Dilemma: pseudonym?

This is long, please bear with me:

I've been writing a mothering column for a local paper for a few years, and when I first pitched the idea to the paper I agonized over what my byline should say. FirstName MaidenName? FirstName MarriedName? Should I use my entire formal first name or the nickname I always go by? Should I include any of my middle initials (middle name and maiden name)? Should I choose a totally different pseudonym? I remember the editor I met with telling me -- somewhat jokingly, but also seriously -- that the name I chose then would be the one that would be on Oprah when I became famous, so choose wisely.

I ended up choosing Nickname MaidenName MarriedName. Nickname because I felt like it fit the tone of my writing and the relationship I wanted with my readers -- as if we were having coffee and laughing about the kids' antics. MaidenName because we live in my hometown, and a lot of people know my family, and I thought it would help with making more immediate connections with the readers; also, my parents have always been my biggest fans, and it seemed an appropriate nod to them. MarriedName because I didn't want my husband to feel overshadowed by my family, as had/has happened many times (my family's really big and loud).

I've since felt really happy with my choice -- it feels honest and real, and very "me."

I've recently been wanting to up my game a little, submit to some new places (bigger, more visible), and maybe look into compiling my columns into a larger work. And my name is holding up the whole process.

When I first started writing, my husband was very supportive. But as the years have gone by, he's become increasingly uncomfortable with our family information being so public. My column is very personal -- memoir-ish -- and I've always used his and the kids' real names. I've stopped mentioning him nearly altogether, and I've started swapping in "Boy #1" etc. for the kids' names when I can. Taking my writing more public, though, will only increase our visibility (if I'm succesful at it).

A pseudonym seems the perfect solution, and one my husband is happy about, but I can't move past the fact that creating a pseudonym now means any name recognition I've built in the past -- which will help me moving forward -- will be gone, like starting all over, and considering I've been going really slowly anyway because of having babies and everything, it's sort of devastating to think of losing what I've built up. I also don't know how to handle practical things like, what if my parents want (and they will) to tell all their friends that their daughter wrote a book, but they have to tell them it's under a different name -- it seems that defeats the very reason I'd be using a pseudonym, which is anonymity, right? I also don't know how to handle that in terms of marketing and promoting my work and social media -- I guess I'd have to get a new email address with the new name? A new FB page to promote my work? What about (and I'm really thinking very optimistically here, and long term) book signings and other publicity? Do I introduce myself using the pseudonym? Sign my name that way? How far would I have to go to convince people I'm Pseudonym and hide what my real name is? It all starts feeling very dishonest and sneaky, and I can't figure out how to get comfortable with it (though I know writers use pseudonyms all the time).

I find it all very overwhelming to think through! And I feel like I don't have anyone I can really ask, who really *knows* -- all sorts of family and friends have offered opinions, but none of them have a good sense of professional writing and publishing.

So! I'd love to hear all your thoughts! These are my two options as I see them:

(1) Best case scenario: Make my case with my husband to keep the name I've been using; if he agrees, then there's no issue (I'll be sitting down with him to talk about this soon).

(2) Middle ground: Drop my married name and go by Nickname MaidenName or FormalName MaidenName, with or without my middle initial (this is not a bad option, but my formal name just feels really formal, and I don't love my nickname with my maiden name [despite the fact that's what I went by my whole life before I was married, and still sometimes do with people who can't remember my married name]). It may be that people won't even realize I've dropped my married name, and I can continue as if nothing's happened (possible side effect: people think my marriage has broken up).

(3) Worst case scenario: Forget about trying to preserve my professional creds and start over with a totally new pseudonym. (But then -- should I figure out pseudonyms for my kids? For better and worse, mothering stuff is all I can really write right now, with my kids still little, I don't have the brainpower to think outside that!)

Replies

1
By EVie
October 9, 2014 4:27 PM

I don't have any great answers, as I'm currently dealing with a sort of similar dilemma. In my case, it's a bit easier, as a) I'm writing fiction, so I don't have to worry about my family's privacy, and b) it's my first novel and I'm starting from scratch as far as brand recognition, so I can do whatever I want. But I'm generally uncomfortable with self-promotion and the idea of putting myself out there under my real name, and in some ways I think I would be more comfortable aggressively promoting myself under a pseudonym which would let me pretend I'm someone else when I have to do things that I dislike. I also think it would be easier to take criticism that is directed toward an assumed name. On the other hand, a pseudonym does impede your ability to stand up and take credit for your work when you want to. And I would want to use a pseudonym that really felt like "me," just an alternate version of "me"--which is really difficult, because most names that aren't my own don't. (For what it's worth, my editor said that a pseudonym is fine as long as it doesn't sound obviously made-up).

