Pen Name vs Real Name?

RC writes in and asks:

What is your opinion on writing articles with a pen name versus a real name?

First a definition: A “pen name” is a pseudonym created by an author for numerous reasons. Also can be referred to as a “nom deplume,” “nom de guerre” or “literary double.”

Authors tell me that their biggest reason for using a pen name is to not confuse readers…similar to my theory on Authors with Multiple Brands.

My advice: When possible, you create strength, confidence and credibility when you write articles under your OWN name, especially if you’re driving visitors directly to your primary website.

With that said, here are some legitimate reasons to write articles with a pen name:

  • You want to appeal to a regional demographic and by making your pen name more like common names in the region, your content will be better received as an insider.
  • Your real name is way too difficult to remember, spell or pronounce.
  • Gender issues: If you think your message will be taken more seriously if written with one gender or the other, go for it.
  • Prolific writers syndrome: To avoid over-exposure of your real name, you can use pen names to write about different viewpoints that might conflict with each other.
  • Different pen names for different niches that you are an expert… even though I like the idea of variations of your real name instead for this purpose. All depends on how diverse the areas of expertise are.
  • You hired a ghostwriter and want to isolate your real name from works produced by others for under a ‘work for hire’ contract. Personally, I’d have a problem hiring a ghostwriter to write content that is later published under my own name, but I wouldn’t have a problem hiring a ghost writer to publish works under a unique pen name that I created.

What to avoid when choosing a Pen Name:

  • Don’t try to assume a pseudonym similar to a current expert in your niche that you are trying to emulate. The reader will see right through this rouse.
  • Don’t put marketing or descriptor words into your pen name, such as “Suzy Homemaker” or “Gary Pipewrench” or “John Redline” or “Sally Mortgagemaker.”
  • When someone says you should adopt a pen name, don’t use “Ballpoint” for your pen name. //that’s a joke//
  • If you are the buyer of exclusive rights content, be sure that you are the sole creator of the chosen pen name. ie: Don’t let your ghostwriter choose your pen name.
  • Don’t use a handle for your pen name. ie: Your pen name should sound like a real human name.

Anyone else have anything to add to either of these lists?

45 Comments »


1
Jon Brent writes:

ALWAYS use a pen name on the internet! Didn’t your mother tell you this?

Comment provided October 15, 2007 at 11:17 AM

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2
Vibes writes:

I don’t think that it really matters. What matters is the content. People will tend to find the quality articles and remember them regardless.
Interest is a strong driving force for anything.

Comment provided October 15, 2007 at 12:42 PM

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3

Been missing your posts and it’s synchronistic that I came in today to see this one..

I’ve been wanting to review your guidelines about using a pen name to decide whether I’d use one for specific out-of-usual-niche articles I want to write.

Thanks, Chris.

Angela.

Comment provided October 15, 2007 at 1:05 PM

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4

I don’t buy any of your reasons for using a pen name.

Pen names:

–Confuse readers

–Dilute your brand

–Make it look as though you have something to hide

Comment provided October 15, 2007 at 1:32 PM

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5

Joan,

That is why I said my advice is to use your REAL NAME.

But, I do see legitimate cases where a pen name can make sense.

Comment provided October 15, 2007 at 1:56 PM

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6

Would far prefer to use a pen name like ‘Bare Bones Gardener’, because it meshs better with what I write and where I write from, rather than a common and confusingly similar last name like Williams. And I do everywhere else except for here……..

Comment provided October 15, 2007 at 2:17 PM

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7
Medha Karandikar writes:

I am working on a long story with several episodes. Although it has started in the third person, and involves people I met, in the flow of writing I have started adding episodes from my own life and experiences. I would think this as inevitable, because you can describe best what you have felt and gone through yourself.
These events will naturally feature your immediate family and friends. You want to avoid putting up their life for scrutiny from your readers, or even for comparison from the characters themselves who may feel they were misrepresented. The reason being a little bit of fictionization on the writer’s part. I am seriously considering a pen name while attempting to publish. Comments welcome

Comment provided October 15, 2007 at 2:23 PM

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8

Bare Bones Gardner,

It’s about legitimacy or at least our perspective on what legitimacy looks like.

If you wanted to have your name be a tag line after your name in the Resource Box, we do allow that:

Example: Williams, the Bare Bones Gardner

But we wouldn’t allow it in the By-Line.

Comment provided October 15, 2007 at 2:41 PM

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9

With how common and misleading many surnames are when I signed up I couldn’t use my Christian name, it had already been used, Same for the shortened version, I eventually had to put in my middle initial, to be accepted, here. There are already so many on here with a shared name to me. WHich can be confusing for usuers here about which person is which in any field.

