Friday, 29 October 2010

What's in a name?

I've just started studying an Open University course in Writing Fiction. Yay! Yep, I am officially a student! Although the course doesn't actually start until the 30th, the student cafe and various forums opened so that we could 'meet up'- it's all on-line so that I won't have to drag myself to class each day or stress over childcare (phew!). But one of the interesting threads that came up in the cafe was 'pseudonyms' - who would use them, who had one, and why?

Now, I already have a pseudonym. And 'why' is a very good question. Surely, the point was made, if you are going to be lucky enough to get published, you'll want to see your own name in print? Otherwise, what's the point? Don't you want your name to be known? Well, that all depends, doesn't it?

For me, the reason was simple - I HATED my name! At the sensitive, hormone-driven age of 18, I wrote a Doctor Who story, the first full book I'd ever completed at approx. 40,000 words. I knew nothing about publishing or writing, had no internet for research, and sent it off to the BBC with youthful naivety. They soon sent it back, gently pointing out that they only took submissions of scripts and redirecting me to the then publishers of the Dr Who books, WH Allen. They rejected me, very kindly with a full page of feedback, good and bad, and the offer to read my future works with interest. (I still have the letters, and also the deep regret that I didn't take up that opportunity then - d'oh!). But back then, I was Philippa J. Salmon. Urgh!!! There was no way on the planet that I wanted to see a book with THAT name on, and so I created a pseudonym - Pippa Jay. Not so far removed from my own name that I regarded it as a stranger, but enough that the dislikeable surname vanished.

There was a long gap before I wrote again. To cut a long story short, a lot of things happened and I didn't write anything aside from a short story over the next two decades. Then, last year, the epiphany came. In the space of 6 weeks I wrote two rough drafts, then spent three months editing the first for submission (I'm currently working on book four!). The publishing world had changed drastically, but the means to navigate it and easily find information had also changed. The internet opened a realm of opportunity for me - fellow writers, reams of advice, and the intricacies of the winding road to publication.

"So, are you going to publish under your own name?" my husband asked one day. I was speechless. The thought hadn't occurred to me. Now married for 16 years and with a host of friends who knew me as 'Pip', the detestable name of Salmon had long since died. But it would render me 'P.Green' as an author.
"Would you mind if I used my pseudonym?" I asked, wondering if he'd be offended that I didn't want our family name on the book.
A shrug.
"Doesn't bother me."

So Pippa Jay is the writer, and seemingly has a life of her own. She has co-authorship on the blog. We share a Twitter ID. She even has her own Facebook page, in case anyone goes looking for her. Pippa Jay has gone from being a pseudonym to having a personality of her own, which is slightly scary! I'm starting to wonder who I really am.

At the end of it all, I may never be published, at least not in the traditional form. Publication for me wasn't a search for fame or fortune. I'm not sure I'll reach the heights of JK Rowling or Terry Pratchett (trying to be modest here, without seeming to have no ambition - tricky!). I write because I love to, need to, want to, because I can't stop. So the name that may or may not appear on the cover isn't really that it?

Do you use a pseudonym? Is it important or irrelevant, what name appears on your book? And do you feel it makes any difference to the reader who considers buying it? At the end of the day, unless you already have a famous name, is it really going to make any difference which one appears on the book?


  1. Even though I'm not published, I started out using a pen name, Kaelee Morgan. But this summer, I decided to use my birth name, at least part of it, and I switched everything over. It's an interesting dilemma for writers to decide who they want to be known as.

  2. Like most things, I find it fascinating to know why someone chooses a pen name, and if so, how and what they choose. Thanks for sharing that Kristal! :)


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