Your Given Name vs Your Pen Name

mayaDB/flickr.alt_pen names

pen names are so confusing

In creating a domain name for myself, I thought about whether or not to use the title of my book, “Annie’s Special Day”, or whether to use something else like my author name. I went with Clarbojahn, the same name as my blog. Then I started reading “Are You There Blog, It’s me Writer” by Kristen Lamb.

The following article is a paraphrased chapter from that book.

“Are You There Blog, It’s me Writer” talks mostly about blogging but this article can be extrapolated to the static website and all marketing.

In the old days there was only one way for an author to build a platform; of a love for their book. Now it’s the author’s platform that sells the book.

Social Media has changed everything. Now we control our book and our platform. But why balance multiple personalities when you don’t need to? Why make marketing an even BIGGER chore?

Kristen Lamb says the traditional reasons to have a pen name  are mostly no longer valid.


We all know this is an illusion, there is no privacy. Even if we want to build an entirely new identity for marketing purposes we can’t hide. A pen name is only like the screen door that keeps people from barging into the living room. If someone really wanted to find you, they could. Search Engines are getting faster and better and more people are contributing content. A pen name is the extra layer that keeps out most people but not the highly motivated.

People at work will find out:

Like I said privacy is an illusion. The good thing is most co-workers aren’t googling their colleagues’ names.

My name is difficult:

Since we don’t have to be able to pronounce a last name to recognize a difficult name it may actually help you stand apart from all the other writers. All someone needs to remember are three letters of your name and Google delivers up the rest.

My name is boring:

It’s the books title that sells it not the author’s name. There are many authors with boring names, take Stephen King, or Dan Brown. If we don’t write glamorous books our name doesn’t matter.

I write more than one genre:

Historically publishing houses made authors use different names for each genre. This was to keep readers from being confused.

Now authors control their platform. If you must have a pen name it is good to build it under the umbrella of your NAME. If you build your platform using your own name and your agent wants a pen name, what do you do? Just mention it in your blog and tweets. Just say your new novel will be out under this and that pen name. You don’t have to build a whole new platform with an entirely new identity.

I am afraid of failure:

Kristen says “Join the club. Some of you want to wait until the writing is successful to let friends and family know about the other half of your life. But it is coming at the cost of you spreading yourself too thinly to be effective.”

When we use the name that all our friends, family, co-workers and people who knew us in school remember, we get an added advantage of activating our intimate networks. Never underestimate the power of those close connections.

So am I against using a pen name? From reading “Are You There Blog? It’s me Writer” by Kristen Lamb, I got reinforcement for using my own name. But it’s a conglomeration of it. As you can see from the story on my about page Clarbojahn is three names combined into one. I’m one of those who when you Google my name the search engines will be helpful and ask “Do you mean Clarike Bowman-Jahn?” And I’ve seen all my names pop up in one way or another. I can’t hide from Google.

Do you use a pen name? Why or Why not? How has this article been helpful in deciding whether to use a pen name or not?


About ClaraBowmanJahn

Journal writer. Author of "Annie's Special Day" And coauthor of Edmund Pickle Chin, A Donkey Rescue Story." Proud mother and grandmother of wonderful kids. Wife of brilliant husband. Servant of two cats. Member of Pennwriters and SCBWI.
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21 Responses to Your Given Name vs Your Pen Name

  1. I think the important thing is consistency. Use the same name for everything so you’re easy to find. If someone buys your book and wants to learn more about you, or follow your blog, if the names match they’ll find you and become even more of a supporter. If they look up the name on the book and it doesn’t lead them to your blog and website, you’ve lost support. If they come across your book and are trying to decide whether to buy it and want to scope out your blog or website to get a feel for who you are, same thing. They have to be able to find you.


  2. clarbojahn says:

    I think that is so true, Susanna. They just have to be able to find you. When I googled myself, Clar and Clara were the names with the most hits. My author name of Clarike isn’t in google because I haven’t used it online. I guess I need to get busy, Huh? 🙂


  3. I’ve toyed with pen-names. I have almost the same name as my father, an actor, so for a while I used my middle name or middle initial to differentiate. It didn’t help. When the DVD of my movie came out, they used HIS name for screenwriter! I literally cried. Now I don’t care. My name is unusual so it googles well, although I have two alternate personalities. One, a British marine biologist, I’m facebook friends with. The other is a champion long distance runner.


