The dilemma “to pen name or not” drove me mad for years. Names are a part of our identity. Choosing a pen name is a serious business, literally. As writers, our names are marketed and, dare I say with the rise of social media, packaged. Some writers choose to keep their real-life names and others don’t.
Popular reasons for writers to use their real name;
- Social media and networking already inbuilt
- Easier to handle official life dealings such as banks
- The vanity of seeing your name on book covers (oh yeah baby)
Popular reasons for writers using a pen name;
- Privacy or the desire for a new identity
- Your name has the spelling curse, aka hard to spell
- Your name is already taken (how dare they?)
- Genre: writing in multiple genres requires multiple names (for example, erotica and children’s fiction do not share a readership — crap, I hope not), or the name doesn’t fit the genre
The Spelling Curse
Do you have any idea how many ways I have seen “Tannille” spelt over the years? Double letters confuse people. “A” is optional; pick a vowel, any vowel. Insert an “E” next to the ‘I’. The “E” at the end isn’t necessary. Hell, I’ve even seen the “NN” replace with an “M” (I refused to date that guy). This nightmare has been my life!
Yet, because it’s my name and my identity, I started blogging under “Tannille”. Thought I could do a Madonna! Even scored tannille.com. How many people can claim their first name as an URL? Oh, my ego. But even when my name is staring at readers, too many still misspell. Strange, the only misspelling people leave on the blog is the double “L” becomes a solo “L”. It’s an improvement! I don’t get offended. There is no foul intent, only the reminder that my name is problematic. I do silently cheer when I see the correct spelling and that’s how I know who’s truly my friend.
For a while, I wondered if I could pull off using “Tannille”. Google searches are fine with the variant spellings. BUT, Amazon is TERRIBLE. Try searching for writer YouTuber and author Sarra Cannon on Amazon. Her books will be listed if you spell her first name “Sarah” or “Sara”. Misspell her surname and Amazon throws a spaz, no books listed. I searched my name on Amazon and expected the 70s singer “Toni Tennille” to rear… nothing… Bad omen. I rather not gamble my career and miss out on sales.
I’m not even going to bother mentioning my surname. It’s nearly as nightmarish.
The Taken Name
Originally, I wanted a unisex pen name and for bleep’s sake, it had to be an easy spell. A name I could verbally say in person and not be required to spell out slowly several times. But where to start? A name has to mean something. Blowing the dust off the family history book my great uncle wrote, I scanned for names. Two surnames stood out “Winter” and “Ash”… Okay, Ash Winter you’re a winner. At the time, there were no writers on Amazon with the moniker and the URL was free. Yay!!! Fast Forward a couple of years there is an “Ash Winter” on amazon. Oh no! [insert four-letter words].
Back to the drawing board. Marketing gurus always say use a short and easy name. One major problem, many names are in use. Everyone wants to be a writer, influencer, rockstar, or something. The social media handles are reserved. Ugh. Ideally, all social media handles should be the same across platforms. That’s well and good advice, but in practice very very difficult the achieve with all the name squatters on social media.
Choosing a Name
Many writers use initials. I prefer not to be known as initials (weird quirk, I have no problem being referred to as “T” on my blogs and even have a stylised “T” as my icon). If I were only publishing books, it might be ok. Admittedly, I often forget the initials of writers and feel a name is more personal. In the current era, writers are expected to be on social media and create personas. I searched the web for common names. None felt right. I’ve always had the frustrating, unique name. No keyrings or mugs for me. Although, I once owned a hairbrush with “bitch” typed on the handle… Briefly, I toyed with the idea of breaking up “Tannille” — Tan Nile, T. A. Nile, Tan Nilles, blah-blah-blah. Let’s just say the morning sun has a way of confirming we’re stupid.
