Sunday, September 5, 2010

What's in a name?

Fiction writers have long had a tradition of writing under an assumed name, right back as far as the Brontes who wrote as Ellis and Currer Bell, and Samuel Clemens who chose Mark Twain, a humorous pen name from his days of working as a pilot on the Mississippi. “Mark Twain” was a common riverboat shout, meaning the water was two fathoms, or twelve feet, deep enough for safe passage.

Recently I was listening to a Radio 4 programme about this phenomenon which is increasingly widespread. Often if a writer changes genres he/she will re-invent himself as someone else, for example Norah Roberts has become J.D.Robb as a crime writer. Martyn Waites the british crime writer has re-invented himself as female - Tania Carver - because the publishers wanted a phenomenon in the UK like Karin Slaughter. Note that the surnames are increasingly violent - Robb, Carver, Slaughter, and I have just finished a crime thriller by Ann Cleeves! I think if I was to write historical crime I would have to be Jane Rapier. How about you?

As far as historical fiction goes, many people might not know that Victoria Holt is also Philippa Carr, is also Jean Plaidy. Her real name? Eleanor Hibbert.

The record as far as I know for number of names is Jayne Ann Krentz who has no less than seven!
When she isn’t writing contemporary fiction as Jayne Ann Krentz, she publishes historicals under Amanda Quick. On top of that she is in print under the names Jayne Bentley, Jayne Castle, Jayne Taylor, Amanda Glass, and Stephanie James.

So, I write under my real name, and one of the thrills for me when The Lady's Slipper was published was to see my name in print, and on my bookshelf alongside other famous writers. How many of the historical belles and beaus use their own name? If you don't, what made you choose another name?


J.T. Webster said...

Although as yet unpublished, I have chosen a pen name. Why? I googled my real name - Sue McMillan and there are thousands of us. My maiden name is just as popular, so I went with JT Webster. The initials are those of my children and Webster is a big, black, cuddly cat!

Maggi Andersen said...

Pen names are handy. I write historical romance under Maggi Andersen - my maiden name. Contemporary mysteries under Maggi Coleman. A penname is useful, when I don't want to be found by unscrupulous persons on the net. Maggi is a Danish form of Margaret, where my Dad's family comes from.

Deborah Swift said...

Hi Sue (or is it JT?) and Maggi, that's really interesting.I like the thought of being named after a cat. And Maggi, you are probably right about a degree of anonymity being useful - particularly if you suddenly have a global bestseller or write a controversial Salman Rushdie-like novel!

Judith Arnopp said...

Hi Deborah,
I loved The Lady's Slipper and willpost a review of it soon.

I write under my own name too. I did toy with the idea of Judith York, as an indication of where my Wars of the Roses loyalties lie, or my maiden name, Judith Robson, but in the end I gave in to the thrill of seeing my own name on the cover.

It's interesting to read other writers views on this

Frances Garrood said...

I don't really see the point of pen names, unless the author writes in more than one genre. I had a bit of a struggle remaining Garrood (my first (late) husband's name), as Macmillan at the time wanted me to be Frances Stott, my present name. I'm glad I stuck with Garrood. I'm the only Frances Garrood, as far as I know, so it makes things a bit easier.

But if I could choose a name, I think it would be Matilda Davenport, my great-grandmother's name, because I think it's just beautiful!

Deborah Swift said...

Hello Judith, I'm so glad you enjoyed "The Lady's Slipper", I love to hear from readers. There can't be many Arnopps about, so I think it's a good choice, and likewise not many Garroods! Matilda Davenport is really nice - if you start to write historical fiction it would be a great pen name.

margaret blake said...

Very interesting post Deborah, I did know Jean Plaidy was Victoria Holt but although I loved JP books, could never get into her VH books.

I used to be Ellen Noone when I wrote contemporary romance for Hale, now I just use my own name for whatever genre.

Deborah Swift said...

Hi Margaret, yes isn't that odd that the same writer can appeal to a different readership by a skilful change in style(and name).I could never get into Philippa Carr, but liked Jean Plaidy.

AnneMarie Brear said...

I use my own name. With all that hard work, etc, I needed to see my name on the cover!