N Is for Name

N Is for Name

Image credit: Daisy Juarez

I like my name, in theory. Carol means “song of joy” and for someone who love playing the piano, it’s appropriate. My middle name, Sue, apparently came from Hebrew and means “lily.”

I took my husband’s last name when we got married and it actually has a rather interesting entry is Wikipedia. It’s a Welsh name, which I knew, and it does mean “son of Evan.” In Welsh however, it comes from the Ifan, a form of John. “The name does refer to Evan-S, meaning son of John; however, the historic context is that many Welsh were relative latecomers to Christianity, and around the 3rd century A.D. a huge evangelical conversion began. Converted followers took the name “Son of John (the Baptist)”, in reference to John the Baptist as the baptiser of Jesus Christ and a symbolic cornerstone of Christian conversion. It is possible that, later on, some took it as meaning the son of their own father called Evan (John), but the practice of religious forenames being converted into surnames by the addition of “s” or “son” (Jackson, Johnson etc.) does not account for the huge incidence of this name in south Wales.” Interesting, huh?

But, when I was orginally thinking of names, I was thinking about pen names. There have been plenty of times when I wish I had a different name. While I like mine, I wish I had one that was all mine, that I didn’t share. As it is, my mom’s name is Carol and my mother-in-law’s name is Susan, but she goes by Sue. It can get a little confusing. I imagine that if I did ever publish a book, I would use my real name, but I would definitely be tempted to pick one I always wanted.

Anyway, some famous pen names, and some I didn’t know:

Mark Twain – His actual name was Samuel Clemens, but I didn’t know Mark twain, meaning “Mark number two,” was a Mississippi River term: the second mark on the line that measured depth signified two fathoms, or twelve feet—safe depth for the steamboat.

Dr. Seuss- When Theodor Geisel was fired from his job as editor-in-chief of the Dartmouth’s Jack-O-Lantern magazine, he kept writing for the humor mag by signing his work under his middle name—Seuss. Years later, when his first book was published, he added the “Dr.” as a joke. His father always wanted him to pursue a medical career.

George Eliott – Mary Anne Evans was practical. She used a male pen name to ensure her works would be taken seriously, to escape the stereotype of women only writing lighthearted romances. An added benefit was that her pen name helped shield her private life from public scrutiny and to prevent scandals.

Gail Carriger- Tofa Borregaard received her undergraduate degree from Oberlin College, a masters of science in archaeological materials at England’s Nottingham University in 2000, and a master of arts in anthropology (with a focus on archaeology) at the University of California Santa Cruz in 2008.  She publishes her real name, and besides, she likes the idea of an alter ego. A note on her pen name: her grandfather came home from World War II on a train named Gail, and Carriger is the street where her favorite vineyard is located.

Avi – Edward Irving Wortis’ twin sister had called him Avi for as long as he could remember, so it was the natural choice when he decided to use a pen name.

Sapphire – Romana Lofton took the name “Sapphire” because of its one-time cultural association with the image of a “belligerent black woman,” and also because she said she could more easily picture that name on a book cover than her birth name.

Lemony Snicket- Daniel Handler is the author of several children’s books. He and his editor thought that A Series of Unfortunate Events should be published under the narrator’s name, rather than his.

Pablo Neruda – Ricardo Neftalí Reyes Basoalto’s poetry was published when he was thirteen. Ricardo’s father actively opposed his son’s interest in writing and literature, so Ricardo chose to use a pen name to mislead his father. Pablo was inspired by Paul Verlaine and Neruda for Jan Neruda, both writers. Eventually he legally changed is name.

Acton, Currer, and Ellis Bell – Anne, Charlotte and Emily Brontë first published as the Bell brothers, afraid that their work would be judged differently if people knew it was written by women. I didn’t realize that Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre were first published under pen names.

Ayn Rand – Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum’s pen name is definitely easier to pronounce. She chose the name. I can’t find any definite stories, but it’s possible that Rand is a Cyrillic contraction of her birth surname, and Ayn comes from either a Finnish name or from the Hebrew word עין (ayin, meaning “eye”).

Erin Hunter – Three women actually write the Warriors series: Kate Cary, Cherith Baldry, and Victoria Holmes. One of them is Amber’s favorite, but I can’t remember which.

What would your pen name be?


  1. When I was young, I HATED my name because no one could pronounce or spell it. But now that I’m trying to build a platform, I really appreciate that my name is unusual (although I’ve been hearing/seeing more and more Jocelyns out there in the last few years).

    If I ever use a pen name, I’ll go with the “soap opera name game” of first pet’s name + name of street you grew up on, which would make me Morgan Westminster.

  2. In my high school class of 110, there were 3 Stacy’s, but we ech spelled our names differently (ci, cey, and cy). I always wanted a prettier name and remember loving Michelle way back when. When I publish a book 🙂 I’ll probably use my real name.

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