What’s in a name?

In some comments, I was asked by someone who knows my full name how I intended to present my name when published. I gave him the short answer but I put a lot of thought on how I want my name to appear on books, etc should I ever get published. I did this for several reasons, and the name that I finally decided on is only vaguely related to the name I have now.

Names have to sound right. And I believe that the right name can help to make or break a book. A name that gets tangled on the tongue, as mine can, can prevent people from buying a book. CS Lewis published that way rather than have his whole name, Clive Staples Lewis, out there. Who really wants to read a book written by Clive? While I have seen published books with full names on the cover, but they flow. However, along with CS Lewis, a number of successful authors have only partial names out there: JRR Tolkien, and JK Rowling. I also enjoy JR Ward.

Are we seeing a trend? I believe so. I think using initials can help sell a book to a wider audience. Some women may not want to read a book by a man, and vice versa (especially in the SF genre, or so I hear). Using initials makes the author, in a sense, gender neutral. Another reason to use initials: I really hate it when people mash up my name. I have seen my name misspelled by those who are holding a card with my name on it. I have heard it misprounced just after I say it. I mean really, how many ways can you pronounce one name? Dorothy. Having problems? Do not pronounce it like in _The Wizard of Oz_ with three syllables “Dor-a-thy.” My name has two syllables. Dor-thy.  And do not misspell it by leaving out the second “o.” A good way to circumvent these problems is to use the initial only. D.

Okay, but what then? I’m far from fond of my middle name. I and the initial set “DM” sounds too close to “BM” for my liking. Perhaps I’m being finicky, but I wouldn’t buy a book with someone’s initials “BM.” However, my last name starts with a W. I like DW as an initial set, but the name sounds unfinished.

Enter another solution: I’m engaged. What does this have to do with my published (if I ever get there) name? As a woman, it is traditional to take on your husband’s name. I happen to like my last name. I like the history of it, and the sound of it. And I really like the initial set “DW” as I’ve said before. If I take on my husband’s last name, I don’t have to get rid of my first last name. I would add it on to my name as it is, and I like the idea of having four names. I think it’s kind of cool to say I have four names. Not a hyphenated last name, but four distinct names, two middle names.

DW Ellis. I like the sound of it both for my personal life and publishing. It has the benefit of being initialized, like many great authors, while at the same time being different enough to make it stick in the mind. In fact, I might add, that I like the name enough for publishing that I have considered legally changing my name early. I’m still debating on that one, but there’s no rush at the moment.

I could have chosen a full pseudonym, but I didn’t really like that idea. I want to be known for writing my books as me, not as a different person. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has put  some thought into this concept. When you’re published, or if you are now, how does your publishing name differ from your given name? And how did you choose this name? Are you going to write under a pseudonym?

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12 responses to “What’s in a name?

  1. I wrote a post myself about having a pseudonym. http://elenaransley.net/2011/03/03/do-you-have-a-pseudonym/

    I like you, have chosen not to have one. I am publishing (self-publishing) under Elena Ransley. My full name is Elena Jayne Ransley-Hoare. I hate ‘Hoare’, but unfortunately for me it is my husbands surname. I have never taken to Jayne, and Elena has only ever been used when I am in trouble (!). So why use it? Well, I figured it looked quite nice on the page as opposed to Ellie. I guess we all have our own quirky ideas about what is right.

    • I have thought about self-publishing too. I recently took a webinar, offered by Writer’s Digest, on the subject. I am seriously considering it, but I still want a polished product before I go that route. I like your name, Elena Ransley. It’s different.

      • Yeah, my parents named me after a brand of Spanish washing powder! Ha!

        My book, well, brief guide, about self-publishing talks about having a polished product, book cover, editing, proofreading , not to mention typesetting. It is so easy to get carried away in your own excitement to lose sight of the important factors for the readers. Good luck with whatever you choose to do.

  2. Ah. I’ve struggled with this one, myself, for a long time. I’ve currently settled on using “Stephen A. Watkins” with no generational suffix. (Most of the feedback I got when I asked about it didn’t like the idea of the generational suffix). But I still fear “Stephen Watkins” generally, with or without the middle initial, is so generic-sounding as to be laughable. (Go ahead. Google Stephen Watkins. You’ll get a lot of hits; most of them not me. Better yet, google “Stephen Watkins Author”. Yep. There is a “Steve Watkins” already published in the YA fiction market…) So, I’ve experimented with different ideas that take my name and twist it around. I almost thought I was going to publish under the name J. R. Sawyer. I thought it was perfect – it evoked Tolkien with the “J.R.” initials. It evoked adventure by suggesting “Tom Sawyer”. (Go ahead and see if you can figure out how it’s twisted up version of my name.) Then I discovered sci-fi author “Robert J. Sawyer”. Well… back to the drawing board.