Thats why I prefer a computer psyudonym, which is common practice for the net. To protect personal space and create a net identitiy that suits my own personal branding…

Comment provided October 15, 2007 at 3:15 PM

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10
Patrice Walker writes:

I couldn’t use my name when I signed up here because someone already has it. I don’t have a middle initial, so I was left with adding my degrees at the end of my last name (B.S, M.S.), something I hardly ever do. So I was thinking a pen name might be advisable. Fortunately, I own the domain name that is my name.

Comment provided October 15, 2007 at 3:33 PM

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11

Patrice,

Sorry, we don’t allow educational designations for the author name (by-line) but we do allow this in the Resource Box.

I’ve asked one of our member support people to email you privately with options to solve this issue.

Comment provided October 15, 2007 at 3:46 PM

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12
Bev writes:

Tip: Always, always, always Google your pen name before starting to use it.

Comment provided October 15, 2007 at 4:06 PM

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13
Lance Winslow writes:

I personally have a inherent problem with pen names. It just seems unethical, disengenuous and a little bit like lying. It sends red flags to me. Even when I see avatar type names, or handles on forums and blogs. I am not sure why this was started, who started it or how on Earth someone justifies using a “FAKE” name unless they are trying to hide something.

Comment provided October 15, 2007 at 6:42 PM

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14

Hi Christopher:

While I would agree you should put it in your own name, there might be two times you want to use another name. One could be for when you are writing so much content, and you don’t want it to be rejected for being so much like your other content at places like ezinearticle, and if you are doing it to increase your SEO listings with relevant keywords.

Keep up the great articles & thanks for giving us a forum to post our words for the world to see.

Comment provided October 15, 2007 at 7:50 PM

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15
Pat Campbell writes:

TheArcher has always been my alias ever since I started using the net more than a decade ago and it is always my username at any website I join (no matter whether it is an article site, forum, moneymaking site or anything else). I relate to it as being “me” as much as my real name. I don’t care if my real name is used but it is a fairly common name and my alias seems more appropriate as my website is eyeofthearcher.com.au

Comment provided October 15, 2007 at 9:36 PM

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16
Medha Karandikar writes:

In my case, it’s not because I want to deceive or dupe others into believing I am somebody else, but just to protect the identity of the persons I am writing about. However veiled the references, the people close to you are going to read your book, and may not like that you wrote about them.

Comment provided October 15, 2007 at 10:03 PM

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17
Armando writes:

Well, i would choise my name instant of a pen name.

cause there are a lot Armand Boni in this world :=) either poets and scientics :=)

Comment provided October 16, 2007 at 12:28 AM

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18
Lara writes:

Using a pen name, for me, has nothing to do with ‘having something to hide’. I simply value my privacy (and personal security) and would never use my real name (which is very unusual) online.

IMO, names are irrelevant in most cases anyway; what counts is the content of my articles. Readers simply don’t need to know who I am, or what I look like, or what I do in my spare time, or any other personal information, except as it pertains to my experience with the subject I’m writing about.

Comment provided October 16, 2007 at 2:11 AM

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19
Keith Jones writes:

Personally, I like to use my own name. I’ve lived with it for some time now, so why hide behind another one! Seriously, in order to build your own reputation and credibility with article writing, you need to get known… the only way to do that is use your own name!

Comment provided October 16, 2007 at 2:36 AM

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20

So why is using your own name, the only way to get known in article writing……..? To me What is better the name you were stuck with by no choice of your own. Or a name you picked to suit your own personality and what you are trying to show off to the net community.

Comment provided October 16, 2007 at 8:25 AM

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21

Bare Bones Gardner,

Technically, I wanted you to know that an exception was made in this thread to allow you to use your keywords for your blog commenter name. Our blog comment policy prohibits the use of keywords to be used for names.

You can use your “Bare Bones Gardner” to get known in the article writing world, just not on EzineArticles.com.

I like the idea of professional self expression by adding an OPTIONAL tagline AFTER your real name to further solidify your expertise… kind of like what “Jeff Herring, the Article Guy” does… but only in the Resource Box for this kind of self expression, not the by-line.

Comment provided October 16, 2007 at 8:42 AM

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22
Ron M. Williams writes:

Fair enough Chris, ‘ll take that as a wrist slap. lol.

You are correct that this is someone else’s website and if I want to participate here then I have to abide by the rules in place.

I wasn’t aware that the name rule also applied to blog chat as well.

