What’s in a Pen Name?

I’ve seen some discussion on Twitter about pseudonyms lately, largely wondering why authors choose to use a pen name or not. Now, maybe you guessed, but (technically) I use a pen name. B. Zelkovich is not my legal name. I know, shocking, right? So, what made me decide to use a pseudonym and how did I choose it?

I didn’t start out writing under a pseudonym. Way back in my college days I wrote under my, then, legal name, Brittany Zelkovich, and had some small successes. My first four General Fiction stories were published under that name, as well as my Caladria stories.

But then I went and did a silly thing. I got married! My whole life I counted down the days until I could jump up the alphabet by taking someone else’s last name, but once the time finally came, I hesitated. It took me six months and quite a bit of inner-turmoil to finally go to the Social Security office and change my name. And only then because I’d decided to continue writing and publishing under Zelkovich.

Image result for pseudonym gif

But I didn’t decide to drop to my first initial until last year. I don’t distinctly remember what inspired me to do it, other than a vague sense of dissatisfaction with how my name sounded when read aloud. “Brittany Zelkovich” just sounded… juvenile? The first name really dates me as someone born between 1985-1993, which is true, but that doesn’t mean I want the whole world to know that before they’ve even read my work.

Plus, I’ll do just about anything to avoid the Britney Spears jokes. Trust me, I’ve heard them all. At least three times.

So then I started experimenting. Britt Zelkovich? No… Still doesn’t sound right. Plus, that’s a nickname I reserve for family and close friends. What about my middle name? Sarchet Zelkovich? That’s unique, at least. But could you imagine having to tell everyone how to pronounce it for the rest of my life? No thanks. What about my initials? B.S. Zelk — oh, that’s hilarious. B.S. Zelkovich? Bullshit Zelkovich? PASS.Image result for pen name gif

Which left me with B. Zelkovich. Androgynous, professional sounding, with the last name as the focus which is important since that’s the bit all my books will be filed under. Plus, plenty of people in my life call me B., but it isn’t something exclusive to close friends and family. Just about anybody can get away with calling me that.

So, that’s how I got here. I wanted to avoid sounding young and possibly foolish. I wanted to avoid the inevitable mental image of shaved heads and that awful school girl outfit. And I wanted to keep my super unique last name. Because, and I mean this with 100% honesty, if you ever meet a Zelkovich in the United States, they are related to me by blood or marriage. I may not know them, but somewhere up the family tree we have relatives in common.

But what are some reasons already published authors decide to take up a pseudonym? The most common one is that an author is trying to sell a book that is outside of their already established genre. J.K. Rowling escaped YA Fiction by writing her Mystery Fiction as Robert Galbraith. Delilah S. Dawson writes YA and Science Fiction under her legal name, but writes Fantasy as Lila Bowen and Erotica as Ava Lovelace.

Stephen King wrote as Richard Bachman for awhile because he wrote novels faster than his publisher would release them. Joe Hill is the pen name for King’s son, Joseph Hillstrom King, who wanted to try his hand at Horror Fiction without competing (or probably being burdened) with his father’s legacy.

Image result for pen name gif
Apparently Parks and Rec has a GIF for my every pseudonym need.

Agatha Christie, Isaac Asimov, Michael Crichton, Anne Rice, Joyce Carol Oats, and on and on and on, all used pseudonyms at some point in their careers. Whether to write freely in a new genre, to test that their writing still held up and they weren’t just selling novels because of their name, or for any number of other reasons, many authors decide to use a pen name.

What are your thoughts on the matter? As a reader, does the author’s name really factor into your decision to try a book? If you find out it’s not their real name, does that matter to you? As a writer, would you ever use a pen name? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear your thoughts!

I should be back soon with the review for City in the Middle of the Night, so be on the lookout for that.

Until then, Bloggos.






2 thoughts on “What’s in a Pen Name?

  1. As someone who has also chosen to write under a pen name, I agree that there are several reasons for doing so. My motivations have changed over the years. Initially, it was kind of a making my own way without the whole “oh, the only people who bought your book are relatives or friends.” Lately, I’ve been thinking I may as well signal boost it as far as I can (as I work toward getting my first book publishable). The other reason for using it is presumably some measure of separation between my writing and my “professional persona.”

    As for how I came up with the name, Theresa is actually my confirmation name, and Seanchaí means storyteller in Irish Gaelic… I figure it’s both descriptive, and it ties in my Irish heritage in a more visible way.

    Thank you for the interesting read. I’m always glad to hear the perspectives of other people who have chosen pen names. 🙂

  2. I have considered switching over to my initials (which, unfortunately are nothing fun like B.S.!), but so far haven’t gotten up the motivation to switch everything over.

    I definitely don’t think my name sounds very “writerly” and should have thought of that when I started out, but, you know, hindsight. As for launching a whole new pen name. No thank you!! I can barely keep up with the maintenance for one author name. I can’t imagine sorting out the marketing and all that jazz for a second or third name.

    As for reading books by pen name authors, doesn’t bother me. As long as the story is still great, I’m happy.

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