Thursday, 7 July 2011

What's in a Name?

When we hear a name do we automatically make assumptions about the person behind it based on our own stereotypical prejudices?
I know I am guilty.
For instance, there are some names for which I have an inherent aversion based on my previous experience of people of said name (Deirdre does it for me!) Conversely, there are other names which always rouse a positive response (Liz, for example). There is no logic in this as individuals have no control over their birth names and to attribute personality characteristics on the basis of a name is unsound. Yet many of us tend to do just that, especially on first encounters.

Fortunately, as authors we have the option to influence our image by adopting a nom de plume, but how does one choose a pen name?

It is interesting to look at some of the pseudonyms adopted by famous personalities:
Elkie Brooks = Elaine Bookbinder
Michael Crawford = Michael Dumbell-Smith
Doris Day = Doris Mary Ann van Kappelhoff
Bob Dylan = Robert Zimmerman
Judy Garland = Frances Ethel Gum
Cary Grant = Archibald Alexander leach
Elton John = Reginald Dwight

So what images do the names convey? For me, an old sounding name like Ethel conjures an image of a granny knitting socks (sorry Judy Garland) whereas Elkie conjures an image of an outgoing, carefree individual. The surnames Bookbinder and Zimmerman strike me as honourable rather than dynamic and as for Reginald Dwight... is this really the rock star to have rocked the world?

Clearly image has played an important part in the decisions of these personalities to adopt stage names and as writers we must be equally conscious of the impact of our names on our target market, too.


  1. I'd toyed with the idea of using a pen name, but nothing cool sounding came to mind so I stuck with my own and deal with the fall-out!

  2. Cary Grant's name was certainly a mouthful - no wonder he changed his!

    Makes you wonder if actors start acting, first, because of their names... I mean, if you go through life with a name like Archibald Alexander Leach, don't you think it would MAKE YOU want to stand out of the crowd and be someone -- make make 'another' name for yourself somehow? LOL

    Although, Archibald, probably wasn't such a bad name in his day... I guess!

  3. Love your blog post there Megan you are always so awesome and fresh.