Coming up with a pen name

The Guardian book blog yesterday posted an article about how an author chooses a pen name.
There’s been a similar discussion on the online group of the RNA lately. How do you choose a pen name? WHY do you choose a pen name?

Me, I have a name that’s difficult to spell and difficult to pronounce (those who claim otherwise almost invariably pronounce it wrong). So, it made sense to use a pen name.
But what name?
Middle name + mother’s maiden name – yeah, okay. Plausible, but still difficult to spell.
My first pet + street I grew up in? Er, my brother named the dog ‘Knight Rider’…

I love a silly name. So here are my top four ways of finding names, silly or otherwise:

1.Motorway road signs – when driving along, look at the turn offs and see if you can pair up place names. Bradley Stoke, Brent Knowle, Filton Thornbury… It’s more entertaining than eye-spy. In fact, the lead singer of Triphoppers in Patently in Love was originally called Ashby Coalville (junction 22 off the M1) until my critique partner made me change it.

2. Common household names/trademarks – Sturmey Archer,Nat West, Pepsi Max, Cal Pol, Jeff Lemon … er… Cillit Bang.
Jasper Fforde is the king of silly names like this. Commander Braxton Hicks? Genius.

3. Two words picked at random. You might have to move them around a bit until it sounds right. Ruby Wellington, Fortune Armoire,  Hera Pungent. A dictionary is useful for this. The rude words are just a bonus.

4. Bacteria – Spiro Keats, Sal Monella, Steph Aureus, Sue Domonas, Liz Teria, Dick Tostelium (okay, not a bacterium, but too good to pass up).

So when I had to choose a pen name, the choice was fairly obvious. It needed to be short, easy to spell, somehow personal to me. So I named myself after my favourite pretty-coloured bacterium.
And, yes, I realise that I’m a very sad person just for HAVING a favourite bacterium.

One thought on “Coming up with a pen name

  1. I love Jasper Fforde’s character names (and Nat West needs to be a hardboiled detective!)

    I’m playing Skyrim at the moment and I keep misreading one of the character’s names as a programming in joke. I’m sure the Jarl Elisif (who I keep reading as “else if”) is the NPC to go to when all other conditions are false…


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