    • clarbojahn says:

      That’s interesting GS. I would have cried too if my father got the credit for a movie I did.
      I guess it’s good google helps with your name, so people can find it.
      When I went on Facebook with Clarike Bowman-Jahn, I was surprised there was a Clarike Bowman that wasn’t me. Up till then, I had thought Clarike was a made up name by my mother. There aren’t many of us though. 🙂


  4. Very interesting take on pen names vs real names. I thought about that when looking for a business name when I became a freelance writer and decided to use my own name rather than make up a “funny” company name like “Write Well Communications”.

    Eventually I’d like to publish in the children’s book arena and I see so many interesting writer’s names that I don’t see it as an issue to use my own. I’m in the process of creating my freelance writing website (on top of the one I already have) and I just chose my full name for the domain name.


    • clarbojahn says:

      I think that’s best, “using your name for the domain name”. I use the same name as on my blog, Clarbojahn. But can’t your web site have a different name than your domain name? I’m still confused. 🙂


      • Your domain name can be anything, as long as it’s available, and your website name can be anything too. The point is to try not to confuse visitors and made them wonder whose website it is. I think most writers use their own names for the domain name and then call their website their name and maybe something else afterwards. E.g. Jane Doe, children’s book author. Just think about search engines finding you, it’s another way to help with that.


  5. mieke de Groot says:

    Corporations frequently change their names while dealing with contract issues. Business numbers are what matter to the bank, and the names can be changed according to sub-contracts. I think Writers may do something similar. Where they change their names to reflect a change of genre, or to continue publishing while legal issues are dealt with, they may lose readers. But As a reader, when I reallly like an author and have difficulty accessing more works, i ask for help by either googling, asking a librarian or book store staff. Usually, I don’t bother…. if I can’t find what I want, I read something else.


    • clarbojahn says:

      Yes, I’m afraid that happens to most readers. That is the danger of pen names. I go by so many names, but they all start with Clar. So if there are others that start with Clar, I’m in trouble. 🙂


  6. No pen name. It’s just me. Some authors use pen names and it gets confusing, especially as they market their work as Suzy Smith, who writes a cookie mystery under the name of Anna Lee Sumpter … or something like that. The consistency of the name helps me too. Recently, I couldn’t find a writer, because her real name is different than her Twitter name. I wasn’t sure how to find her website, etc. It was confusing. It took a while, but I finally figured it all out.


  7. Yulia says:

    I don’t have pen name 😀 It’s only some of my friends give me a special name 😀


  8. Jessica says:

    I’ve been thinking of this very issue for me. I am wrapping up a children’s picture book and was toying with using my first name, or my initials. No, I don’t want to be like J.K. or S.E. but my dad always calls me JG (unless, as a teenager I did something naughty, then he used my full name eek). So I’ve been toying with using my initials. I’m a little nervous that people would think I was “trying to be like J.K. Rowling” or something. I’m not, I just thought it would be a way to honor my dad.


    • clarbojahn says:

      Hi, JG. I think that honoring your Dad would be nice and don’t worry about getting confused with J.K.Rowling. If you are consider it a nice benefit. When I wrote my children’s book, I wanted to honor my mother and signed it the name she gave me, Clarike, and now I find no one will know who I am because I don’t google well in that name.
      Just be consistent in all your writing when you start and you won’t have any trouble. 🙂


  9. I believe in consistency. No pen name. I want people to find me.


    • clarbojahn says:

      That’s right. Your own name is best, in everything you do. I started out bad, using a conglameration of my name, combining it into three short names. Now when I google myself I show up as three different people and those who don’t know me will be confused. The only thing I know to do for it now is to start using my given name more, Clarike Bowman-Jahn. Not Clar or Clara but the whole darn thing. And I wanted to move away from complications. lol.


  10. jannatwrites says:

    I guess there are pros and cons to using a pen name vs. real name. I would have to go with my name, or something close to it. If I picked something totally different, I’d slip up at some point and use my real name anyway. I’m not very smooth that way, you know!


    • clarbojahn says:

      I disagree with you not being smooth. I think you are. But as far as having pros and cons, I hope I clarified them somewhat in here.

      Thank Heaven, I picked something close to my given name for my web name. There’s still three to pick from though. I hope people can find me. 🙂


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