Choosing the Right Pen Name

Happy Tuesday, everyone! I hope you all had a lovely long weekend. Here in the UK, the sun is finally shining after four days of rain — just in time for us all to go back to work, of course.

Some of you may know that Talli Roland is a pen name. I started off writing non-fiction under my real name, Marsha Moore, and since my fiction was with the same publisher, they suggested writing under a different name. I’m not sure now this was strictly necessary, but I wasn’t strongly opposed (and  I’ve always wanted to choose my own name!) so I decided to go with it.

I’m often asked how I came up with my pen name, so I thought I’d give a few pointers on how to choose the right one.

  • Think long and hard about whether you really need a pen name. Building up a new author identity involves a lot of work, from blogging to tweeting to Facebooking. Many authors who write opposing genres choose to use pen names; this makes perfect sense to me, as they’re appealing to different markets.
  • Make sure your name ‘matches’ your genre. I chose the first name Talli because I write light women’s fiction. I wanted something fun and playful. I definitely wouldn’t have picked that name for crime.
  • Maintain a sense of emotional connection. The surname Roland is my mum’s last name. I could have picked something totally different, but Talli Roland is still an element of me — I wanted to keep a familial tie.
  • Build up your online identity with branding in mind. Developing a new persona gives you a unique opportunity to create a character that will appeal to your target market, while still staying true to your real self. My tagline for Talli Roland is ‘I drink coffee. I write. Then I have wine’ (all true)! There’s more to me than that (sort of), but when I’m blogging and tweeting as Talli, I try to remember my tagline.
  • Decide who you’re going to be in real life. Pen names clash with reality when people who know you as your online persona meet you in the flesh! If you’re a member of a professional organisation where you’re going to be interacting with writers on a regular basis, decide from the get-go if you want to be known by your pen name or your real name.  As a member of the UK’s Romantic Novelists’ Association, I decided straight away that I would be known as Talli. Why? Well, I have so much trouble matching other members’ pen names with their real names that I decided to make things simple. I want people to remember my name and, hopefully, seek out my books, too.

Do you have a pen name? If so, how did you choose it?

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  1. Sibel Hodge says:

    I didn’t even know until last week that Talli was a pen name! It suits you – good choice! :)

  2. It does suit you!
    I’ve got two pen names. First came because of safety issues, second because my American publisher preferred it that way, and so did I, lots of reasons.
    Luckily I don’t have to do much fr my first so it’s not too confusing. And hey, we spend our lives making stuff up so no big deal for me to switch from one to the other.

    • Talli Roland says:

      “And hey, we spend our lives making stuff up so no big deal for me to switch from one to the other.”

      Exactly, Elle. Sometimes it just feels like slipping into another character.

  3. Ansha Kotyk says:

    I created my pen name about 5 years ago when I started writing using forums to communicate with other writers. Over the past year I’ve become more active online with my pen name, but I’ve also volunteered to work with Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators where using a pen name isn’t as common.

    I’m volunteering with this year’s regional conference and have used my real name for my interactions with editors and authors. I plan, however to put my twitter pic and pen name on my name tag, so the authors who may know me from #mglitchat and elsewhere can make the connection (I hope).

    I figure my pen name is for my brand and to some extent, for emotional distance from my writing. When I’m at a conference, I’m more me, I guess. :)

    I used a similar connection Talli, Kotyk (meaning little cat) is my grandmother’s maiden name. :)

    • Ansha Kotyk says:

      edit: there should be an ‘and’ up there between writing AND using forums. Sigh. more coffee time. ;)

    • Talli Roland says:

      Ansha, that’s a great idea – using your Twitter name on your badge! I’ve been to many book launches etc where I’ve missed out speaking to people I ‘know’ online because they either look nothing like their avatar or I didn’t recognise their real name!

  4. D. D. Scott says:

    Luuuvvv this Behind the Name Scoop, Talli!

    And wow…this is the absolute best explanation of and tips for producing Pen Names I’ve ever seen! U Go, Girl!

    So, here’s something I don’t know that I’ve revealed before…

    My real name is Dawn. But my nickname for as long as I can remember has been “Double D” or “D-Squared” because well…I’m a weather freak…as in Doppler Dawn! :-) Not joking…that’s, in part where the “D. D.” comes from.

