knew if I had a pen name, I could stand out from the crowd.

I decided on Pembroke Sinclair when I was pregnant with my first child. My husband and I were researching names, and I came across Pembroke. I thought, “Oooo! Pembroke Sinclair Robinson. The kid would be destined to be an author!”

When I mentioned it to my husband, his response was, “You want our child to get beat up on the playground, don’t you?”

My friend suggested I take it, and the rest is history.

“But wait,” you say. “That’s not the only name you write under.”

And you are correct.

I also write under J.D. Pooker for my children’s books and Jessica Robinson for nonfiction. So what made me decide to do it that way?

The explanation for creating J.D. Pooker is easy: the publisher asked me to create a pen name. Their reasoning was that because I write adult/YA books, they didn’t want young readers or the gatekeepers inadvertently discovering them and perhaps being traumatized by the content. And I thought that sounded logical, so I was fine with creating another name.

J.D. Pooker is a combination of my initials and a nickname my grandma used to call me when I was growing up. I thought it sounded fun and quirky, something that kids might enjoy, so I went with it.

As for using my real name for nonfiction, I used to write for an agricultural magazine called Western-Farmer Stockman. I always used my real name as a byline because I wanted to keep my fiction and nonfiction worlds separate. I felt that my real name gave my nonfiction writing more credibility. I’m not sure if that’s actually true, but that’s how I explain it in my mind. Since then, it’s just stuck.

Often I will get asked if a writer needs a pen name, and my response is, “If you want one.” There’s no hard and fast rule when it comes to deciding what name you want to put on your work. It’s totally up to your own discretion. (Just know that when you sign contracts for publishing, it has to be under your real name. That’s the only way they are legal.)

Some authors do it to hide their true identity. Some authors use them because they write in different genres and want to keep those separate. The reasons behind using a pen name are as varied as the people who use them.

In some ways, it allows you freedoms that you may not have allowed yourself before. It’s like a secret identity. You can make up a whole new life/history for the person behind the name, if you’re so inclined. A pen name can be the complete opposite of who you are or exactly the same. Your imagination is the only thing that limits what you want to do.

The point is that you don’t have to have a reason to have a pen name. And you don’t even have to admit that you write under a pen name. I was more than happy to just be known as Pembroke Sinclair when it came to my fiction, but my local paper outed me during an article. No biggie. I’ve moved on. But it is a risk you will have to take.

My intention with pen names was never to hide, it was to be found. When people Googled my name, I wanted it to pop up instantly. There are people who know me by both Jessica and Pembroke, and will only refer to me as Pembroke, and I’m totally cool with that.

If you want a pen name, have one. Who can tell you you’re wrong?