The Thing About Names

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jul 21 2010

I have recently become a fan of a new author, one who has been around for a few years, but who I’ve just discovered. I’ve made attempts to recommend her work to everyone I meet. That’s how much I love it. The problem? I can never remember her name.

The author is publishing with two last names. You know, like Jessica Faust Smith, and for the life of me I can’t keep those names straight. I can’t remember which goes first, and for some reason, in her case, the names are similar enough that they blend together for me. This is why a name does matter and a pseudonym might be important. Names are tricky things, and when choosing what to publish under I always recommend something that’s simple, classic, stands out a little, but not too much. And you also want a name that people will be able to remember well enough to repeat to everyone they know.

The other problem with two last names is that the bookstores don’t always know where to shelve the book. If I’m publishing under Jessica Faust Smith, I will guarantee some will place my books under F while others will drop them under S. This is only a problem for those readers searching for books who refuse to ask for help.


37 responses to “The Thing About Names”

  1. I agree. When I chose a pen name, I chose a first name that was different than other romance writers, which I loved, and the last name was based on where my book would sit (got the idea from Julia Quinn) on the shelves when (see the optimism?) I get published. Definitely avoided a double last name, though. People have to remember the name in the first place, I want to make it as easy as possible (hence the unusual first name in the romance world).

  2. Avatar Rowan Spence says:

    I never thought of the shelving issue, but it makes sense. Rowan Spence is my pen name; my true name has two last names and at my job people struggle with what to call me or how to credit me.

    I picked Rowan for a number of reasons, but one of which is that it's androgynous. I feel like people unintentionally project different traits based on gender, this way I partially remove that variable from the equation.

  3. Avatar Erika Marks says:

    Good advice. I adopted a double last name after marrying, but when it came time to sign my book contract, I kept it simple and used only my maiden name.

  4. Simon Hay, like what cows eat. I'll be under Hay, or food for cows. I'm one of those people who don't ask for help. Why do we do that?

  5. Avatar wry wryter says:

    In Border's recently the author I was searching for was on the bottom shelf. Kneeling down was easy but I was worried someone would trip over my hunched body or my feet which stuck out behind me.

    I was wearing 'they-were-my-daughter's-jeans',so I wondered had they slid so low in the back I would be mistaken for a middle aged plumber checking the pipes.

    Anyway, while I was down there in bifocal hell tilting my head in order to read the names I thought…being on the bottom shelf sucks.

    So, I'm changing my pen name to an 'A' name like Austin maybe, simple, straight forward. For my first name how about something a little old fashioned but easy like Jane. I like that, Jane Austin.
    Oh wait, it's been used before, the books are classic. I could use her partner's name though, how about Dick.

    I never did find the book I was looking for and getting up was a bitch.

  6. Avatar Mark Terry says:

    Interesting, since I've been accused of having two first names.

    There's a local election in a couple weeks, so a lot of lawns are sprouting Vote For… signs. One of the candidates name is: Copper Rizzo.

    I mean, really. Copper Rizzo?

  7. Avatar Peg says:

    One of my favorite authors is Julia Spencer Fleming, and I'm never sure whether to start looking under "S" or "F." Same with Cynthia Harrod Eagles. And Wendy Corsi Staub. Hmmm, definitely something to think about!

  8. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    I didn't have a choice as there was already a successfully published romance author using my real name–I didn't even consider changing my first name because I KNOW I'd never figure out people were talking to me, but I chose my husband's first name as my last. He's always been so supportive it seemed like the right thing to do. It's worked well, other than the fact there was another romance author with a couple of books out about thirty years ago with the same name. Unfortunately, I made my decision pre-Google and didn't realize there'd been another ahead of me, but in my case, the simple name seems to work well.

    Regarding shelf placement–I'm on the top, in the middle or on the bottom. It all depends on the stores and the number of shelves/books/etc.

  9. Avatar Mim says:

    I have the same problem with one of my favorite authors. She has two last names, that both start with A.
    Sarah Addison Allen. Awesome books, and I adore her writing, but I always mess it up.

  10. Great tips, Jessica! And there are so many who use three names.

  11. How do the Hispanphone countries handle this? Double names are virtually obligatory. In the UK, a double name like Smith-Jones is usually hyphenated, and is indexed under the first letter.

  12. As far as the shelving issue, it can be a problem for employees at the bookstore, too. I worked at a chain bookstore a couple summers. Somewhere in all the training information it said that books whose authors had two names were to be alphabetized according to the first of the two surnames. So Arthur Conan Doyle would be in the c's. Well, I can tell you that he was shelved under D most often.

    So even if you're having an employee help you it can become a hassle.

    It's definitely something to think about though.

  13. Because of the Internet and online sellers, an author should also have a name that is easily spelled. A misspelled name usually gives no results.

    My last name is easy enough, but the variant spelling of "Marilyn" causes no ends of trouble for me because even long-time friends can't remember to add the second "n."

    Even Stephen King has the same problem with people getting his first name right.

    There's also the danger of using your legal name as your author name in these days of stalkers and identity theft.

  14. @Jessica: Who is the author you like to recommend?

    @Mark: You do have two first names.

  15. Avatar Lexi says:

    I made up 'Revellian' so that I'd come up first in Google if anyone looked for Lexi Revellian.

    A cunning plan…

  16. Great point. I've been mulling the name thing over lately, and I'll keep your advice in mind. 😉

  17. Avatar Margaret says:

    This article touches close to home. I've spent a lot of time on this very issue because my name is already being used not once but at least three times in various forms of publishing, but my maiden name by itself is heavily weighted to family geneology research.

