Have you always had the same name?
For many women reading this, the answer will be a resounding ‘no.’ The same goes for myself – no, I have not always had the entertaining monica ‘Lynn Love’ – cousin to Penelope Pitstop, third cousin twice removed to Pepper Potts, bastard offspring of Linda-black-sheep-of-the-family-no-one-talks-to-her-at-family-get-togethers-Lovelace.
My surname used to be Cuthbert. Lynn Cuthbert. Lynn Love may be a bit of a joke name, but Lynn Cuthbert is an accountant’s name – maybe a quantity surveyor. And before I have legions of quantity surveyors telling me I’m slurring the good work of civil engineering the length and breadth of these fine isles, may I say – first off, what on earth are you doing here on WordPress? Go find your tape measure and calculate something. And second off, there’s nothing wrong with a respectable profession like yours, it’s just not for me – and for heaven’s sake stop being so sensitive about it.
Now, if you’re a writerly cove, you may have dreamt for years of seeing your name on the cover of some beautifully bound, hand-tooled leather hardback. But was it your own name you saw, or a pen name?
There is a long, fine tradition of authors using nom de plumes. The wonderfully titled Samuel Langhorne Clemens most of you will have read as the master of wile and wit, Mark Twain, and most readers will know when they pick up a Richard Bachman novel, they’re really reading the work of Horror King of Kings, Stephen King.
But it seems women are the ones who have run fastest and loosest with the pseudonym.
Understandably for early novelists, when ladies were supposed to spend all day learning how to sing, play respectable musical instruments (perhaps a piano that would show of your finely boned wrists – nothing such as a tuba or a cello that would distend your delicate female body parts) embroidering anything that stayed still long enough for you to set your needle on it, fainting and practising how to die from something decorous, like consumption.
What you really, really weren’t supposed to do was be the daughters of a parson, live in close isolation with other creative, mildly unhinged siblings in the middle of a windswept moor, allowing your suppressed, base natures emerge through torrid tales of mad women chained in attics, obsessive love, domestic violence, ghosts, conflagrations and fallen women.
Is it any wonder Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte used the (rather odd) male pen names of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell? If nothing else, they saved the blushes of their father Patrick.
Even today, when it is – you’d think – more acceptable for women to be authors, they still often use their initials rather than those all too-feminine first names. Think of P.D. James, J. K. Rowling, C.J. Lyons, J. D. Robb (Nora Roberts). This is often because they’re writing in a genre which is male dominated, such as thrillers. When J. K. Rowling was on the verge of publishing the first Harry Potter book, her publisher asked if she would mind becoming J. K. instead of Joanne, in case boys were put off reading the adventures of the wizard genius because they were written by a girl. I’m pretty sure the thriller writers would have a similar story to tell about adopting their gender neutral names.
Would I ditch my real name, the name of my other half of twenty five years, the name of my son, to guarantee higher sales?
Too bloody right I would.
Though, if I wrote some throbbing, muscular, brain-splattered, blood-drenched torture-porn action thriller, I don’t think sales would improve by being L.M. Love instead of Lynn.
So, how about a pen name?
Stud Bentley? Kurt Nontweasel? D. B. Turnblatt? Flash Portsabre?
Hmm. I’ll get back to you.
Any suggestions? Have you invented a pen name for yourself? Or are you determined to use your own? If you have already published – pen name or not – any regrets?
Speaking of names, I was wondering if George R. R. Martin’s was an invented reference to one of his literary heroes –pedlar of epic fantasy, orcs, hobbits and golums, oh my! – J. R. R. Tolkein. You know – the R. R. bit?
The answer? No.
GRRM’s full name is George Raymond Richard Martin – so not made up. But, I bet he enjoyed being able to stick those initials in there.