Comment provided October 16, 2007 at 9:36 AM

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23

Thanks Ron… You’ve just proven that you’re not one of those authors hiding behind a pen name where they have no intention of ever revealing their true identify.
http://ezinearticles.com/?expert=Ron_M_Williams&o=&ecat=Home-and-Family:Gardening

Requiring non-keywords for blog comments helps build credibility for this professional industry discussion. :)

Comment provided October 16, 2007 at 9:56 AM

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24

Hi Chris!

I don’t like the idea of using another pen name even if I would write about something that is not related to my field, but I understand this is necessary for the public. We had the same discussion earlier in another thread!

The public doesn’t like the idea of seeing a psychologist writing about marketing for example. The public doesn’t think and conclude that someone can be an expert in several different fields: it looks for specialists dedicated only to one field.

Comment provided October 16, 2007 at 11:59 AM

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25
Lance Winslow writes:

Folks should use their real name. Especially considering that most articles are used as article marketing, and if you do not use your real name and send someone to a website that sells something, then that is fradulent “shrill” type activity. By using a fake name and supposedly trying to promote a real product, this is complete hypocrisy.

Additionally, if someone uses a fake name, they are Hiding Something, every time. Someone here mentioned that they were protecting themselves from the Internet? Interesting, well then that is an admission that they are hiding. I ask who is protecting the reader from the trickery?

One of the problems on the Internet is that people use false identity and post bogus information, without taking reponsibility. Using a fake name, they assume gives them security to spout off without recourse. I have a problem with fake “pen” names, and if you are promoting a product or service or even just AdSense Ad website doing this, it is borderline illegal. I see it as a criminal act, I am not impressed with excuses people use. The idea that everyone else does it, is not good enough, because many people do it, and use multiple identities and if you do it, you are in the same boat with liars, cheaters and terrorists. That is what I think. I am not impressed with liars.

Comment provided October 16, 2007 at 9:21 PM

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26
Buba writes:

It doesn’t matter what name you use. You are not a write but a marketer. Primarily you should promote the product or technology, not your name or who is behind it.

Comment provided October 22, 2007 at 5:29 PM

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27
Lance Winslow writes:

It absolutely matters what name you use. If you are “buzz marketing” a product using a fake name, then people have the right to know you are snowing them, into clicking on a link. Readers assume that there is a real person behind the article, so use your real name. And if it does not matter, then why not use your real name? Selling trinkets and hype on the Internet using a false or fake name, shows me, the reader, that you will not back up or cannot back up your words and you are trying to hide something. So, I ask what are you trying to hide? It does matter.

Comment provided October 22, 2007 at 7:41 PM

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28
Roger Cornelius writes:

Security is an excellent reason to use a pen name. Another is if you are well known in one community under your real name, and chose to be a trash novel writer. If I was Erich Segal for example, I would have used a pen name instead of trying to tolerate the lampooning he took. Of course he may have cried all the way to the bank.

Comment provided October 24, 2007 at 11:29 AM

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29
Lance Winslow writes:

Okay Roger,

So if you are writing about something and over doing it causing conflict then you need to protect yourself, but, I ask if you are causing chaos and controversy and tempting bad people to do bad things, then why are you doing it in the first place?

Next, if one is writing a “Trashy Novel” then what is the value to society in the first place? If one is doing it just to make money, shame on them, I definitely would like to know who they are and they should reveal themselves, as that is disgusting. Hiding in the bushes and taunting the masses and society with such stuff, well, I think the people deserve to know who is throwing the stones and in which glass house they live.

Comment provided October 24, 2007 at 7:05 PM

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30
Roger Cornelius writes:

Lance,

‚¬“…Over doing it causing conflict…causing chaos and controversy…tempting bad people to do bad things…?‚¬ Isn’t that reaction a bit over the top? Sadly in this country’s history, we have seen good people merely ask a question, with the result that they became the scourge of society. Surely you are aware of the legal and political ploy of blaming the victim. If ‚¬“hiding‚¬ behind a nom de plume to stand up for one’s rights or beliefs without wanting to jeopardize a lifetime’s worth of work is wrong, then I’d rather be wrong in that way than just sit back and only accept that which is fed to us by any of the four estates. Acceptance of the status quo and not wishing to cause chaos and controversy led to McCarthyism and was the foundation for an interesting book, ‚¬“1984.‚¬

I have not read enough on the life of Benjamin Franklin. He found it necessary however, to use multiple pen names, perhaps to express opinions on subjects about which society may not have considered him expert…or perhaps not to dilute his stature in any of those areas that we know him to have been expert today ‚¬€ scientist, inventor, printer, publisher, political thinker, writer and humorist. Regardless, he did not duck controversy, yet used pen names.

