Pen Names

Growing up, everybody called me Bill, but my birth certificate lists William as my official name. I use William for documents and signatures but Bill for everything else. I used Bill for my books because I felt it was more “friendly.” My bold decision did not make any headlines.
Funny side story. Ten years ago, I was a contractor and needed to go onto the Port Hueneme military base. My contractor identification listed my name as Bill, but my driver’s license listed me as William. The security guard at the gate wanted to arrest me because the names differed. When he told his supervisor what he had “discovered,” the supervisor biffed him on the side of the head. I drove away laughing.
Well, this topic has come to a close. However, as I read Facebook Group Writers Helping Writers posts, I saw authors fretting over their pen names (The name they write under). How does Randolph Drake sound? Is it too charismatic? Will it turn women off? Will men buy my book because the name intimidates them?
I could not believe what I was reading. Then I thought, “Wait a second. I see the real person’s name in the post. I know the true identity of Randolph Drake! Wow, I uncovered a big (open) secret!” Even more surprising were the fellow authors responding to the pleas for help. “As a man, I would buy a book written by Randolph Drake.” “Randolph Drake sounds sexy. How about Julian Drake?”
The more I read, the more confused I became. Were people ashamed of their names? Did a pen name elevate their reputation? My favorite authors are Tom Clancy, Neil Gaiman, and Ken Follett. Those are their real names. (Side note. I researched the topic and all three used pen names for other works. But the books I liked use their real names on the cover.) However, many famous authors use pen names like Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) and George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair).
I do not understand why a regular author needs a pen name. However, I would understand that if the subject is sensitive or offensive, one’s identity must be a secret. I also appreciate a kooky name (like Maynard Smellmore) or if the author has the same name as somebody famous or infamous.
Be proud to be an author! I hit the random name generator and came up with Tom Drake and Judy Collins. Those are not exciting names, but I would buy a book from Tom Drake or Judy Collins. These “plain” names certainly do not offend me.
To better understand this issue, I searched the Internet. There were many articles on the subject, and two provided clues. First, a pen name is a safety net. If your first book fails, change your pen name and move on.
Second, a pen name distances oneself from their writing. Bob Smith leads a boring life, but Randolph Drake leads a life of danger! This change allows Bob Smith the freedom to be bold, the very definition of an alter ego. Randolph Drake is an incredible person who writes up a storm! A fellow author once told me, “Authors are a secretive bunch.” Was that it? Does having an alternate identity put an author in the mood to write?
The more articles I read, the more confused I became. Yet, I stood by my opinion. “My name is my name. Writing under a different name would not be honorable. An author should be proud of what they created.”
It took a few hours to calm down, and then I thought about what Bird Person said on the television show Rick and Morty, “Wubba lubba dub dub which means whatever floats your boat.”
I still do not get pen names. Writing comes from within. But many things in life are a mystery. For example, how do painters capture a stoic face in oil? I certainly do not have that talent and would not know where to start.
What if serial killer “Bill Conrad” does something terrible? What if I write a book about Area 51 or a hard-core adult novel? The answer is, “Bill Conrad wrote this book.” If I cannot be happy with my humble writing, then that is my fault, and nobody else’s.
Fortunately, you’re getting the real deal because General Martin Strongbow wrote this blog. Or is it William? Do I sound like Tom or Kevin? Let’s go with Murphy from now on.

You’re the best -Bill
April 22, 2018 Updated April 22, 2023


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