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To Pseudonym or Not to Pseudonym

masks [1]
photo by Giovanni Orlando

When I learned I was going to be published five years ago (wow, that’s crazy. Like so many things, that feels like yesterday and a lifetime ago), and I started telling people I was going to have a book coming out, one of the many questions I got that surprised me was, “Are you publishing under your real name?” My quippy answer was, “Of course, I want the three hundred people I’ve met in my life to buy my book!” But honestly, I didn’t give it any more thought than that. I mean, why wouldn’t I publish under my own name?

But I realize now, of course, that there are lots of people who do just that—publish under a pseudonym—for a myriad of reasons. It’s a question that’s been on my mind lately because my next WIP is somewhat of a departure for me. And because of that, there was talk of perhaps putting it out under a pseudonym or semi-pseudonym (anything from something completely made up to some variation of my real name like C.E. McKenzie). So, out of curiosity, I polled a couple of authors I know about why they chose to write under a different name than the one they use IRL, as the kids say. (I assume they are still saying that; I’ve been a bit out of touch these days)

The answers turned out to be varied and enlightening. One of the funniest was provided to me by Randy Susan Meyers (author of the excellent The Comfort of Lies,and the upcoming Accidents of Marriage):

I’ve never written under a pseudonym by choice . . . but I do write under another name in Britain, at the request of my UK publishers. It began when Little Brown bought The Murderer’s Daughters. They requested that the book be published under R.S. Meyers, because the slang meaning of the word “randy” in Britain translates to “of or characterized by frank, uninhibited sexuality.” Now, Simon & Schuster UK has requested that my next book, Accidents of Marriage, also be issued under R. S. Meyers.”

I couldn’t help but think that perhaps, if Randy had been writing in a different genre, her real name wouldn’t have been an issue! But I digress.

Author M.J. Rose (the critically acclaimed The Collector of Dying Breaths) has a different, but equally interesting reason for her pen name:

 My whole life people have mispronounced my name—Melisse. Either they refuse to believe its not Melissa—and call me Melissa—or they say it to rhyme with head lice—when it should be said to rhyme with valise. People answer my emails telling me I misspelled my name. All in all though I do love it (Melisse is a French name for a flower used through the centuries by European herbalists and perfumers and smells like Lemon balm), I realized that it was going to make things difficult if people didn’t know how to say it or spell it in looking for a book. So I took M—for Melisse—and J—for Jacqueline (the name of my mom who had just died and wasn’t going to see my first book come out) and became M.J.”

Interesting side note. Microsoft word is telling me that “Melisse” is a typo. Suggested correction? Wait for it … “Melissa”.

Author Lisa Brackmann (the intriguing The Hour of the Rat) had a whole other reason for adopting her pseudonym, one that was, perhaps, more what I was expecting when I asked the question:

I had a lot of reasons for adopting a pen name, some of which had to do with my work at the time. Mostly I just wanted a little bit of separation between my private and public personas. It isn’t a great deal of space, but enough so that I feel a little more comfortable being out in the world as an author while still maintaining some privacy, at least in my own head.”

I feel you Lisa! As someone who still practices law, the mix of my two “personas” does sometimes feel awkward. It’s not that I wish I hadn’t used my real name—for me, I’m not sure my books would feel like they were “mine” if my name wasn’t on them—but that zone of privacy is something I think a lot of writers connect with. So many of us (even me sometimes) are introverts by nature.

For debut author, Claire Ashby (When You Make It Home), it’s all about process:

Using a pseudonym gives me freedom to let go when I write.

As a child, I kept a diary. My diary was an escape and I took great pleasure in recreating life, dreams and daily dramas on those pages. One day, someone discovered and read it all, so I quit writing. I couldn’t let go knowing that my world might be violated. I suppose I use a pseudonym for the very same reason. (…)

I’m not pretending to be someone else. A pseudonym gives me freedom to be me.”

It’s funny, too, that something about all of this reminds of the debate that many women have these days about whether to take their husband’s name when they get married. For me, there was no debate because I live in Quebec and—interesting tidbit—Quebecers are not allowed to change their name because they get married. But my sister and many of my friends who have moved out of province or out of the country have faced that choice, and made different decisions. And if I had it to do all over again—the pen name, I mean—I might have made a different choice, too.

Of course, if I did, I’d have to take my ‘stripper’ name (first street name + first pet name) and so my books would’ve been published under the name: Fang Mount-Stephen.

And who wouldn’t want to read a book with that moniker attached?

About Catherine McKenzie [2]

A graduate of McGill University in History and Law, Catherine McKenzie practices law in Montreal, where she was born and raised. An avid skier and runner, Catherine is the author of 11 bestselling novels, including HIDDEN, THE GOOD LIAR, I’LL NEVER TELL and YOU CAN’T CATCH ME. Her most recent novel, SIX WEEKS TO LIVE, releases in Canada April 20 and the US May 4, 2021.