The term ‚¬“trashy‚¬ may have been wrong. The word I should have used is ‚¬“Romance.‚¬ The old antique dealers’ adage comes to mind, however: ‚¬“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.‚¬ Who is to determine what ‚¬“trash‚¬ is? If Professor Segal had used a pen-name, he might not have been subjected to some of his colleagues questioning his academic skills in his field of expertise. Is a person who holds a PhD in English literature less of an expert because he or she is not necessarily as gifted an author as Shakespeare? Could those vicious attacks have been motivated by professional, financial, or public acclaim jealousy?

How does one determine that which is of value to society or that which is disgusting? Should Queen Elizabeth not have ‚¬“knighted‚¬ Barbara Cartland for being a billion-plus Pound Sterling contributor to British economy? Certainly she was the ‚¬“queen‚¬ of the Romance novel genre with more than 700 books to her credit. She wrote escapist fare for the money. In fact, there is no harm in what she did to earn a living however, and she was good at it. If reading those novels adds joy to the heart of anyone who is able to contribute to society (and apparently it did for millions), then bless Dame Cartland for writing them.

You and I might find hundreds of jobs that are disgusting (working with sewage or in a slaughterhouse are two that come to my mind) but for those who perform them and have no other skills, those jobs earn them a living and are of value to society. Not everyone has the choice of what they do to feed their families, and they deserve the respect of society for holding a job that is beneficial to society, not society’s collective disdain.

Comment provided October 26, 2007 at 2:30 PM

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31
Lance Winslow writes:

No, the comment is not over the top actually and let me tell you why. There is a big difference between writing online article marketing pieces as a shrill to take the targeted Internet Traffic for personal gain and using a pen name to alert society of the unethical undercurrents of a government, company, religion, non-profit or group of individuals who seek power and control over the freedoms of individuals or the masses.

There is a fine line between disrupting for the sake of name-calling and protecting the integrity of truthful information. Online Article Marketing and using fake names, cannot be justified using your argument, that point of contention is not allowed in this discussion, for it is irrelevant and the opposite. Likewise me point out the unethical nature of those who use fake names “IS” relevant and someone doing this could be justified in using a “pen name” to point out the hypocrisy, but I believe that if someone believes in a cause they ought to use their own name or muffle it. I choose to speak out and stand tall for the what is right.

Making excuses or using examples of potential uses of pen names to justify online article writing violations of Buzz Marketing Laws or misrepresentations using shrill tactics, does not hold water.

Your debate is hereby defeated and rendered irrelevant on all accounts and cannot be considered further as a point of contention, as there is no basis for your argument. There is a big difference between pen names and hiding in the fray to promote the selling of trinkets online.

Comment provided October 26, 2007 at 3:09 PM

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32
Roger Cornelius writes:

Thanks, Lance. You’ve made my point. I’ll remember Ben Franklin when I think of you tilting at windmills. Your self-righteousness is both refreshing and bemusing.

Keep up the zealousness.

Comment provided October 26, 2007 at 3:20 PM

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33
Lance Winslow writes:

I am no Don Quixote, indeed, no one cares what you think until you do something, and well I have. And who is swinging at wind powered machines? I am pointing to fraud. And if you would like I can further point you to recent FTC rulings against Buzz Marketing. The use of fake names to promote online gimmicks, get rich quick schemes, trinkets, ridiculous diet plans or even to attract AdSense clickers is unethical. The integrity of the Internet is at stake, and as the saying goes you can only believe half of what you read, we need not allow scroundrels in the midst to take it down to 35%.

I think these points should enjoy further discussion and in the process, perhaps others will note the obvious misreprensentations occurring and the growth in micro-payments of their ill-gotten gains?

Comment provided October 26, 2007 at 3:32 PM

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34
Buba writes:

Whether you use your pen name or real one, it’s helpful to think of your readers as an intelligent audience.
Give them an option to decide to agree or to disagree with you.

—–

I hope it’s not confusing

Comment provided October 26, 2007 at 3:39 PM

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35
Roger Cornelius writes:

Buba,

The irony of your comment is not lost on me. Thanks.

As for Lance: you have very strong opinions. Attempting to shout down someone else who – oddly enough – basically agrees with you, but can see a reason why a good honest citizen might use a nom de plume – in my opinion does more damage to your cause than good. I too have fought (and paid a healthy price for it – a good career and a marriage) to improve ethics and morality in business.

I thank you for the exchange, but I must admit, I am tired of this discussion. Best wishes in your endeavors, Lance. I mean that sincerely.

Comment provided October 26, 2007 at 4:52 PM

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36
Lance Winslow writes:

Roger,

Sure we agree to a point and on the historical perspectives on pen names and indeed why they can be necessary. The place we may disagree or not, which is up for dialogue is where is the line drawn.

