Wednesday, January 6, 2016

What’s in a (Pen) Name?

by Mary Marie Allen

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"A rose by any other name..."

I picked out a lovely pen name. It was lyrical. It was easy to spell. It wasn’t competing with other authors of the same name. Alas! It was the same name as a registered sex offender that was plastered all over the web.

Make no mistake, I have no problem with my real name. I like my name. I always have, although I will admit to testing different spellings in high school. That gets a bit tricky when you hit the adult world and deal with legal/business documents.

A few years ago when I started trying to figure out how to differentiate Mary Allen, aka me, from the thousands who share my name, especially from several other inspirational authors named Mary Allen, I started using my middle initial. That’s when I realized I appeared to be Mary Fallen. I didn’t like that at all, after all, I’ve been redeemed by the Blood of the Lamb. That same scenario arose anytime I filled in another consonant – it looked like the start of a last name. 

Then I considered various names completely different from my own. Some were “too different” – people would have trouble remembering or spelling them. Some didn’t seem to say “Women’s Fiction” – which is what I plan to write. Some choices were hyphenated or used apostrophes, both evidently are no-nos. 

I decided recently to go with Mary Marie Allen. It’s ordinary, yet unusual. Mary Marie sounds lyrical, memorable. When someone is sorting through all the Mary Allen authors, I want her or him to say, “Ah! Yes – Mary MARIE Allen.

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My brother laughed at me when I told him the name I’d chosen. He didn’t think it worthy of my creativity to stay so close to the original. I explained I already had books out there even if they were poetry and I was trying to use myself as a brand since I’ll be writing across genres:

Mary Marie Allen – God’s Truth & Women’s Fiction.

I may be naïve, but that’s what I hope to do. I hope to have people associate my name with good writing. Don’t laugh. It’s possible. Liz Curtis Higgs comes to mind. Debbie Macomber. Writing you like to read so the name alone draws you.

Of course that failed me once. Alexander McCall Smith is a secular Scottish author of gentle fiction following the lives of people in neighborhoods in a few different series. Since there’s always something to figure out he’s been listed as a mystery writer—a bit of a stretch if you ask me. At any rate, he presented an extremely relaxing quick read that delighted me. Waiting for a new release by him was like waiting for Valentine’s Day to be treated to one of Russell Stover’s chocolate covered strawberry flavored marshmallow hearts.

Imagine how you would feel if you bit into a favorite marshmallow-y treat to discover it was filled with sawdust. Nasty. You’d hate it. You’d spit it out. That’s what I felt when I eagerly started to read one of his books and discovered it was about illicit sex of all varieties. Turned my stomach. I approach his new books with extreme caution and honestly have to say the shock was so profound it lessens my enjoyment of his other works. I don’t recommend him to others any more. HE SHOULD HAVE USED A PEN NAME.

I expect one day I will use a very different pen name for a particular genre I want to write,but I will never publish anything that will not honor my Savior, even in the telling of (imaginary) people’s life stories when not-so-nice experiences happen.

So, I’m Mary Marie Allen. I was already pretty far into the process of changing everything before I realized on line it will look like this: marymarieallen running all the vowels together. Well, at least no one will think I’m Mary Mari Eallen. At least, I hope they won’t. Not perfect. Not the name God will one day give me on a white stone, but a name I'm comfortable with anyway. 

What name do you use? Is it your own or a combination? What process did you go through to find a novel (humor!) pen name? Or, did one drop seemingly from heaven right into your lap? 

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  1. Both my married and my maiden name are short, so they combine well, and I use them on my non-fiction. If any of my women's fiction gets published, I will probably use the same name for it. But right now I am writing middle-grade fiction, and I want to distinguish my works for children from my works for adults. So I have decided to use Kaye Page, which combines my childhood nickname with my maiden name. I was Kaye Page when I was the same age as my readers, so it sounds right to me.

    You are so right about how hard it is to find a pen name (or even to use your own name) without getting confused with other writers. This is the first time I've heard about getting confused with a registered sex offender, but I read about a group that registered the trademark ISIS and used it for a traditional business long before it took on a different meaning. Even if you check everything out in advance, you still can't win. Oh well.

    1. So true. I don't think any name will be "perfect", especially now that information is so worldwide. Somebody, somewhere is bound to share a name. I like your choice of Kaye Page for youth NF.

  2. I'm blessed with a unique enough name. I'd love to use my maiden name, but Reisch doesn't look that great and it's not easy to pronounce. Karla Akins has a nice balance of a's and k's I think, so it looks decent. However, I, too, have the running vowel thing for my website. So when I type it, I always capitalize the last name to distinguish the two a's. Maybe you could do that, too? Also, your name is easy to remember! So that's a plus!

  3. Good suggestion, Karla. And I appreciate you saying the name is easy to remember. I was hoping so.

  4. Do u think Christian writers should stick to ?