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My last name isn’t pretty, should I use a pen name?

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I have grappled with this question literally for years, and up until a few weeks ago I was dead set on the answer being hell yes.

Let’s be honest with each other, Feldkamp isn’t exactly a beautiful name. It definitely doesn’t evoke that dark sense of romanticism that I want to associate with my writing. It’s more reminiscent of schnitzel or wurst or some other painfully German word (excuse my pregnant brain for associating everything with food). Feldkamp is just not the name I envisioned on the bottom of that first bestseller. I wanted glamour and sensuality. I wanted a name that really stuck with my readers. But more than anything I wanted to marry a man with painfully obvious Germanic roots.

But no worries, there’s a bandaid to cover that ugly name! Enter the world of pseudonyms – or more commonly, pen names. Hey Lewis Carroll (legally Charles Dodgeson) did it, and look where he wound up. So if I want to recreate my name for the sake of branding, then dammit I’m going to do it.

Amber Fey – this was the name I had decided on. What can I say, I like my first name. Fey scrunches together my maiden name and married name. And frankly… It. Is. Heinous. I hope you read that name and cringe as much as I did in retrospect. No? Let’s try again. Amber Fey. It just sounds made up. And not in a good way. (My apologies if there are actual Amber Fey’s out there. Your name is beautiful on you. Promise.)

This realization promptly led to hours pouring over google, searching for the justification to change my name. Instead I found a million and one counter arguments that have led me to the following conclusions:

  1.  Ugly names can become memorable. Case in point, Janet Evanovich – heard of her?
  2. There are 3 good reasons to use a pen name: Your name is George Martin. You work in a field that deals with client confidentiality and are not keen on getting sued. You write material that you don’t want associated with your personal life, cue erotica authors.
  3. There are a lot of really bad pen names out there. If you’re going to use a pen name, own it. But first, make sure it actually sounds and looks like it could be a real name.
  4. Being the only author with your last name on the market is not a bad thing.
  5. Amazing names don’t sell books. Amazing writing does. In the end, it’s your content that’s going to attract your audience. Not the author tag.

Conclusion: If you really want to use a pen name, more power to you. But consider why first. You got a marketing scheme planned out? Can’t even pronounce your own name half the time? Think you’ll actually succeed at some degree of privacy? Go for it.

As for me, I’d like to make Feldkamp a household name. Even if it’s an ugly one.

Ethan Chase sounds like the name of an actor. Ethan Tremblay doesn’t make any goddamn sense. Okay? It’s confusing. It sounds like it was made up.

– Pete, Due Date