An Author by Any Other Name: Or Who the Heck Am I?

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I’m having a whopper of an identity crisis. Well, not That kind of crisis. I mean, I’m not aiming for a red convertible, a party cruise, or a cute cabana boy to feed me grapes and read me poetry (though a girl can fantasize.) No, I’m digging my way out of analysis paralysis over the name I will publish under. Never mind that I’ve already had two books for the educational market, plus magazine and newspaper articles, and short stories in anthologies published under Donna Bowman Bratton. For all of those, I successfully gagged this inner voice telling me I should stay true to the name I was born to. Somehow, the stakes feel higher now, with my first trade books inching toward reality. The foreverness of it all seems so, well, forever. Through my more, ahem, mature perspective, the word “legacy” comes to mind. And, just maybe, my inner feminist is causing a ruckus with existential questions like who am I really?

I decided not to change my name when I married. I owned a business at the time and the world knew me by my maiden name. I was a-okay with not having matching passports with my hubby and kids until… I was stopped for speeding. Don’t judge. You see, my husband was a high ranking police officer in our community and the subordinate officer who approached my car window didn’t recognize me or the name on my driver’s license. Not that I’m a chronic speeder or law-breaker, but I did have an epiphany that adding his last name to my driver’s license could come in handy in an emergency. Only in an emergency! But names are as invasive as vines and I found it difficult to have two identities. Now, twenty years later, I feel myself back in that driver’s seat, ready to “press hard and sign on the dotted line,” but my hand is a little twitchier now. I’m removing the gag on that inner voice. It’s now or never if I want to change my name. With any luck, my reach in the literary world will never be smaller than it is right now, before these books hit the shelves and I set out to establish my brand. Yes, it’s time.

When I first asked my family for their opinions about what name I should publish under, they were supportive of the idea. My thirteen-year-old son, always the quick wit, didn’t hesitate to offer his suggestion.
“Mom, publish under the name John Wayne,” he said. “Who wouldn’t want to read a book by John Wayne?”
“Um, you may be the only kid on the planet who knows who John Wayne is, er, was,” I countered.
“It’s about my first name,” I clarified. “Or initials. Or first name with middle initial. Or maybe I should use a pen name.”  It turns out there are other Donna Bowmans writing children’s books. Even another D.J. Bowman. Ugh!
“I’ve got it,” my husband said. “Change the spelling of your first name. You could be Don-uh Bowman.”
“Um, no!”

Choosing an author’s name is like choosing a tattoo. Once it is on the spine of a book, it is there forever.  That’s both a lovely thought and a heavy decision. I mean, come on, we’ve all heard horror stories of trying to remove a tattoo. All those nasty scars! I’ve polled enough author friends to know that I’m not alone in this name-angst. We already have multiple personalities, on the page, and in public. In a way, our author name is its own personality. But, while readers may forget and outgrow some of our book characters, we hope they never forget us as authors. Our names will follow us through the Library of Congress, book shelves around the country, and through the unknown future of our lives until our legacies land on the family tree. So. Much. Pressure!

How Do You Choose?

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Is the http://www.yourname.com domain name and other social media moniker available?
  • Are there other authors publishing under the same name? Consider what they write and what reputation they have. How will your name stand apart?
  • Will librarians confuse you with other authors with the same name?
  • Who would your neighbors be in the book shelf community?
  • How will your name be received by young readers?     *I have a personal friend who legally changed his last name recently because the spelling led to pronunciations that were far from complimentary. He was tormented as a kid.
  • Will your name fit on the spine and cover of a book?  If actress Poppy Montgomery, from the TV show Without a Trace, ever decides to write a book under her full given name of Poppy Petal Emma Eliabeth Deveraux Donahue Montgomery, how big would that cover need to be?

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’re ready to embark on the path of analysis paralysis. You. Are. Welcome.

By the way, if you decide to be cute, remember, you probably have only one opportunity to use your name humorously when titling your book:
(fictional examples below)
RAPUNZEL by Harris Long
FISH STORY by Rod Enreel
ARCHERY by Beau N. Arrow
CRANKY CROCODILE by Ali Gator
ADVANCED MATH by Smart E. Pants
LIFE UNDER THE BLEACHERS by Seymour Butts
ANTLERS IN THE TREE TOP by Hue Goostamoose

Some folks choose mononyms (singular names) for obvious and less-than-obvious reasons:

  • Why? Because they wanna.
  • Avi- Born Edward Irving Wortis. By the way, his parents discouraged him from becoming a writer, so he goes by the childhood nickname given him by his sister. Ha!
  • Aliki- Aliki Liacouras Brandenburg (29 characters and a hard-to-pronounce middle name)
  • Sting- Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner-Supposedly so named because of a favorite old striped sweater.
  • Cher- Cherilyn Sarkisian
  • Madonna- –Move along–

Maybe you should you use a pen name:  (There’s no space here, but search authors with pen names. Wow!)