In your situation, though, I would probably be pretty protective of my family's privacy, especially with children who are too young to consent to the details of their lives being shared (and the Internet is forever--those details may still be Googleable in ten years' time). So I think choosing pseudonyms for your children going forward would be a good idea, as would publishing under a name that keeps them from being easily identifiable. Your maiden name could work for that--if your children in the column are known as Pseudonym Maiden instead of RealName Married, that should prevent them from being easily Googled. Maybe you could just use initials in place of a first name? I think there's value in keeping some part of the name you've been publishing under thus far, but I would definitely want to do it in such a way that my children's real identities are kept under wraps.

2
October 9, 2014 4:34 PM

These are great thoughts EVie, thank you!!

3
November 6, 2014 1:59 AM

To both of you, pseudonym. You stand up as that pseudonym. When you go on Ophra and Ellen you are that pseudonym.

you never share with the shows it is a pseudonym

it is a Real Fake Person!

think of how many people used fake names

Cary Grant whose real name I forget.

And Jerry Dorsey who went under the name Englebert Humperdink (Eddie Izzard and I both want the YouTube of that meeting!)

pseudo- fake

nym- name

this is your brand just like Coca Cola

and give your husband and the kids their own pseudonyms in fact make it a family discussion, what name, why remember this will follow you forever!

hope that helps

4
October 9, 2014 9:20 PM

I have no advice for either of you, but I did want to say that I enjoy reading both of your posts and hope that you give us some hints when (thinking optimistically) you get published so that we can race out and buy your books. We used to have a regular poster named Keren and I was able to find her debut novel. I enjoyed it a lot and look forward to reading your work as well.

5
By EVie
October 9, 2014 9:40 PM

Thanks! Thinking optimistically, yes--I'm currently working with an editor who is interested in the book, but I don't have a contract yet--I'm still waiting for her to get back to me with feedback on my most recent draft. Things in publishing can take ages and ages to get moving--I think her turn-around time on my last draft was about eight months. But if/when I get a contract, I'll probably be popping up here again asking for pseudonym feedback as well!

6
October 10, 2014 10:10 AM

EVie that's so great! I hope I'm in your spot one day ... even just saying "I have an editor" is so huge!

7
October 10, 2014 10:09 AM

Thanks Elizabeth T.! I will certainly let you all know if I'm successful in my venture!!

I remember Keren -- I'd love to read her book! What's the title?

8
October 10, 2014 4:43 PM

When I was Joe--it's a YA book. I believe she has at least one sequel now. The first is a cliffhanger, so I need to find the new book!

9
October 12, 2014 11:20 AM

So cool! Thanks!!

10
October 12, 2014 11:42 AM

She's got a bunch of books now!

11
October 9, 2014 9:23 PM

I know of a few bloggers who use very obvious pseudonyms for their families. Maybe cute nicknames for the kids (something like Junebug), and a generic name for the husband like Mr. J.  I think it's a great solution because it gets rid of that feeling of dishonestly with your readers. They're very aware that you're using pseudonyms but it keeps it friendly and likeable, rather than feeling secretive. I don't have any advice for what you should do with your own name, but I hope you find a solution that works for you!

12
October 9, 2014 11:03 PM

My only experience with the publishing industry is on the reading end, but I have a few thoughts for you.

How common are your maiden and married names? If they're like Johnson or Davis, then you may be able to gain some anonymity without starting completely anew by switching to just your nickname's initial: N. Davis Johnson. If one of the surnames is more distinctive, but one is fairly generic, then you could abbreviate just the distinctive name: Nickname D. Genericname. Either way, existing readers should be able to find/identify your new work, but your family would be somewhat hidden.

Whatever you end up doing with your pen name, I think it's a good idea going forward to come up with pseudonyms for your children. The easiest to remember (and the one I've seen most often on social media) is their first initials: Miss A, Mister B. The plus side (besides ease of use) is that they're obviously anonymized, so they don't feel dishonest (to me as a reader, anyway). The downside is that if you want to talk about baby names, the conversation may end up feeling rather lopsided or incomplete, because you can't mention specifics.

A variation I've seen on mommy blogs is to choose new names, but always mention the fact that they're not real (at least once per entry/column/article). The new names often keep the original initials, and ideally they're similar in style: Roger instead of Robert, Emily instead of Emma. This allows for some baby name discussion, but readers may feel dissatisfied with the necessary glossing over of details.

Good luck, and do let us know what to look for at the bookstore!

13
October 10, 2014 10:20 AM

I agree with both of you, Emerald Bee and HNG, re: pseudonyms for the kids. When I first started writing my column, I wasn't sure anyone would read it, and it seemed so folksy and homey and small-town-y that I never even thought about not using their real names. Now, not only would a wider audience bring more risk, but my oldest kids are just old enough that I don't freely write about them any more because of privacy issues. So I've been calling them things like "Boy #1," "Boy #2," "the baby," etc. for a while now.