    Now then…that said, my DH and I were trying to come up with a Pen Name that sounded strong and sassy, just like you said above, one that would match my “sexy, sassy, smart” brand and tagline.

    And also like you mentioned, I wanted to pay tribute to the most special person in my life, my wonderful DH, and his name is Scott.

    So…there you go…

    My DH said…

    “What about D. D. Scott?”

    And thus, D. D. Scott was born…

    P.S. Like you said too, Talli, I use that name for EVERYTHING. Conferences, promotions, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, etc. Until, right now, I can count on one hand how many people in the industry even know my real name is Dawn. And even those peeps call me D. D. most of the time.

    • Talli Roland says:

      AHHH! DD! I didn’t know your name was Dawn, wow! You will always be Super D to me. :) What a lovely explanation!

    • Julie Day says:

      I found out that your real name is Dawn when the Paypal verification came to me for the Stuck With subscription. I think DD suits you better.

      • D.D. Scott says:

        LOL!!! Thanks Bunches, Julie!!!

        Sometimes, even when my family calls me Dawn, it takes me awhile to answer ’cause I’m sooo used to being D. D. all day long!!!

  5. Glynis Smy says:

    I wrote a little book for children and decided I wanted a different name. I chose the ending of my name and tweaked it slightly to Nissi (it is also after a bay on the island), and then added my husband’s name, Peter, and our surname initial, S. So Nissi Peters was born. She is now retired, but always handy for the future. I am using my own name for my adult historicals, as it is unusual enough as it is.

  6. Paula Martin says:

    I decided on Paula as a variation of my real name. I prefer it and several of my friends use it anyway. I played around with several surnames as I hate my own surname (my ex-husband’s which I kept even tho we divorced 30 years ago!) and eventually decided on Martin – the first name of one of my favourite actors! (Firth and Jackman were alos on my list for consideration!) Now my online presence is always as Paula Martin which I think sounds okay for a writer of contemporary romances.

  7. Jill Hughey says:

    I am just considering a pen name now. I have two traditional historical romances out but my next release will be a “clean”, shorter romance. I am afraid if people like the short one they will be upset if they buy one of the longer ones to find them much more sensual. Any advice?

    • Talli Roland says:

      Hmm. That’s a tough one, Jill, but I think they’re close enough in style to stick with the same name. You could make it clear in the description, maybe, the difference in content.

  8. Pj Schott says:

    At least choosing a PEN NAME is not as hard as choosing a gay drag name. Chlamydia Burns, Flotilla de Barge, & Fagatha Christie … that can’t have been easy.

  9. A friend and I were talking about publishing names recently. He decided to publish using his initials, but otherwise his real name. I was slightly disappointed he didn’t take my suggestion and publish as Talula LaRue. *gigglesnort* (Yes, he knew I was kidding.)

  10. Great post, Talli!
    I hear you on starting all over with a new name. The romcom mystery series that my DH and I wrote together was targeted mostly at female readers, so our trad pub big six editor wanted a single female name. We agreed and used Allyson Roy. But this was just around that time when mailings and print media were shifting to Internet promo where authors have become more accessible to readers. So doing blog tours meant introducing ourselves with the revelation that we were really two people. We made it into a fun thing, but it was an awkward pain in the butt. So now, aside from the carryover of some loyal readers, we’re starting from square one again.

    • Talli Roland says:

      That does sound kind of awkward, and also a real hassle that you’re having to start over! I guess that’s one of the drawbacks to pen names!

  11. Julie Day says:

    Good idea to have different names for different genres. I didn’t know until you mentioned it last week on another blog here that Talli was a pen name, and say now what I said then, it suits you. I am going to stick with my real name for my magical and fantasy books/ebooks, but plan to write romantic suspense some time, and will probably change it then. Possibly with abbreviated name to suit the genre.

  12. Miriam Joy says:

    I used to use Delorfinde Telcontar online, but no one could spell it. Still, it was a name I’d been using for five years – at the time, a third of my life. I was keeping it!