  • If you’re desperate for your books to be shelved next to your best friend or a prolific best-selling author.
  • If you crave anonymity (Though every pen name is easily traced to your real name)
  • If you’re in the witness protection program
  • If your real name is difficult to spell
  • If your surname doesn’t sound good or you don’t like your family
  • If your real name is too common
  • If you write in very different genres or for different audiences. (But be prepared to maintain multiple online identities.)
  • If you are an elementary school teacher who writes erotica
  • If your day job would be in jeopardy because of the content of your writing
  • Just because you wanna

Initials instead of your first name?

  • So that your name is gender-neutral
  • For a smidgen of anonymity (see above)
  • To evoke an air of name-mystery
  • Because it sounds scholarly, or poetic, or just plain cool
  • Just because you wanna

Maiden name rather than married name?

  • If you want a simple division between your personal life and your author life
  • If you want to honor your birth family and/or your childhood self
  • I was happily surprised to find so many authors publishing under their maiden names
  • If you want to insure foreverness of name if an unforseen life change occurs in the future
  • Women, take heed! A quick scan across the authors I personally know revealed scads of examples of those who took their first husband’s name, became well known by that name, then remarried after divorce or death of spouse. I wonder how Judy Blume and Laurie Halse Anderson feel about publishing all future books under an ex’s last name.

Whew! That’s enough for now.

I’m days away from pulling the trigger on the absolute, final, forevermore author name I will publish my trade books under. The upcoming expiration of my website domain name has provided just the deadline I need.

If all else fails, I can always revert to the names suggested by my ever-so-helpful family.

Don-uh “John Wayne” Bowman

 

Be sure to read the comments below to hear some personal experiences and cautionary tales. And please add your own comment. How did you choose which name to publish under?

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Donna Bowman Bratton was born with a middle name that begins with a J and with a last name that begins and ends in Bowman. She is a Texas author with a passion for nonfiction and historical fiction for young readers. Her first trade book, STEP RIGHT UP: THE STORY OF BEAUTIFUL JIM KEY will hit bookshelves in spring 2015 by Lee and Low Books, followed by EN GARDE! ABRAHAM LINCOLN’S DUELING WORDS, coming in spring 2016 from Peachtree Publishers. She is currently name-challenged.

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42 Comments

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42 responses to “An Author by Any Other Name: Or Who the Heck Am I?

  1. “Mom, publish under the name John Wayne,” he said. “Who wouldn’t want to read a book by John Wayne?”
    “Um, you may be the only kid on the planet who knows who John Wayne is, er, was,” I countered.

    Can’t. Stop. Laughing.

    And can’t wait to find out what name you choose! What a great guide you’ve created for other authors in this situation, Donna. And, of course, you’re hilarious at the same time. Well done, Don-uh. 🙂

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  2. Good luck with the tattoo/name, Donna.

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  3. As you know, I had similar name angst as well, and you outlined all the considerations so well here. Great post, Don-uh!

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    • donnabowmanbratton

      Thanks, Jenn. Women are especially cursed with this dilemma, don’t you think? I really like the name you chose. But, if you ever get the itch, you could join me and Tar-uh and be Jenn-uh. Just a thought.

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  4. Lindsey Lane

    Wait…you didn’t consult an astrologer/tarot card reader/crystal pendulum? That would have made it so much easier.

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  5. I went through the exact same angst and chose what I chose for reasons you listed. And now I kind of regret it. My name is ridiculously long, way too long for a domain name or a Gmail address. It’s hard to make your decision once and live with it. I’m trying to summon the courage to do that now.
    One cute thing: kids will call you by your name, sometimes saying the whole thing fast as one long word.
    Also, after the first couple years it’s rarely misspelled.

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    • donnabowmanbratton

      Ruth, I love your name. There’s such great flow to it and I can imagine some cute kid saying, “Hi Ruthmcnallybarshaw!” When it’s a longer name, maybe it’s most important to publish very large books.

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  6. donnabowmanbratton

    Shucks, thank you, Tara. Ya know, you you could change your name to Tar-uh. We could start a movement!

