An Author by Any Other Name: Or Who The Heck Am I?

**NOTE: THIS POST WAS WRITTEN IN 2014. I HAVE SINCE DIVORCED AND PUBLISHED FIVE MORE BOOKS. THANKFULLY, I CHOSE TO PUBLISH UNDER MY MAIDEN NAME.

I’m having a whopper of an identity crisis. Well, not That kind of crisis. I mean, I’m not aiming for a red convertible, a party cruise, or a cute cabana boy to feed me grapes and read me poetry (though a girl can fantasize). No, I’m digging my way out of analysis paralysis over the name I will publish under. Never mind that I’ve already had two books for the educational market, plus magazine and newspaper articles, and short stories in anthologies published under Donna Bowman Bratton. For all of those, I successfully gagged this inner voice telling me I should stay true to the name I was born with. Somehow, the stakes feel higher now, with my first trade books inching toward reality. The foreverness of it all seems so, well, forever. Through my more, ahem, mature perspective, the word “legacy” comes to mind. And, just maybe, my inner feminist is causing a ruckus with existential questions like who am I really?

I decided to keep my maiden name when I married. I owned a business at the time and the world knew me by my maiden name. I was a-okay with having a different name than my husband until I was stopped for speeding. Don’t judge. You see, my husband was a high ranking police officer in our community, and the subordinate officer who approached my car window didn’t recognize me or the name on my driver’s license. Not that I’m a chronic speeder or law-breaker, but I did have an epiphany that adding his last name to my driver’s license could come in handy in an emergency. Only in an emergency! But names are as invasive as vines, and I found it difficult to have two identities. Now, twenty years later, I feel myself back in that driver’s seat, ready to “press hard and sign on the dotted line,” but my hand is a little twitchier now. I’m removing the gag on that inner voice. It’s now or never when it comes to planning my publishing legacy. With any luck, my reach in the literary world will never be smaller than it is at this moment (year 2014), before the majority of my life’s work hits the shelves and I set out to establish my brand.

When I first asked my family for their opinions about what name I should publish under, they were supportive of the idea. My thirteen-year-old son, always the quick wit, didn’t hesitate to offer his suggestion:

“Mom, publish under the name John Wayne,” he said. “Who wouldn’t want to read a book by John Wayne?”

“Um, you may be the only barely-teen on the planet who knows who John Wayne is, er, was,” I countered.

“It’s about my first name,” I clarified. “Or initials. Or first name with middle initial. Or maybe I should use a pen name.”  It turns out there are other Donna Bowmans writing children’s books. Even another D.J. Bowman. Ugh!

“I’ve got it,” my husband said. “Change the spelling of your first name. You could be Don-uh Bowman.”

“Um, no!”

Choosing an author’s name is like choosing a tattoo. Once it is on the spine of a book and in the annals of the Library of Congress, it is there forever.  That’s both a lovely thought and a heavy decision. I mean, come on, we’ve all heard horror stories of trying to remove a tattoo. All those nasty scars!

I’ve polled enough author friends to know that I’m not alone in this name-angst. We already have multiple personalities, on the page, and in public. In a way, our chosen author name has its own personality. While readers may forget and outgrow some of our book characters, we hope they never forget us as authors. Our names will follow us through the unknown future of our lives until our legacies land on the publishing family tree. So. Much. Pressure!

How Do You Choose?

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Will your name.com website domain name and other social media monikers be available?
  • Are there other authors publishing under the same name? Consider what they write and what reputation they have. How will your name stand apart?
  • Will librarians be confused by your name?
  • Who would your bookshelf neighbors be?
  • If using your married name, is your marriage super-glue strong?
  • How will your name be received by young readers? (I have a personal friend who legally changed his last name because the spelling led to pronunciation nightmares. He was tormented as a kid.)
Once you’ve answered these questions, you’re ready to embark on the path of analysis paralysis. You. Are. Welcome.

By the way, if you decide to be cute with your name, remember, you probably have only one opportunity to use your name humorously when titling your book. For example:

RAPUNZEL by Harris Long

FISH STORY by Rod Enreel

ARCHERY by Beau N. Arrow

CRANKY CROCODILE by Ali Gator

ADVANCED MATH by Smart E. Pants

LIFE UNDER THE BLEACHERS by Seymour Butts

ANTLERS IN THE TREE TOP by Hue Goostamoose

Examples of folks who chose mononyms (singular names):

  • Avi- Born Edward Irving Wortis. By the way, his parents discouraged him from becoming a writer, so he goes by the childhood nickname given to him by his sister. Ha!
  • Aliki- Aliki Liacouras Brandenburg
  • Sting- Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner
  • Cher- Cherilyn Sarkisian
  • Madonna- –Move along–

When to Consider a pen name:

(There’s not enough space here, so search authors with pen names. Wow! Note that some authors choose a pen name, specifically, because it would
place their books next to best-selling authors.)

  • If you crave anonymity (privacy)
  • *Though, technically, it’s not that difficult to track down a real name.
  • If you’re in the witness protection program
  • If your real name is difficult to spell
  • If your surname doesn’t sound good or you don’t like your family
  • If your real name is too common
  • If you write in very different genres or for different audiences. (But be prepared to maintain multiple online identities.)
  • If you are an elementary school teacher who writes racy or controversial content
  • If your day job would be in jeopardy because of the content of your writing
  • Just because you wanna

When should you use initials instead of a full first name?

  • So that your name is gender-neutral
  • For a smidgen of anonymity (see above)
  • To evoke an air of name-mystery
  • Because it sounds scholarly, or poetic, or just plain cool
  • Just because you wanna

Maiden name rather than married name?

  • If you want a simple division between your personal life and your author life
  • If you want to ensure foreverness of name if an unforeseen life change (ahem, divorce) occurs in the future
  • A quick scan across the authors I know revealed scads of women who took their first husband’s name, became well-known by that name, then remarried after divorce or the death of their spouse. Judy Blume is one example.)
  • If you want to honor your birth family and/or your childhood self
  • Just because you wanna

Whew!

I’m days away from pulling the trigger on the absolute, final, forevermore author name I will publish my trade books under. The upcoming expiration of my website domain name has provided just the deadline I need. If all else fails, I can always revert to the names suggested by my ever-so-helpful family.

Don-uh “John Wayne” Bowman



Donna Janell Bowman is a central Texas speaker, writing coach, and author of award-winning books for young readers, including Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World About Kindness, illustrated by Daniel Minter; Abraham Lincoln’s Dueling Words, illustrated by S.D. Schindler; and King of the Tightrope: When The Great Blondin Ruled Niagara, illustrated by Adam Gustavson. Donna has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

 

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