At the end of the day, I have to be true to myself. No point in being fake. So, if I can’t use “Tannille” and it’s what I am known as online and in-person (including the local writing community), what else would I answer to? And no, not the hairbrush name… Be professional, please. I settled on “Teal”… “Teal” is how my name sounds when speed up like a chipmunk. We Aussies talk fast amongst ourselves. “Teal” is easy to spell. My only issue is it sounds pretty but feminine. “Teal Ash-Winter” sounds like a soap star or a romance writer. Fantastic if I wanted to write porn. My friend told me double-barrel surnames are a pain in the butt. Thanks, DADD, you saved me from the frustration.
As for a unisex name I always wanted — fans will learn pretty quick on social media the truth.
Picking a surname made me want to pull my hair out. Days spent searching the internet… Nothing connected. I gave up. Twenty minutes later… “Madden” popped up while I was reading something unrelated. My favourite quote is from Alice in Wonderland “We’re all mad here”. Eureka!
“Teal Madden” or “T-Mad” (as DADD kindly decided, not sure what he was suggesting, but The Muse imagined the merchandise!).
The pen name ticks the boxes; easy to spell, unique but looks like it could be a real name, inbuilt branding, URL, and most social media handles available.
Embracing a Pen Name
New names are hard to get used to (at least they are for me). My instinct is to reject and my mind sees my actual name on book covers — the marketing would be a nightmare. To embrace “Teal Madden” I have created nameplate widgets for my phone. It flashes up every time I pick up my device. Over time, I grew to recognise “Ash Winter” on paper, the name foreign at first. I never openly used “Ash Winter” and, in hindsight, it screams volumes. At least “Tannille” and “Teal” are interchangeable like “Elizabeth” and “Liz”.
Who knows? The pen name might encourage me to come out of my shell. Keeping life private might be a blessing by making it easier to be professional. We’ve all done dumb crap. Either way, my plan is to madden the world. — ha, a lame pun, couldn’t help myself.
Categories: Writing, Writing Battles
I loved reading this and could relate to it so well, except from a different slant.
I have always intended to write under my name, which is Rowena Curtin.
However, then I got married.
I have never believed in changing my name when I get married, although it seems to be an almost automatic thing these days, which wasn’t the way back when I was at uni and establishing my career in marketing.
My name is my name.
However, I also wanted the children to be my children and our surnames didn’t work with hyphenating as I could easily end up as “New Curtains” which has a comic side to it, but way too cringeworthy for my liking.
The other advantage of the Curtin surname is familiarity, and it’s associations with Prime Minister John Curtin suit my historical research and writings albeit on WWI.
Because I wanted to write under my own name and in essence remain myself, but also wanted to have the same name as our kids, I changed my name on our Medicare and Health Fund details and in a moment of weakness, also changed the name on the joint bank account, although I still have my credit card and driver’s licence in my name.
So that’s where I got to now, and my biggest problem atm is getting anything finished and published.
BTW, you might also have noticed my blog is conspicuously missing a last name. Our children are also not named in my blog, although they’re clearly identified in photographs and given the blog has been running for ten years, these photos mount up and tell quite a story. Their lives are out there on the web. This wasn’t a huge concern when they were younger and I didn’t really look ahead too much. However, now they’re 18 and 16 and friends scour social media, it might be a concern. Our daughter is quite active on social media and recently clocked up over 40,000 views with one tik tok post but she doesn’t use her full name either and goes by her first and middle names, which is the beauty of Rose.
So you’ve raised a great topic and I will remind myself that you have two n’s and two l’s from now on.
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Wow, R. It’s really not an easy choice. I’ve been told I over think things. But we only have one real life identity and there are a lot of… questionable people… out there. We take care but as you said, photographs give it away. Our identities aren’t that hidden anyway. In your case, using your maidan name as a professional name is a great idea. Keep your family name for everything else. People do snoop. I think the biggest problem isn’t the images we post (I’ve always been careful), but the images others post of us (I’ve had friends tag me in uni party shoots .
years after; not happy Jan).
If, Amazon changes its search engine to be more friendly towards misspellings I’ll keep “Tannille”. I sign up to courses and whatnot under “Tannille”. Like you, I don’t share a surname but it’s probably easy enough to find. End of the day, nothing is a secret.
And you’re right, the focus should be on finishing something first haha. 🤣