    I wanted to use my real name… and so I am. But I’m still afraid it’s too generic to ever build an audience from.

    • “SAW”yer? and you’re a JR. Hence JR Sawyer. Did I get it all? Since I’m not sure where the “yer” came from, I’m going to assume it was to make a name out of “Saw.” And I did Google your name, you’re right, a whole bunch of hits, most of them “Steve Watkins” the author. Your blog was at the very bottom, but it was there.
      I think I was one of the people who gave you feedback against using Jr. If it were Initials, that would be a different story, but it just doesn’t ring like an author’s name, although I’m fairly certain I’ve seen a generational suffix or two in author’s names before. None that I recall actually reading, but you are writing for a different market (I believe that I saw that in the “contemporary fiction” market).
      On a side note: legally changing my name is a personal choice, I wrote that story, I want my name there. Notice I have not yet changed my name, and probably won’t for a while. However, like I said in my post, I like my current last name, as well as my fiance’s last name. So, the answer, for me, is to keep both of them. I don’t plan on getting rid of my current middle name because mom said that my name was a nod to her: my first is her middle, and my middle is a form of her first. Doesn’t mean I have to like it though.

      • The “yer” comes from taking the IPA definition of the letter “j”, which uses it basically as a “y”. (“y” represents a completely different sound than what we use it for in English.) So, “sawyer” is how you might pronounce my full initials.

        Of course legally changing your name is a personal choice. I only meant that what name you intend to publish under needn’t influence whether you change it early or not just so you can have your legal name match your published name. If you want them to match, that’s fine, but there’s no need for them to match, exactly, and it won’t affect anything related to getting published.

      • I hadn’t thought of that. Congrats. I’m assuming, since you didn’t correct me, that the rest of what I guessed was accurate.
        I understand your point. I’ll probably publish under that name whether I get married or not, I’ve grown rather fond of it.

      • Yep, everything else you got right.

  3. Also, I wouldn’t worry about legally changing your name. You can make your byline anything you want, within reason. The check (if there is to be a check) still gets cut to your real name. Having your byline be a different name only matters for marketing purposes.

  4. I think D. W. Ellis sounds like an author-y name. ^_^

    I’m similar to you in that my first name tends to get misspelled (and mispronounced). It’s only been since the movie The Princess and the Frog has come out that a lot of people I come across have become more familiar with seeing and hearing it. Even then, Spanish-speakers tend to pronounce it differently (tee-jah-nah instead of tee-ah-nuh).

    Names are tricky business! (It’s funny: because of my experience with having people pronounce my name differently all the time when they see it, this happens to the heroine in my WIP, as well. It’s just one of those things that just kind of subconsciously carried over, you know?)

    Once published, I’m also intending to use my first two initials, T. M., along with my last name, White. I think it sounds a lot more author-ish than my full name, heh. Only thing about it is that I tink it makes me sound older than I really am…which may be a good thing in my case, haha, since I’m only 22.

    • Thanks for the compliment. 😀
      You know, it wasn’t until The Princess and the Frog that I became aware of the name as well. (you can read sheepishness here). But it is a lovely name. Do you ever get irritated when people mispronounce your name? or misspell it? And on another thought, do you know what your name means? I love knowing the meanings of names, and like you and Stephen, use those meanings to help define my characters. However, I have never really run across yours.
      I like the name T.M. White as well. It does sound like an author. I’m not sure if it makes you sound older, I think that people ascribe what they want to initials, which is one reason why I like them.
      My middle name is the same as yours. I just realized that as I was looking at your comment. lol.

  5. Lol. Marie is a very common middle name, isn’t it?

    My mom said she named me, sort of, after an 80s singer (well, she sounds 80s to me) called Teena Marie. My first name, though, doesn’t have a common meaning that I know of, but after doing some research in other languages I learned that, as spelled, it means “chair” in Quechua, which is an indigenous language group spoken in parts of South America–mostly the Andean regions, it seems. It’s associated with the Inca Empire.

    I was happy to find that it means something, though not exactly ecstatic that it’s something people can sit on! (Pretty sure Moms never intended that, though, lol.) On the Quechua Wikipedia page it just shows a well-known chair design, the Rietveld Chair, for my name, lol.

    And no, it doesn’t bother me that people don’t usually pronounce it the way I do. You just get used to it. In fact, I got a kick out of it when I had a Guatemalan substitute teacher in my Spanish class one day, and she kept saying, “Tijana, tijana…” I thought it was funny, haha. Interesting, as well. (I like listening to how other people say things, even if I can’t always understand them.)

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