Sunday, January 22, 2012

Coming out of the Nom De Plume Closet

So, I’m coming out of the nom de plume closet in 2012.

Other Way Around 13/365

 photo credit: flickr creative commons

You may view my picture below and say, "Now, I've seen that face before. Didn’t that girl have a different name?” 

Oh yes, that was my pseudonym, but I’ve decided to tuck it away with my floral print graduation dress and florescent spandex shorts. I may one day shake it out from moth balls and try it on again. Just not here. Not now. At Hoosier Ink, I’m going to be myself, wearing blue jeans and an acrylic sweater. It's more comfortable that way.

Over the past year, I've teeter-tottered about using a pen name. I've considered the benefits, listed the pros and cons, and exhausted the topic with my ever patient husband {whose eyes rolled back when I told him I was writing this post}. I liked the idea of keeping things separate and safe in this web like world. I loved the notion of following in the footsteps of George Elliot, Mark Twain, and George Orwell. And the best part? If you didn’t like my writing, I could hide behind my alias—no harm done. And for awhile, it looked like this identity would work for me.

Until I went to the ACFW conference this past September.

In the company of writers, I thought I could wear my avatar like a comfortable sweater, but the name felt like wool against bare skin. Though I'd used that name in my journal for years, I suddenly felt like I had left my journal on my fifth-grade teacher's desk. My mind turned in circles . How would I introduce myself?

When I met you—a flesh and blood writer--I couldn’t stop using my real name. For that is who I am. And in reality, I’m messy, and my words fumble, and I don’t always look like my best online photo. The truth is when I’m face to face with you, it's nice being authentic. Failures and all. It’s the only way I understand God’s grace.

As I embark on this writing path, I'm learning what works and what doesn't. Leopard skins? No. Cotton knits? Yes. Pen name? Maybe. Perhaps one day.

But at the beginning of a new year, I'm stepping out in faith, and it's both terrifying and exhilarating. For, I'm positive my words won’t tickle every ear, or turn to gold with every click-clack, and I'm certain some days my writing will be something akin to my toddler's tomato-stained onesie.

Even so, I’m pushing the door open, wearing my favorite turtleneck, and— gasp—writing as my real name.

Hi, I’m Melanie Brasher, and I'm a writer.

And you know what? It’s nice being me.


Over this past year, I've thought about pen names more than breathing, and here's my list of five do's and don'ts:

1)  Do keep the first name of your nom de plume the same if you're planning on using it for all writing {and become it}. Believe me it's too confusing and uncomfortable if you use two different first names. However, if you're using the pen name for a very specific circumstance, and your real one for everything else, I don't think it matters if the first name is different.

2) Don't choose a pen name that is the same as a celebrity or an ex-convict's. Do your research and choose carefully.

3) Do consider using a pen name if your real name IS the same as a celebrity or ex-convict's. Yes, this is different from point #2.

4) Don't waste a year fretting about it {experience talking here:)}. The mantra, "when in doubt, throw it out" is relevant for a variety of situations: food in the refrigerator, the tight leather pants in your closet, and the pen name you adored in your journal.

5) Do pray about it. God knows your name, and He knows what's best for you. So, do pray and do disregard all my advice if God leads you down a different path. Let His word guide you.

*For further reading/advice on pen names check out agent Rachelle Gardner's post.

Have you ever considered using a pen name? Why or why not?

Melanie N. Brasher is a full time mama of two boys and wife to an incredible husband who understands her bicultural background. She moonlights as a fiction and freelance writer, crafting stories and articles toward justice and change. She's a member of American Christian Fiction writers and a contributing blogger for Ungrind. Though she's an aspiring author, she'll never quit her day job.


  1. Some recommend a person uses a pen name if she writes two radically different genres, e.g. romance and biographies (I've done both). What do you think of this idea?

    1. Hey Rachael,

      Yes, I've heard of people using names for two different genres. I think it comes down to what you're comfortable doing. I know Rachelle Gardner addresses this issue really well in her post on pen names.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts

  2. Thanks, Melanie. Very insightful.

    Two years ago one of the candidates for my state legislative seat should have changed his name. But he didn't, and Timothy McVey didn't make it past the primary race. (Maybe that's not all to it, but...)

    I actually considered writing as J. Clark Reynolds, which one can say may not really be a pen-name, since that's my first initial and my real middle name. This was years ago, when I was interested in being an adventure writer. Now, I might go by Jeff Reynolds, or my full name of Jeffrey Clark Reynolds.

    Thanks again, Melanie.


    1. You're welcome, Jeff!

      Oh yes, you can use variations of your real name. I think that works really well. C.S. Lewis comes to my mind.

      Again, I think it really comes down to comfort levels. Are you okay signing that name on future books? Can you answer to the name? Will you still like it in ten years or is it like an impulse tattoo you'll loathe when you're eighty? If you can answer yes to those questions, go for it.

  3. Melanie, alas! As life would have it, my real name is the same name as a former NBA star. However, I've decided that if a few basketball fans buy my books under the misguided assumption that the former Golden State Warrior player wrote them--then that is fine with me.

    By the way, I recommend 100% real wool from Blarney Mills in Ireland. Soft, warm and definitely not scratchy on bare skin!

    1. Ha, ha, Rick! I'll have to check out that wool. :) I guess I'm just wearing the wrong kind! Oh yes, I guess having the same name as a celebrity can be to your advantage as well! Awesome. :)

  4. Melanie! Some real great thoughts here! and so glad to officially meet you!

    1. Loree,

      You're so encouraging. I've enjoyed meeting you in the blog world, and I hope to meet you in the real one soon. I've enjoyed following your writing journey!

  5. Melanie,

    I've heard quit a bit about using pen names and I enjoyed this post very much. You make some really good points. I've always hated my given, legal name and I love that when I write I can use a combination of my nickname, maiden name, and married name. I finally feel at home in my name.

    Thanks for sharing.

    1. I'm so glad you've found a name you're comfortable using. Your nickname really suits you well. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  6. I always thought I'd like to use a pen name because I would like to write in different genres and keep my life private(I'm a dreamer to think I might ever need privacy, but if, well, is this even possible any more?). Plus, I thought it would be more interesting than my own name. Since for the moment, it's a non-issue I don't spend time thinking about it, figuring when the time comes, I'll know what's right. In the meantime, I'm having a hard time tracking three email accounts I use. Why would I want other identities. Nice blog, Melanie. I enjoy reading your blogs.

  7. Thanks, Mary Allen! You're absolutely right about the difficulty of keeping track of our different email accounts let alone a pen name. It's next to impossible. :) Thanks for your encouragement. {I think you have a beautiful name btw}