How to Choose a Pen Name

In my last post, I covered some reasons why you might want to use a pen name. If you’ve decided to use a pen name, you now must decide which name to use. Even if you want to use your real name, you can still decide which form of your name to use. Read on for some tips on how to choose a good pen name.

What Makes a Good Pen Name?

Certain characteristics tend to make good pen names.

  • Unique. The name should not be one used by another writer or by a celebrity
  • Memorable. It should be easy for readers to remember.
  • Short. Long names are harder to remember, and harder to fit on a book cover.

Unusual names are often good because they are often unique and easy to remember. However, you don’t want to sound too weird, unless you’re going for a humorous effect.

Consider Modifying Your Real Name

Sometimes, all you need to do for a pen name is alter your real name. It might solve a problem with your real name or give you just a litte more privacy. If there’s another writer with your name, a modification might be distinct enought to avoid confusing. You can also shorten a long name so that it will fit nicely on a book cover.

Modifying your real name is often simpler and less confusing than a completely different pen name. If your pen name’s first name is your real first name or a version of it, there’s less confusion as to what your fans should call you if they meet you in person.

I considered modifying my real name, which does have some possibilities. However, I wasn’t particularly happy with any of them. I also realized I would find it hard to switch between two versions of the same name.

If you want to alter your real name, consider whether you can keep track of the two different versions. I  thought of using another last name with my real first name–until I almost wrote the wrong last name on a check.

Ways to Modify a Real Name

I’ll use the name Katherine Elizabeth Martinson as an example. That name’s pretty long. Here are just some of the ways it could be modified.

  • Use a nickname. She could write as Kate Martinson, Katy Martinson, or Kathy Martinson
  • Shorten her last name: Katherine Martin, Katherine Marr
  • Shorten both the first and last name: Kate Martin, Kathy Marr.
  • Use her Middle Name: Elizabeth Martin, Eliza Martin, Liz Martin, Lizzie Martin, Beth Martin, Betsy Martin (be aware that giving out your middle name online could pose a security risk. If you do this, don’t use your middle name for any security purposes).
  • Shorten all three names: Katy Liz Marr, Kate Eliza Marr.
  • Use her initials: K.E. Martinson, K.E. Martin, K.E. Marr
  • Name + initial: Katherine E. Martin, Kate E. Martin (sounds like Katie Martin)
  • Initial + name: K. Elizabeth Martin, K. Eliza Martin, K. Betty Martin. K. Lizzy Marr, K. Liz Martinson
  • Initial + Last Name: K. Martinson
  • Make up a Last Name: Katherine Ames, Kate Joseph, Kathy Ellson.
  • Make up a Middle Name: Kate Ann Martin, Kathy Jane Marr.

Most names don’t have this many possibilities, which may be a relief. But this can give you some ideas of how a real name could be modified.

Note on Using Three Names

Some writers use three names (first name, middle name, and last name) or a name with a middle initial. However, this can cause problems with the electronic forms used in publishing, which are often designed for using just a first name and a last name. Many writers find ways around this, such as entering the first name and the middle name or initial into the “first name” box on a form. Just remember that it can add some complications.

Longer names are also harder for readers to remember.

Note on Initials

Many authors sign their books with their initials. However, initials can be a problem in the digital age. If you write as R.A. Norris (periods after initials, but no space between them), a reader who searchs for you as R. A. Norris (space between initials) or as RA Norris (no punctuation or spaces between initials) might not find you. This may be less of a problem if you have an unusual last name.

Initials can also be harder for readers to remember. Here are some more things to consider if you’re thinking of using initials.

  • Make sure no one else is using similar initials with the same last name. If you write as C.R. Hanson and there’s another writer named C.K. Hanson, people will get confused.
  • Consider how the initials sound when spoken out loud. D.K. sounds like “decay.” “L.C.” sounds like “Elsie.” Guys may want to avoid that one!
  • Do you really want to be known by initials. Do you want people addressing you by your initials when they meet you in person? Some people might be fine with that, but it might bother some people.

Choosing a Pen Name

If you decide to go for a completely different pen name, your options are wide open. The challenge is to narrow it down to find a name that is unique and memorable, but not too long. Oh, and you should like it, too.


