What’s in a name?

To use a pen name or not to use a pen name, that is the question. The answer is not as straightforward as one would think.

So let’s get things straight from the start. My name is Austen R. Gower.

My pen name is Ryan Stark. This was chosen for some very specific reasons which I will go into later. It was not an easy decision as all of my friends and family are aware I am a writer but, of course, know me by my real name.

Why would you use a pen name?

  • So nobody knows it’s you. Maybe you are a private person, shy, or have a colourful background which is not in keeping with your writing. Charles Ludwidge Dodgson  used the pseudonym Lewis Carroll initially to protect his privacy. Eric Blair wrote Down and Out in Paris and London  under the pen name of George Orwell as he didn’t want his family to know he had spent time living in poverty during his research. He adopted the name of P.S. Burton whilst on the streets.To protect or hide your own name because you need to separate, say business work from authorship.  In some cases, say Steven Mitchell, more commonly known as Andy McNab, this is a positive choice to distance himself from his previous military background . Others such as John McVicar publish under their own name to leverage the notoriety it brings them. So this is a double-edged sword. Even in the case of Andy McNab, this is such an open secret, it serves to promote his books knowing he has a distinguished career.
  • Because your name does not fit with the style of writing being published. Whilst not a writer per se, Maurice Micklewhite changed his name firstly to Michael Scott and then to Michael Caine both to avoid confusion and to make it more memorable. Like that worked!
  • Because you publish several genres and want to distinguish between them. The late author Iain Banks wrote his science Fiction novels under the pen name of Iain M Banks.  Robert Galbraith, was J.K. Rowling writing non-wizard related works.
  • Because you don’t like you name – They say people become their names. Some people just can’t wait to get away from them.

So given all of the above, would it not be simpler if I used the name Austen Gower? Well probably yes.

What problems has it caused me?

Well, as of now, none. In setting up my writing resources, such as this Blog, Twitter, Facebook and an email account, I have used my pen name. Ryan stark has become an entity in his own right.  Any reviews or plaudits will be directed at him. When it comes to remuneration, what little there is at present, unfortunately poor old Ryan gets nothing…but the glory.

Why did I choose to use a pen name?

  • Firstly, I don’t like my real name.  I am tired of Austin Powers, Steve Austin, Austin Rover jokes and everyone thinks they are the first.  Added to that, spelt AustEn rather than AustIn, it frequently gets spelt wrongly, at best leading to lost emails, at worst to my bank cashing someone else’s cheque from my account – yes really.
  • Secondly,  I do wish to separate my business work from my writing. My career has been mainly in IT and Business Consultancy, although I have had a brief foray into Anger Management, so an Internet search for Austen Gower would bring up many other hits which are not part of another life.
  • Thirdly, and this may seem overly sentimental, my late father’s name was also Austin Gower. Whilst some may feel that this is reason enough to use the name, ‘Little’ Austen’ can never fill the shoes of ‘Big’ Austin, especially as I am walking in a very different direction.

To be clear, I am not hiding behind a pen name, and I make it clear in my publications and on blogs, Facebook and so forth that it is a pen name.

I am sure that this is not an extensive discussion on the pros and cons of using a pen name, nor is it meant to be so. Also, I am not recommending that you do the same. There are plenty of resources on the Internet to help you make that choice. Here are a couple I used.

Should You Use a Pseudonym?  by Moira Allen

Pseudonyms: 10 Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Pen Name  by Adrienne DeWolfe

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