Re: my own name, you gave good suggestions about ways of changing up my real name so that it's still real but more anonymous too. I do think that's the way I'll end up going ... last night I fell asleep with FirstInitial MiddleInitial MaidenName as my decision. This morning I'm not as convinced, but I'm definitely moving closer to figuring it out.

And this: "The downside is that if you want to talk about baby names, the conversation may end up feeling rather lopsided or incomplete, because you can't mention specifics." Yes.  :(  I would dearly love to write about the kids' names and how we chose them and what fun nicknames we have for them, it's a bit painful that I can't. Only all of you would understand that!

14
October 10, 2014 11:43 AM

Well, you can write about all your kids' names here.  We'll never tell :-)

16
October 14, 2014 12:46 PM

I really like the solution of using your maiden name exclusively. It removes the ties to your husband and children, and it still preserves your recognizability to your readership. I would probably just prune your current byline by the MarriedLast and leave your nickname for recognizability and familiarity, as I think the side effect of people thinking your marriage has been broken up is pretty unlikely - I know a married woman who had hyphenated and she's recently started reverting to her maiden name, and as far as I know, no one has questioned the state of her marriage (very happy) and many haven't even noticed.

I would however give your kids pseudonyms, as well as your husband. One woman of my acquaintance is in a similar situation - she uses her full real name but her S-named husband picked Spartacus for his blog identity, and their daughter Haze1 is known on the blog as O1ive, which I thought was very clever. You may have a less obviously brilliant way of preserving the exact feel of your children's names. I keep a small blog for updating far-away family members (not on the google) and in it we refer to the children as Jolly, Rip and Tammy - their names, but not enough that it really is screamingly obvious to work back to their full names, which I think works well given that their full names are very unusual and anonymity destroying. (A forum member once clicked on my profile, saw my children's names, and knew instantly that I was her sister's friend's sister's wife.)

If I ever were to write the romance novel I keep threatening someday to write, I think I would probably use my middle name (spouse's generic maiden surname) along with an older form of my very common first name. It would still feel like me, but it would be very nicely anonymous. I think looking at variant forms of your real name (full or nickname) would be the best place to look for a pseudonym, if you were interested in going that route.

17
October 14, 2014 5:59 PM

I read one blog where the mom gave all her kids flower screen-names:

Tulip

Primrose nn Prim

Snapdragon nn Snap

Posy

Huckleberry nn Huck

Dewberry nn Dewy 

(Huck and Dewy are twins, hence the matching screen names)

I personally find the naminess of her choices much more enjoyable than the typical "Miss A", "Curls", or "Baby", yet not quite name-y enough that you accept them as the kids' real names without a second glance. She has a note on the sidebar of the blog that says clearly that those are not their actual names. I think something along those lines could work very nicely in your situation.

18
October 27, 2014 4:26 PM

For your own name, I'd reccomend simply taking off the married name - hopefully your readers will still be able to make the connection, and your efforts thus far won't go to waste. (Pretty straight-forward, so if they're paying attention to who's writing, they should figure it out easily.)

For your kids, since you're writing about them at least occasionally, I'd reccomend giving them obvious cutesy nicknames, that way it won't seem so much as being "deceitful" as, well, cute and as obvious means to protect your kids identities (especially since they can't consent for what you write).

Another thing is, obvious and cute nicknames (e.g. Sweetiepie, Bud) will maybe help you feel more free to write what you want about your kids without worrying about their privacy, because they won't really be Googleable in that way (except for with the things you've already written, of course).

I think a good example of cutesy nicknames as pseudonyms would be the blog Raising My Rainbow, click on the "Cast of Characters" link and you'll find a bunch of them, if your interested in giving that sort of anonymity to the people you're writing about. There's also others mentioned occasionally in the blog, but aren't "the main cast" so to speak, so not they're not listed.

19
November 6, 2014 2:08 AM

BTW a "friend of mine" publishes under the pseudonym Wang May Ming

she wrote a book based on her grandmother and great Uncle about the WWII Chinese sex slaves.

she had to flee China and she and her mother ended up as real life sex slaves to a Japanese Yakuza and his British wife,who loved stories, taught her English.

she escaped and wrote this book, but is actually still being hunted by some powerful people in China, so lives in hiding.

her book is call Snap of the Drangon's Tail

and it is a roller coaster ride with one of the coolest ending to a book I've ever read.

this is a serious book. She and I write through retailers. She is playing around with sort of weird themes, voices, latest is a California girl, she has three in a trilogy, but thinks they will never be published because her heroines are under age When they first have sex, though one is married. All end up cuckolding their higher ranking husbands and taking control, which strikes me as something maybe the church and government would hate.

her main character in Snap is female. Stunning writer. I do not know how she grasps different cultures, but she told me she read all the time while she was a sex slave.

 

sorry if this was a hijack. Just got an email from her this morning and ran across you guys so...