Although, I too am tired of the discussion as well, as you point out, what I consider obvious historical issues with pen names and lessons we should heed so we are not doomed to repeat – still, I find a huge issue with pen names in the online article marketing venue.

I do thank you for the contribution and commentary here, which allowed me to write 8 articles on the subject, which will be syndicated an average of 18.7 times each and make their way around the Internet, all without me taking my “Lance” or sword to the blades of windmills.

In article views that comes out to about 24,000 article views on the subject. Power to he who uses his keyboard as a weapon of change and more power to he who damns the torpedo as an unreasonable man.

Comment provided October 26, 2007 at 6:25 PM

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37
WAHM writes:

I feel like people should have the option to use their real name or pen name. As with anything in life, privacy issues may come into play with your name all over the internet.

Comment provided October 28, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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38
Belinda writes:

For me pen names are fine. I love reading so have always taken it as part of life that pen names are used for various reasons.

I have different names in my own daily life anyway – family pet names (and they vary with the family member), I’m known as my business name in my retail environment which is common for small business owners, various friends have their own knick names for me and that’s all fine.

I don’t actually hear my real name all that often. I have a simple name that isn’t common so there’s no real reasons for having so many knick names, it’s just how things are.

For me a person is defined by their character while a business is defined by its customer care and product/service care; not by a name.

I think the point about privacy on the internet is very apt too.

All the best!

Comment provided October 28, 2007 at 5:16 PM

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39
Cassie writes:

I know this is an older post, but I still felt I had to pipe in with my own reason for ‘wanting’ to use a pen name.

I’ve been using my real name since the beginning of my little internet marketing adventure. However, since I’ve separated from my husband, certain people that he knows have searched for my name online and attacked me through my various websites.

My job as a single mother of two children is to protect them, and now I feel like I’m just a little too exposed by using my real name. I would have nothing to ‘hide’ by using a pen name, but I would feel like my children and our privacy would be more protected from the crazies.

Comment provided November 4, 2007 at 12:41 PM

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40
Lance Winslow writes:

Wow Cassie,

Sounds like some pretty mean-spirited, vindictive and childish games your ex’s friends are playing, pretty pathetic if you ask me. Sounds like the change management you opted for was the right decision after all. You are right, that is an excellent reason for writing under a pen name.

Comment provided November 4, 2007 at 3:56 PM

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41
Keith Jones writes:

Definitely use your real name! To build your credibility you need to get known as an expert in your field and the only way to do that is get your name known.

I’m comfortable with every article I write and am proud to attach my name to them. If you’re not… what are you doing writing the articles in the first place!

Take pride in your work and build you reputation… use your real name!

Comment provided August 13, 2008 at 6:11 AM

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42
Lance Winslow writes:

I do not trust anyone who does not use their real name.

Comment provided August 13, 2008 at 9:27 PM

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43
Keith Jones writes:

Not sure it’s a case of trust… or otherwise. Some of the great novels of our time where written using pen names!

The main consideration is getting your name known… that’s the best way to build trust and credibility.

Have a great life!

Comment provided August 14, 2008 at 1:49 PM

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44
Lance Winslow writes:

It’s definitely a “TRUST” issue with me. If someone is selling something, hyping an industry or giving advice on the internet, hiding behind a pen name to me shows lack of character, lack of integrity and spells F-R-A-U-D as far as I am concerned, and believe you me, I am concerned very far!!!

Comment provided August 14, 2008 at 2:04 PM

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45

Wow, there are harsh feelings on both sides of the fence. There is one thing sticking out in my mind here. What is the difference between a pen name and a brand name? We did not require the person who branded Coca Cola to put thier name on the bottle instead of the brand. I have never hid my name it has always been available in the Contact section of my site. I have paid dearly for it with perverts calling and even strangers knocking at my door. I am not ashamed of what I do but there is narrow minded people in this world. If I were to get a job in the real world my potential employers would have access to all of this irellevant information and use it to bias me. The point I am Making I guess if I am forced to put my name before my brand name. Then shouldn’t we also see the name of CEO’s when we are shopping at Sears for a weed whacker. Just food for thought. The point is I make a pen name or brand name hoping it is easy for customers to remember – I respond with a brand name so people will realize they are talking with the owner and not just any joe blow. I am not trying to deceive anyone just create a brand. The point is I having been thinking of starting a completely different business that does not jive at all with my current business – I would like to brand it also. But not being to have a Brand other than my name is really confusing

Comment provided December 12, 2013 at 4:17 PM

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