    Now I’m Miriam Joy. That’s a pen name too, in a way. Joy is my middle name, not my surname. Though it takes precisely two minutes to find out my surname (YouTube – username is MJLongman, or Facebook – my personal profile includes my surname and my middle name), I still prefer to be Miriam Joy as a writer as it allows me to keep my writing/online self separate from my RL self. On the other hand, I find myself writing Miriam Joy on my schoolbooks sometimes…

  13. Liz Matis says:

    What a fun post! I was planning to use a pen name but then decided to use my real name for romance. Since I’m selling okay and have a few more ideas I will stick to that. But I do have 2 ideas for a YA and then 2 ideas for women’s fiction with religious undertones – no romance at all. I already have pen names picked out for each Beth Reeves for YA cause Beth is part of Elizabeth and Reeves cause I love Keanu Reeves. For the women’s fiction its Liza Fleming again Liza is part of Elizabeth and Fleming cause I love Ian Fleming.
    The reason I’m thinking I need them is that my romances are HOT so I don’t want to upset anyone.
    I have plenty of time to decide but I was wondering what everyone thinks.

  14. Great post, Talli. :)
    Abbey MacInnis is a pen name I’ve been using since 2008. I didn’t want to use my real name, so my mom and I came up with it. :) I know Abbey’s spelled differently, but it’s taken from my Dad’s mother’s maiden name, and MacInnis is my Mom’s Mom’s maiden name. I love the family conection. :) And the cool thing is, my grandmother’s father on my Mom’s side was a editor and contributer to the Casket, the newspaper from Antigonish Nova Scotia. So I like to think I got the writing bug from him.
    I use Abbey for all my interactions on FB and Twitter etc, but I still use my email address not associated with my pen name for writing classes and writing loops.

    • Talli Roland says:

      Hi Abbey! I love the pen name – and even more since I’m from Nova Scotia originally and I’ve been in Antigonish many times. Great story behind the choice.

  15. Hee hee, it’s my second-time-around nom de plume. The first I dumped post serious riding accident along with books published back in 1994 within mainstream romantic suspense & erotic genre. When I came back to writing I dared not use my married surname for security reasons (his), so I snatched a surname from my family tree and utilised my second forename name. It’s been quite tough creating a whole new platform without overt publicity, and perhaps stubborn resolve to do things my own way this time has kind of played major role in keeping my previous successes low key. I really did not want a publisher telling me what I could or could not do, nor did I want to spend hours travelling to promote my books on R&TV etc., and endure the dreaded book signings some publishers are so stuck on… Hence when Choc-Lit chucked my historical out the window I danced with joy! Sounds mad I know, but hell, I didn’t need them. My historical novels are staying steady on UK sales and not too bad on US sales, so phooey to publishers. It’s not about fame or money in my case , it’s about getting the books read. That said, every writer is worth dosh per word count written! ;)


    • Talli Roland says:

      Fantastic, Francine! Sounds like going in your own was definitely the right choice!

      And I hear you on the work involved in building up an author platform from scratch. It can be exhausting!

  16. David Slegg says:

    Wow, Talli. Your process sounds a lot like how I decided upon a pen name.

    Slegg is a derivation of my mother’s maiden name. I suddenly feel a lot smarter knowing that you did something similar.

  17. *lizzie starr says:

    I’ve been *lizzie since college, so that part was easy. My last name–not so romance cover worthy. I would have loved to use my mom’s maiden name, but Rice was already well taken. :)
    I was pregnant once and her name would have been Starr. So I chose *lizzie starr when I started publishing.

    Actually, I wanted to be just *lizze. Hey it works for Cher and Madonna. But my publisher wouldn’t let me go with the single name. I like starr though–and find it often gets interchanged with my legal name.

    When I publish my erotica, I wish to be known as jessa belle. Because it makes me laugh.

  18. Michele Gorman says:

    It was in fact thanks to Talli/Marsha that I have a pen name at all, for she encouraged me to publish my back catalogue … So I publish chick lit under my real name and “upmarket commercial fiction”, as my old agent called it, under a pen name.

    It wasn’t easy choosing a pen name, and in the end I went with an androgynous name: Jamie Scott. Jamie, incidentally, was my first agent’s name, and I chose Scott because of the explorer (it evokes adventure to me). Plus it’s hard to mis-spell!

