My Pen Name, My New Personality
Using a pseudonyn allowed me to write more courageously
Posted Aug 27, 2014
As an author, one of my genres is erotica, and I write under a pen name.
I do this for a number of reasons, one of which I’ll illustrate with a story from my past.
I once applied for a job working with talented young writers, one that demanded I be a widely published author. With a background in education, I made it to the interview stage where the first question the panel asked was, “Would you share your erotica with children?”
To this day, you can find out my pen name quite easily with a little research. (For my own part, I don’t want to hide completely—that, after all, is what gave the press so much power over E. L. James when they outed her.) But I use the name as a boundary—a personal brand, if you will—and a way to ensure my readers can focus on what they wish to read.
That said, I would never have guessed that my pen name would develop a new identity for me—a fierier, more courageous and playful me, who writes differently under my erotic persona.
There are many reasons for taking on a pen name in our society—and if my experiences running an indie erotic press and a book design/publishing service are anything to go by, pen names are as popular as ever. Often, there are gender considerations—a male author of heterosexual romance can find it harder to market his work, as might be the case with a female writer of military sagas. In marketing terms, it could be difficult for a writer of academic science papers to publish pulp under the same identity.
What’s more, some writers find they can express themselves more freely when their families, communities, or bosses aren’t watching. And others (this was a draw for me, too) have a name like “Jane Smith” or “Tom Brown” and can’t be easily differentiated in a Google search. I’ll add that I’ve never met a writer who didn’t enjoy their pen name and find it enabling or empowering in some way.
But “Why do you use a pen name?” is a question I’m often asked.
People seem fascinated by the power of new identities, and let’s face it—pseudonyms and alternative identities aren’t solely found in the writing domain. Gaming can be a powerful place to enjoy new identities, and people also take on pseudonyms in the world of online dating, where the potential for hazards as well as successes is all too clear.
Also, we can take a lesson from Conchita Wurst, winner of the Eurovision Song Contest this year, who openly takes on two different identities: the art figure Conchita Wurst and the private person Tom Neuwirth. As Wurst says on her website, Wurst and Neuwirth are “two individual characters with their own individual stories, but with one essential message for tolerance and against discrimination.” Clearly, two names can present two different identities, with neither of them deemed as less central than the other.
The psychology of naming is fascinating, as it happens. Research psychologist David Figlio of Northwestern University in Illinois ran a study on how names can shape our behaviors, and found that boys with names that were traditionally given to girls tended to rebel and “misbehave.” What’s more, the phenomenon of nominative determinism (first coined by New Scientist journalist John Hoyland) is well-known. (For those new to the concept, if your surname is Plumber, nominative determinism suggests you’re more likely to become a plumber.)
Seeing as research suggests a name can affect your life’s course, it’s strange that there are so many critics of pen names. I’ve often heard arguments that we shouldn’t “hide” because of our work, especially if we are proud of our creations. A strange view, when such critics surely wouldn’t dream of saying that everyone’s lives are equally easy in or that everyone’s mindset is the same.
More often than not, our bravery as writers is what matters the most. When using a pen name, do we express what we need to express on the page? If so, our courage can touch and change lives—proof that the pen name is doing great work.
What is your own take on pen names and pseudonyms? Have you ever used them? How have other names and/or identities been helpful to you—or otherwise?
Lana Fox writes in a variety of genres under two names. As Lana, she is Co-Founder of the erotic publisher Go Deeper Press and co-runs the indie publishing service Here Booky Booky. Her erotica and sex writing appear in numerous collections, including the forthcoming Best Women’s Erotica 2015, and her most recent novel Confessions of a Kinky Divorcee is published by Harper Collins. Online, her articles appear at My Yoga Online, BostonMagazine.com, Spirituality & Health, and elsewhere. Under her other name, she is an award-winning literary writer and editor who is a writing instructor at Grub Street and whose stories appear in Narrative Magazine, Salamander, and the Yalobusha Review, to name a few. Fox is represented by the Sarah Jane Freymann Literary Agency and can be found at GoDeeperPress.com, HereBookyBooky.com, lanafox.com, and her spirituality blog, Follow the Signs Like Alice. Along with her wife, Angela, much of her spare time is spent keeping a close eye on Bogart and Bacall, or watching re-runs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Sin City. Read more at www.lanafox.com or on Twitter @foxlana, @GoDeeperPress, and @HereBookyBooky.