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  7. I didn’t do all the things you suggested, but I did add my middle initial, and am so glad I did. There are two other Jennifer Stewarts without the middle initial J, and one also writes kid’s books (of the religious variety), and the other was an actress who acted without any clothes a few decades ago. If people went to my website without the crucial middle initial, they saw things they should not see! Remember the J!

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    • donnabowmanbratton

      Thanks for contributing, Jennifer. Using my middle initial is definitely a possibility. You’ve proven that it can deflect potential confusions. I will not burn my eyes by peaking at that Jennifer-without-a-J-Stewart website.

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  8. Parker Peevyhouse

    I just had to use my married name, Peevyhouse, because it’s so incredibly weird, and the stuff I write tends to be weird too. I don’t use my real first name because it doesn’t really fit with Peevyhouse, and anyway I wanted something more gender neutral. I also like having that small buffer between my private life and my publishing life.

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    • donnabowmanbratton

      I agree that Parker is a perfect first name with Peevyhouse. And, you employed the gender-neutral option, so yay!

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  9. I have one thing to say. You are not alone. My initals are JKR. No joke, these are my born into initials. I dreamed as a girl of penning books with the name JK Rackerby (my maiden) and then along came this slightly talented, maybe you’ve heard of her? author with the same initials. Ack! I opted to wait to publish (self publish that is) my first book until marriage numero two (let’s hope it sticks for my author identity sake!) because I rather like using my real name, Julie Buchanan. 😉

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    • donnabowmanbratton

      Julie, thanks for chiming in. Does it irk you to know that Rowling doesn’t actually have a middle name? She added the K, in honor of either her mother or grandmother. Though it’s a sweet gesture on her part, does it make you want to stomp your feet that, since you were born with those initials, they should be yours and yours only? I might feel a little like that. Maybe.

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      • Yes. I recall reading that about her… Damn her and her talent.. and beating me to the punch with MY given initials 😉 hehe. I contemplated adding the K to my name for my first book, I may give up and just go to JK Buchanan eventually. We shall see.

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      • donnabowmanbratton

        Hey, Julie, you might consider the fact that, if you go with your given JKR, your books will land right next to hers. Just sayin’.

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  10. Ahhhh, I’m mulling over the same issue, so thank you for your timely post! Some days I want to honor my father’s, my stepfather’s, my husband’s name…since they have all had an influence on my life. Other times, I think D.G.Weidner is just easier. My MG is on submission so I still have a little time to decide. I like the sound of Donna Bowman-Bratton. What’s the J stand for? I can’t wait to hear what you decide.

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  11. I feel you, Donna. My last name is Douthitt. When people see ‘ou’ in the words ‘south’ or ‘mouth,’ they pronounce it ‘ow,’ but in my name, they say, ‘oo’ as in ‘Do.’ And people usually pronounce ‘th’ as a blend, but in my name, they see only ‘t.’ Douthitt = Do-Tit. Or sometimes inexplicably, Do-shit or Do-git, neither of which I understand. When I was a middle & high school substitute teacher I learned quickly never, ever, to write my name on the board because once a middle or high schooler gets Do-Tit in his head, all is lost.

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    • Yikes! I’m sorry to hear this. As I mention in the blog post, I have a friend who changed his name for that very reason. It was always mis-pronounced as a derogatory term for a female part. Whatever name you choose to pubish under, be comfortable with it.

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  12. Well…I thought I’d made a decision! Now I’m not sure. I had decided on Penny Parker Klostermann because I love the alliteration of the two Ps and then the “ks” in Parker and Klostermann. But it is really long. Ruth mentioned hers is long and it is 18 letters. Mine would be a whopping 22 letters!! Talk about hand cramp when I sign books! But let’s face it, I can’t have P.P. Klostermann. I really want to use my married name as part of it because I taught for 26 years and all my students know me by Mrs. Klostermann. That is really important to me.
    I can’t wait to see what you decide, Donna! or Don-uh! And thanks for an informative post!

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    • So, how about Penelope P. Klostermann? Plenty of alliteration there. It’ll be interesting to see what we all decide, won’t it?

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    • Penny, you make a great point. I’ve added it to the content of the blog post, using Poppy Montgomery as an example of a mile-long birth name (by the way, she is Jeffrey Tull’s sister.)
      It is important to consider how our names will look on the spine and cover of the book. Will it fit and leave space for the title? My personal name options would be 12, 17, or 18 characters long. Laurie Halse Anderson’s name is 19 characters long. So maybe Penny Parker Klostermann isn’t too long after all. It’s worth running past your agent and editor to help you make the decision.