    • Talli Roland says:

      I’ve both Jamie and Michele on my Kindle now. :)

      I really like Jamie Scott and I thought it was a very clever choice, actually. I’m looking forward to reading Jamie!

  19. D.D. Larsen aka Dean says:

    Mine is a somewhat boring story of my selection of D.D. Larsen as my pen name. They are my for-real initials, and Dean Larsen and Dean D. Larsen were not available as a website URL, but was. So there you go. The twitter handle was taken, so I went with @DoubleDLarsen.

    I include aka Dean after my twitter handle on my profile page so I don’t lose anyone knowing me by my full name.

    By the way, I’ve got to ask: When D.D. Scott refers to her “DH” what does that stand for. Designated Hitter? Dear Husband? I’m serious about this. I’ve never run into it before and never had the guts to ask–until now.


    • Talli Roland says:

      Hi Dean! Sounds like a valid reason to go with DD.

      As for DH… it had me stumped for a while, but like you, I didn’t want to ask. It stands for ‘darling husband’. I just call mine Mr TR! :)

      • D.D. Larsen aka Dean says:

        Mystery solved! Thanks, Talli. “Darling” is much better than Deranged or Delinquint :-)

        • D.D. Larsen aka Dean says:

          Oops, didn’t do spell check on the above before sending. And it turns out I was “delinquent” on my spelling.

          • LOL You’re too funny, Dean!

            Great post, Talli! I certainly hope all goes well with my real name. I can’t stand the thought of having to start over again with a pen name and all the branding that goes with it. I have one picked out and even have the domain name. But I got it before I stopped working for the courts as I thought there might be some conflict. Plus I didn’t want unhappy people trying to sue me because you know…we all make so much money! LOL I like the pen name I chose. It’s much cooler than my real one, but I also have a small ego and want people to know what I’ve written. I plan to publish nonfiction, suspense, horror and possibly YA. But I think readers are pretty smart and they can determine if they want to read all of them or just the genres they prefer. And who knows? Maybe they’ll actually try a new genre if they like something else I’ve written. :-)


  20. Jill James says:

    Jill James is a pen name. My husband is a cop and wanted me to use a fake name. My real name was already a published romance author so I agreed. I asked him for a name if I wasn’t me and he said Jill. My father had just passed away at that point so I added James for him. I’ve been Jill James on line for probably 8 years now. I’m just real me for my RWA chapters and National.

  21. SM Johnson says:

    SM Johnson is a simple variation of my real name. The only difficult choice I had was keeping Johnson because it is so common, but in the end I decided common was also like being anonymous, and some of my writing is BDSM erotica, so anonymous is okay. I also liked that SM is like S/M or S&M, so it was appropriate.

    One thing – before choosing a pen name, make sure you google it so that you know it is somewhat unique.

    There is another author SM Johnson out there, but she writes science/medical non-fiction, so I feel pretty confident that no one will confuse us.

    I’ll continue using my pen name for everything adult fiction, whether erotic or not. But if I ever write children’s or YA fiction, I will choose another pen name, probably a variation of my maiden name.

    Thanks for a great discussion!

  22. I’m glad I chose a pen name because I’m involved in many “respectable” organizations, including a quasi-governmental board.

    However, I wish I’d used Sue or Susan as part of my pen name because when people call me Liz or Beth or Elizabeth, I don’t realize they’re talking to me! ;)

  23. L.M. Murphy says:

    I’m a pen name too, though I’m not published (yet–aiming to fix that within a year).

    L.M. came from my real life initials, and Murphy came from Murphy’s Lawyer, which I’ve used as online screen names in writing groups for years. A lot of people knew me as Murphy from that and writing events I’ve participated in, so I combined my real initials and my nickname. Now I’m L.M. Murphy, and most of the other writers I interact with (or people editing work for me) know me as Murph or Murphy. I write dark supernatural romances, so I think the slightly different name works. I also enjoy the anonymity of it, since it’s hard to tell whether I’m male or female (option #2, though the nickname Murphy makes some people guess I’m a guy).

    The only other L.M. Murphy I’ve found was a writer of technical non-fiction stuff, so I don’t think there’ll be much confusion. I’ve found a blog called, which is a little disappointing since that means I can’t ever have the domain, but she’s not a writer, so enh, I’ll get over it. :P