Screenwriting Blog
Posted on by Victoria Lucia

How to Choose a Pen Name (Step-by-Step Guide)

To choose a pen name to use as a pseudonym byline on your writing projects, follow these steps:

  1. Brainstorm

  2. Play around with how a name interacts with the genre you work in

  3. Make sure the name is memorable and easy to spell

  4. Check to see if the name is already in use

Over the years, many famous authors have used pen names instead to keep their real identity a secret for various reasons. But how do you choose a pen name? Keep reading to find out more!

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Choose a Pen Name

A Step-by-Step Guide

What is a Pen Name?

A pen name is a fake name used by authors to hide, protect, or disguise their real name.

Why Do Authors Use Pen Names?

A pen name can provide a real person with anonymity and privacy to protect their personal life. Your favorite author may not be the author you think they are! A writer can also use a pen name to help create a specific brand around their work rather than using their real-life identity. An already popular author might use pen names to do work outside of what they're best known for without confusing their audience. For example, J.K. Rowling, famous for her Harry Potter fantasy books, writes crime fiction novels under the pen name of Robert Galbraith. 

Is It Legal to Use a Pen Name?

Yes, it is legal for authors to use pen names.

For screenwriters, using a pen name can get tricky when it comes to The Writers Guild of America (WGA). The WGA has specific rules for how names appear on the screen. When you join the WGA, you fill out forms with your legal name, and then you can register your pseudonym with them if you're concerned about protecting your private life.

How to pick a Pen Name

For pen name ideas, step through these sections below to wind up with a unique, memorable, and most importantly, an available pseudonym.

Identify Your Genre

Coming up with a pen name can be an excellent opportunity to help solidify your brand. Consider names that speak to the genre you're planning to write in. If you're a romance writer, consider incorporating words like "royal," "darling," "passion," or "honey" into your name. You want a name that evokes thoughts of romance and love! Likewise, if you're a horror author, consider crafting a name that sounds mysterious or ominous.

Check Your Pen Name's Web Address and Social Media Handles

Save yourself a future headache and check if someone else is already using your pen name for a website and social media! If it's not in use, be sure to scoop up the domain name and create social media profiles using it as soon as possible. This research will take some digging, as there's no list of pen names already taken. 

Pick a Pen Name That's Easy to Spell

Make sure that your pen name isn't complex and is easy to spell. You want readers to be able to find you easily without struggling to spell your name.

Use a Pen Name Generator

If you're still coming up blank for a pseudonym, consider using a pen name generator, pseudonym generator, or art name generator to get some randomized options. If anything, generators like these offer a good starting place. 

Can You Copyright a Pen Name?

You can't copyright single words or short phrases, so you can't copyright a pen name. You can copyright your written works, though, using your pen name.

Can You Trademark a Pen Name?

In some circumstances, you may be able to obtain trademark protection for a pen name. Trademarks are to protect a company's or a product's name. If your pen name is part of a widely known and recognized brand, then trademarking it might be applicable. Try using a trademark search to see if the trademark for your pen name is available. 

Make Sure Your Pen Name Isn't Taken

You need to be careful that your pen name isn't already taken or infringes on someone's real name. Using someone else name as your own could result in accusations of identity theft, and that person would likely pursue legal action. For example, if you wanted your pen name to be Stephen King, that would quickly turn into a legal issue!

You should check if the author pseudonyms you're interested in have already been used on copyrighted works or if they're trademarked. The U.S. Copyright Office and the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office both have searchable databases that you can utilize to see if your pen name is already in use. If it is, you likely want to use a different pen name. You don't want anyone to accuse you of trademark infringement!

Warnings About Pen Names

Just because you aren't using your legal name doesn't mean you're protected from defamation lawsuits or liabilities. Utilizing a pen name also doesn't exempt you from paying taxes on any book or script earnings.

Pen Names of Famous Writers

  • Director Steven Soderbergh is a big fan of pen names, especially when he takes on different jobs for movies. In the past, he's used "Sam Lowery" as a writer's credit.

  • Anne Rice's well-known name is a pen name. She was born "Howard Frances O'Brien," named after her father. She changed her name to "Anne" when she was young to avoid bullying. Her husband's last name was "Rice," and the rest is history! Anne Rice utilized other pen names throughout her career, such as "A.N. Roquelaure," when she published erotic fiction.

  • Theodore Seuss Geisel was the real name behind Dr. Seuss's pen name. Geisel took his middle name and added "Dr." in front of it to craft his famous pen name for his Dr. Seuss books. He said he went with "Dr." because his father wished for him to pursue medicine.

  • In 1947, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo was blacklisted from Hollywood for his suspected involvement with the communist party. He utilized the pen names "Ian McLellan Hunter" and "Robert Rich" to be able to continue working. He went on to win Oscars under both pseudonyms for the films "Roman Holiday" and "The Brave One."

Choosing to use a pen name can be a lot to consider! I hope this blog gave you the information to decide if using a pen name - and hiding your true identity - is suitable for you. Happy writing!

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