Finding Pen Name Ideas

  • Make a list of names you like
  • Look at the names of authors in your genre. See if you can find any patterns.

Finding Names

You can find numerous names on baby name websites. Some of these sites also provide useful information about the meaning and history of the name. They can also tell you what well-known people or fictional charactes have already used it. This can give you clues about the cultural associations with the name.

Some of these sites also provide information on which names were popular in different years. This can be useful if you want a pen name that sounds like it’s your real age, or if you want one that sounds like it’s from the time in which your historical fiction takes place.

These sites are also really useful for finding character names.

Combining Names

Combine a first name and a last name to create a name that sounds good and stands out. Try to come up with several possibilities. Some authors use two first names for their pen name, as in Kathy Mara or Duane Bob. This can be a good way to come up with an unusual name.

Create More than One Possible Pen Name

It’s best to come up with a few different names you’d be happy with. Don’t set your heart on one name too early. It’s always possible that the domain name you want might be taken, or another author might be using the name.

Checking Potential Pen Names

Once you’ve come up with some names that look and sound good, check to make sure no one else is using them.

Search Engines

Suppose you’re interested in using the name “Nathan Mill.” The first thing to do is to use search engines to see who else has that name.

  • Search for the name Nathan Mill
  • Search for the name with quotation marks “Nathan Mill.”
  • Search for “Nathan Mill author” and “Nathan Mill writer.”

Chances are your search engine results will bring up other people with that name. While it would be ideal not to use someone else’s real name, it’s almost impossible not to. However, this probably isn’t much of an issue if the other people with this name are not public figures.

Where Else to Check

Check Amazon and the copyright office to see if anyone else is publishing books under that name. Check the trademark office to see if anyone has a trademark on that name. You don’t want to get in trouble for a trademark violation and have to change your author name. When checking for trademarks, also check variations of the name and similar names.

Trying Out a Pen Name

Once you’ve created a list of possible pen names, it’s time to try them out.

  • Try imagining the pen name is your name.
  • Imagine what you’d think if you saw a book by a writer with that name.
  • Ask your friends to try calling you by the pen name you’re considering. See how it sounds to have other people call you that.
  • Create an account on and find the book cover templates. Find some templates for your genre and replace the author names with your pen name ideas.  See how each name looks on a book cover

Note: Do not share possible pen names online or with tech-savvy people you don’t trust unless you’ve already registered the domain name. Some people will buy the name and try to sell it to you for a high price.

Have Fun Choosing Your Pen Name

Choosing a pen name should be fun. It’s fun to look up names and try out various combinations. However, it can be stressful. You might fear you’ll never find the write name.

Look at the names of best-selling authors, especially those in your genre. You’ll find some names that look like great author names. But you’ll likely also find remarkably long names. Names you have no idea how to pronounce.

Truth is, as long as your name sounds reasonable and isn’t already in use, you’ll probably be fine. Once you’re an established writer, people will associate your name with the kind of books you write. So, don’t stress too much about it.

What to Do Once You’ve Chosen Your Pen Name

Once you’ve chosen a pen name, there are a few steps to claim it and get ready to use it.

Register the Domain Name

Once you have a few good pen names that have passed all tests, it’s time to register one. It’s best to have a few names in mind, just in case the domain name for your first choice is already taken.

You’ll need to choose a domain registrar–a company that can register the domain name for you. Be sure you also get whois protection. Otherwise, anyone on the internet will be able to find your name and other personal information by looking up your domain name.

Namecheap is a good registrar. Their prices are good, and they provide free Whois protection. From time to time, they offer good sale prices on domain names and other services.

Register the Trade Name

Check with your state’s requirements for registering a trade name. In some states, you may not need to register your pen name as a trade name if you use your real name for business matters like receiving payments. However, registration is likely a good idea anyway.

Set Up Your Webside

Once you’ve done all this, you’re ready to set up your author webside. Even if you aren’t ready to publish yet, it’s a good idea to get a website started. That way, you’ll have plenty of time to make it look nice and working well by the time you’re ready to publish.

Once you’ve chosen your author name, congratulations. You’ve made a big decision about your writing career. Now, you can focus on writing.


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