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  13. It’s a lot to think about. I just checked, and sure enough, there’s another author with my name… damn it, Donna! Now I have to mull. Well, at least I have your questions to guide me. 🙂

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    • Maddening, isn’t it? Let’s face it, unless our first name is Dweezil or Moon, we’re likely to run across this. If the other Megan Morrison is writing books for young readers, it might be worth considering the addition of your middle initial. Run it by your agent. Maybe even ask a librarian if there would be confusion. Good luck!

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  14. Barbara Stopp Vance

    Since I know both of the guys in your life who made those memorable suggestions, I must say I loved both ideas tremendously! Because I introduced you and encouraged you to marry your humorous husband, I guess I have to say I like Bowmanbratton, though it does make for a long signature. As you know, I used my maiden name, Stopp, in the middle when I wrote plays. It is relatively uncommon and eye-catching and it honored my parents. I used my married name because that is who I was (and am) when I was writing. I didn’t hyphenate it, therefore keeping my signature short. Perhaps you could write as “THE” Donna Bowman Bratton”. That “title” also worked for me. (Tee hee hee!) How about DB Bratton? Short and gender free with a touch of alliteration-HA! The good news is that whichever name you choose, the readers will love you and your work.

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    • donnabowmanbratton

      THE Barbara, otherwise known as Bambi, is in the Emu’s Debuts house! Hiya! I like your Barbara Stopp Vance name. Personally, I’m leaning toward publishing under my maiden name, but I may need to take Lindsey’s suggestion to have my tarot cards read first. Dang, this is a hard decision. Thanks for chiming in, my friend.

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  15. Donna, I wish I would have had this post to guide me before I decided on a publishing name. I have the same issue: there’s a well-published author/illustrator named Shelley Jackson out there. I decided to add my middle name, Ann, to my publishing name to distinguish me from her. The problems with that:
    1. “Ann” is such a common middle name people seem to just gloss over it. When people Google ME, they still end up finding HER, because they don’t put the Ann in. Also, I’ve had art directors read my name tag and then come up to me and start talking to me as if they know me, and since I am published and have been working in the business for almost 20 years, at first I think they DO know me, until I realize that they think I’m HER and have to break it to them and it’s awkward and then they walk away. I have even met with an editor in her office about a dummy book that I sent in, when the editor started asking pointed questions and I suddenly realized she thought I was the other Shelley Jackson (she even spells it the same). After I cleared up the misunderstanding, the editor said snidely, “Well isn’t it nice that you can use HER name to get in to see editors?” Sigh. In my case, it doesn’t seem that adding “Ann” was deviation enough.
    2. I am now called “Shelley Ann” in not only professional situations, but by anyone who follow me on social media or has seen one of my books. Which, I don’t mind, except that I feel like I am inconveniencing them, since a simple “Shelley” will do. Or even “Shell.” I’m easy.
    3. When I co-publish with my husband, whose last name is Crosby, I get second billing, even if the book was my brainchild. I love him, what’s mine is his, and all that…but if I had it to do over again, I might lose the “Jackson” and just publish under “Shelley Ann.” I’ve never been at the front of the alphabet before. I think it could be fun. Plus it would definitely distinguish me from that other Jackson lady.
    Good luck with your decision, Donna!

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    • donnabowmanbratton

      Wow, Shelley, I had no idea you faced this. How awful that an editor thought you were the Other woman and then assumed you were riding on HER reputation. Don’t these editors know how awesome you and your work are? Thank you for adding your perspective here. I know it will help someone.

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  16. kevanjatt

    As a kid I used to hate that I had an uncommon name and that my mom spelled Kevan wrong. Not any more. But if I did have a common name, I think I would just Knight myself and add “Sir” to the front of it.
    -Sir Kevan Atteberry

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  17. Jeanette Larson

    Yep….someone asked me about ordering a book I didn’t recognize. Turns out there is a self-published romance writer with my name. Not to mention the editor with two ns…Jeannette Larson.

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    • Hi Jeanette! I suppose there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to author names. I’d love to hear the librarian perspective about the frequency of mixing up common names, etc. Thanks for chiming in.

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  18. My books sit on the shelf right been Jenny Nimmo and Garth Nix. Not a bad place to be. (My husband said, “You’re welcome.) I decided to put in my maiden name because I’d always dreamed of having Kristin Wolden on the cover of a book somewhere. I don’t think there’s any danger of duplication ever.

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    • Thanks commenting, Kristin. It sounds like your author name placed your books in a great book-shelf neighborhood. And yay you for including your maiden name. It’s the right decision for some authors, and not for others.

      Like

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