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.”
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?
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.