To Pseudonym or Not to Pseudonym–That is the Question

Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous numbers of other people who have the same name and who might or might not be writers, Or to take arms and declare thyself with a DBA Fake Name... Oh, sorry. I was channeling Shakespeare for a moment.

Shakespeare didn’t need a pseudonym. His name wasn’t Smith or Jones….or Johnson.

I thought about adopting a pseudonym when I first began this publishing journey. The reasons to do it–privacy, and the chance to sound really cool–didn’t seem to outweigh the hassles. I have enough characters yammering at me in my head without having to decide which one of me they’re yammering at. Plus, I’ve met folks online and only found out a year later the name I’d been calling them wasn’t even their real name. If I email you and don’t call you by name–it’s because I have no idea what to call you. It’s kind of annoying.

BUT (you knew there was going to be a BUT), then I began working on a website. And turns out I can’t have the nice and simple as my website unless I’m willing to pay mightily for it. A “domain name broker” owns it and wants me to pay $1,300 in order to get it. Can you hear me laughing from Alabama, you jackasses?

Like other authors, I have Google Alerts send alerts on my name to me via email. About three-quarters of them are actually about me, which I figure is pretty good. But another Suzanne Johnson is a sculptor in Michigan. Another is by-god vice chairman of Goldman Sachs, and I wish I had her money. Another owns a catering business in Temecula Valley. And still another wears little Harry Potter glasses and teaches psychology at a small college in New York state. It was too depressing to look further. And this morning, I got an email off my website from another Suzanne Johnson who was–you guessed it–looking to see what others with HER name were up to. She said she might buy my books. She should.

In the 2000 U.S. Census, the surname Johnson held onto its #2 most-common-name spot. Of the 1,857,160 Americans named Johnson, reckon how many are named Suzanne? And I should note that “Johnson” is only beat out by the name “Smith.” My mother’s maiden name was Smith. Doing genealogy in my family is a bitch.

Anyway, I’ve trodden too far down the publishing path to change now, so I’ll live with what I have. In the meantime, I’m at Bah.

Any of you taken a pseudonym and regret it? Or not taken one and wish you had?

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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate's Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man's Curse; Black Diamond).

10 thoughts on “To Pseudonym or Not to Pseudonym–That is the Question

  1. Good post, Suzanne. In the past few months I have gone from using my real name to planning on adopting a pen name, assuming it’s not too late. You can still call me Bob.

  2. Pen Names. . . love this. I’ve known people who have taken on pen names, but then keep going by their “real” name while out in the writing world. So, I usually try and call them by their pen name.

    It’s just fun. I say go for it. If it’s not too late in the writing game, and you want a pen name, go for it, but jump in feet first and use it in everything.

    Fun post.

  3. Well. I decided when I started blogging to just go with a pen name. Of course, I didn’t think it through, and I’m not sure I’m crazy about the newly invented me, so just call me T.A. Stanley, instead of Teri Anne. Or call me whatever the hell you want.

    But anyway, I googled my maiden name once and found a woman in Seattle with the same name who breeds rats. Which I am allergic to. Consider the odds there? My maiden name is pretty unusual.

    My married last name is pretty common, and there was actually another woman with the same name who got her birth control pills filled at the same pharmacy as me. How annoying was that? If it had been the same version, it would have been okay, but no, we had two different types of pills. Until I forgot to pick mine up one week and along came my surprise child…

  4. My name was the pen name of another writer already, so I had to change -something- about it. So I’ve changed one letter and reserved the domain for now.

    It’s interesting (for some definitions of the word) meeting people who think they know what you write already, but actually that was someone else entirely.

  5. Do it while you can, Amber!

    Too late for me now, Lynn. But when I need to jump-start a flagging career in the years ahead, then I’ll do it.

    LOL, Teri Anne…Now that’s what I call lasting repercussions. I’m sure you haven’t regretted surprise child, though 🙂

    To my anonymous commenter–now, that’s an interesting switch. I wonder if the Suzanne Johnson at Goldman-Sachs will get mail from my readers someday wondering why DJ didn’t choose Jake over Alex…

  6. I chose the pseudonym “grumpynerd” because I figured nobody would guess that was me. It didn’t work out for some reason.

    In any case, if you’re the most important thing about a pen-name is that it make a nice balanced composition in all caps on the cover of a book. Your last name should ideally have slightly more letters than your first, like “Dean Koontz” or “Barbara Kingsolver”. You don’t want a pen-name like “Alexandria Lee” because if you put “Alexandria” on top of “Lee” it looks like it might tip right over. On the other hand, you don’t want a name like “Jo Balasubhramanian”, because that looks like the typesetter started setting your last name first thing in the morning, then took a break for lunch in the middle of your first.

    Of course, you can go the initials/last name route if your chosen last name isn’t too long. “J.K. Rowling” and is good and “J.D Salinger” acceptable, but “J. M. McClaugherty-Oberbroekling” makes one wonder why you’d bother with personal names at all, you being so abundantly provided in the surname department.

  7. Oh, one more thing. I checked the domain name registry and I notice that “” hasn’t been taken yet. I tell all my clients to choose easily remembered domain names.

  8. This is a good one, Suzanne, and something that most writers do consider at some point, and perhaps regret later. Although, there’s controversy that Shakespeare didn’t actually write some of the plays attributed to him, so….;-)

  9. Great topic!! I’m a planner by nature – and I do mean a serious take-over-the-world-type of planner. I scare my husband sometimes.

    I not only decided to write with a pen name one month from when I started writing, I also joined an online virtual reality game called Second Life(SL) and IT selected my last name (although I did get to chose from fifty).

    I had multiple browser windows open to make sure the website pen name was available before I accepted my SL name. Then Viola!

    I registered it with RWA, Sisters in Crime, Goodreads, Author Den, opened Twitter, email, Blog accounts, Facebook pages… you get the drift. I had literally done nothing in my career – even contact another writer – before I selected my pen name.

    Within a few months my new name was more “out there” than my real name. And now I often wonder *who* I really am – C.J. or the other chick?

  10. CJ–your organization amazes me! I finally settled on blogging and Twitter and only dip into Facebook for personal stuff.

    LOL, Matt–you made me laugh today (and it hasn’t been a laughing kinda day for the most part, thanks to Mr. Nissan Dealer). Signed,