    Because of this, I go by my full name with both last names since that's unique to me. However, I have already experienced the filing issue with my short story sales so I may end up under a pseudonym after all.

  18. Avatar ryan field says:

    Try googling an author name that goes up against one of the most popular athletic fields in the country 🙂

  19. I can see this being a problem, but have mentally adjusted to checking both spots if I can't find an author in one. Authors with double last names, or publishing with a middle name (and it's sometimes ambiguous whether it's a middle or last name) almost always seem to get filed under the final name in my experience, unless it's a hyphenated double last name. Then it's just treated as one name. This is probably why I was a bit puzzled by Stephanie McGee's comment that Arthur Conan Doyle should have been shelved in the Cs. I thought Conan was a middle name, and on spines of his work I've always just seen "Doyle" if the full name wasn't printed.

    I write SF and fantasy, so when/if I ever get published, I'll be in good company: near Ursula K. Leguin, Mercedes Lackey, C.S. Lewis, and so on. All very popular authors, so people will be looking at those shelves. Of course, this is assuming I use my current (maiden) name, but even if I get married before I publish, I still plan to go with my maiden name because the placement would be so good.

  20. You don't want to see how I get filed….

    I've thought about changing my first name to "Melancholy"

  21. Avatar Mark Terry says:

    Another amusing thought. There's a very fine crime novelist named G.M. Ford. The G actually stands for Gerry, but honestly, for the long time googling him was nothing but a pain in the tuckus.

  22. Avatar Sheila Cull says:

    Jessica, that was funny.

    Well, move over Jessica Faust Smith. I'm Sheila (as in Tequila but I have reasons to abhor alcohol now, and I do) Cull (as in Cullen, to take the good from the bad).

    Sheila Cull

  23. Avatar kellyeparish says:

    The name thing is one issue I've not been looking forward to with regards publishing a novel. Every single person I've ran across immediately interprets my name as a typo when they see it in print, without fail.

    But maybe that extra "e" will help me stand out in the stacks? Here's hoping…

  24. Avatar Vatche says:

    Interesting thoughts that are most definitely true. I will definitely take this into consideration if I ever find myself wanting a pseudonym. Also if you ever remember the name of that author, I would love to hear what great stories she writes.

    Write on!

  25. Avatar Steph Damore says:

    My last name technically has an apostrophe in it (D'Amore) but no one can ever seem to pronounce it right. Damore seems so much easier. I don't want to be known as "what's her name."

  26. Avatar Heidi Willis says:

    Great points! I always figured I'd go by my maiden name. It felt more me, and it's long and very unique.

    Unfortunately, it's long and very unique.

    I decided since most people couldn't pronounce it, let alone spell it, I'd stick with my boring but easy married name.

    The only others I've come across with my name are a councilman in Seattle and an artist in Australia. I'm fine with that company.

  27. I've often considered this, because my married name is impossible to say correctly. My maiden name is easier, but still unique, so I might go back to that for my writing.

    Ah, decisions, decisions! 🙂 Thanks for the post, Jessica.


  28. Avatar Jemi Fraser says:

    Great tips, Jessica! Thanks as always for the great advice 🙂

  29. Write or repeat to yourself her initials a few times. That should help it stick.

  30. I usually Google a book title. Also, fantasticfiction UK can give you all the author's pseudonyms and the books published under their names.

  31. Avatar Nicole says:

    Yep. Books getting misplaced due to names totally happens all the time. Which is why every time I'm looking for a book for a customer, I make a point to check both spots (especially when it says we only have 1 in stock. That number sucks).

  32. Avatar Nicole says:

    P.S. I won't ever have this problem: I don't have a middle name! =D

  33. Avatar Malin says:

    I got the spelling problem to worry about – because strangely (!)no English speaker seem to be able to understand the fine differences between Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic and pure americanized versions of a Scandinavian name.

  34. I spent a lot of time working through this years ago, and settled on the pseudonym I still use.

    "Altharas" is the name of one of the first characters I ever created when I was young, so there's a nice bit of history for me there. It happily has favorable shelving position, since I wasn't considering that when I settled on it.

    I've always been partial to pseudonyms with initials, so personal preference led me there. Whether it satisfies the nuances of a well-chosen name or not…I'm not sure, but I've been wearing it for a while and I think it's easy to remember.

  35. Avatar LivelyClamor says:

    I went through a rather complicated journey picking out a pen name. It involved some personal experiences (for example, a simplified version of my SCA alter ego, which itself evolved over time.) Then I googled it and picked one variant spelling over another because I wound up straying into the blog of an overtly gang-infatuated woman using the first one. Didn't want to go there.
    Of course it's irrelevant at the moment because I need to do the actual work of writing something into publication-likely shape. And yes, my last name will begin with "W"! Oh, well… (laughing at myself lightens up my day)

  36. When I got my first contract, I decided a pen name might be a good thing. I write hot, and given my father-in-law was a minister of religion, I knew writing under my married name wasn't going to please either him or my mother-in-law. So I went with a variation of my first name and tacked that onto my maiden name. I figured that way I'd remember who I was supposed to be and answer if anyone actually called me by that name. I also took into account where it would sit on a bookshelf.

    Now I find there's another Alexis Fleming in Australia who publishes university text books, and one in the States who is a real estate agent. I regularly get emails for the real estate agent via my website.

  37. It's pretty clear to me that the author you are recommending to others usually pronounces and spells her name: Randy Russell.

    Let's get it right this time. 🙂