What’s your name? What’s your article or book series called? Who is the main character in your book? For writers, everything revolves around names, whether or not we think about it that way. No matter if you’re a published author, one just starting your writing journey like me, or a fanfiction author as I’ve been for decades, the one constant that you have to consider is names in every facet of what you do.

From the name you use to identify your writing as “yours,” to what you’re going to title a piece of writing, to what names you use for the characters if you write fiction, there are many choices to be made. Each choice can affect how your audience perceives you, your writing, and the things you write about.

Behind the Penname

To start, let’s look at the author name. When deciding to write, whether it’s for pleasure to be shared with a select group of people like in fanfiction or it’s for future publication, an author needs to decide what name we’ll use. Often, we’ll evaluate the audience we’re interested in appealing to when making our decision.

For instance, I used three primary names for publishing fanfiction on sites like fandom archives, FanFiction.Net, and Archive of Our Own. I used each name at different times or on different websites, and I chose each name based on what I was writing at the time.

Many fanfiction authors choose a similar idea, being known as one name in one fandom and another in a different fandom. Others choose to just go by one name for everything they write. No matter which way we go, we establish an identity that becomes connected to our writing.

Published authors, or those wishing to publish, have similar decisions to make. Do you go with your legal name for everything you write? Does your legal name sound like an author in your preferred genre? Should you use a penname at all, or a different penname for each genre you write?

For personal reasons, I chose to use a penname for publishing, and for the time being, this will be the only name I publish under. Since I plan on writing in related genres, one penname works well. I like that it allows me to merge everything under a singular identity, and I hope that will make marketing my books easier in years to come.

Choosing a penname is a unique process for each writer who chooses to use one. Some may simply like the sound of certain names together. Others dive deep into the meaning of the names. My penname ties back to my fanfiction days as well as using an ancestral surname on my maternal side, both of which have sentimental value to me. Of course, deciding what name you will write under is just the tip of the iceberg.

And a Name for Every Purpose Under the Heavens

Next in the saga of naming as an author comes titles. There are so many things that authors need to title. Websites and blogs, if we use them. Articles. Books. Series. The list can be endless.

Much like the name we go by as an author, it’s important that our titles reflect what we’re writing. In fact, it may be even more so. Many of us stress over whether we’ve been clever or catchy enough to catch our audience’s attention; sometimes (all right, frequently) we worry that what we’ve come up with looks like we’re trying too hard.

Some authors choose not to name our pieces at all until we’ve completed a piece, or we’ll use a working title and change it when the time comes to publish it. Other authors choose a title right away and stick with it. These authors often find it easier to remain on task with a title to guide the way.

Personally, I am a mixture. I will name a piece after I get the idea for it or at the very least after I have a good outline started. Occasionally, the title won’t fit by the time I finish. If that happens, I’ll rename to something that works better. Usually, though, the name of the piece has set the tone for the entire thing as I write. One good thing about choosing title names, however you do it, is that you need far fewer than the names you eventually choose for characters if your focus is fiction.

A World Full of Names

In my experience and from talking with other writers, naming characters is often the most troublesome part of creating them. No matter if you’re trying to name single original characters in a piece of fanfiction or if you need to populate an entire novel of unique individuals, selecting names is time consuming at best and pull-out-your-hair-in-a-fit-of-despair frustrating at worst.

There are many resources that writers can use to choose character names, but that number can actually be overwhelming. If a writer wants to use the name lists or sites available, it is often helpful to have an idea already of what type of name we want to use. Nationality or ethnicity; gender or lack of one; traditional or modern; knowing how to narrow things down can make the daunting task easier.

I don’t know many authors who haven’t changed at least one character’s name mid-book or mid-story, as well. Your Damien may suddenly decide he’s more of a James, or your Elizabeth is far more of a Nancy. What are you, the poor author, to do except bow to the inevitable, despite all the time you put in selecting just the right names?

Name lists are a fun exercise some of us like to engage in, sometimes getting as involved as categorizing each of them by type of story we’d like to use them in or which language the name originally came from. Having a backlog of names you like can reduce some of the overall stress from having to create many characters, each with a unique name.

On the whole, no matter what type of writing you do, you’re bound to spend a lot of time focusing on names. Hopefully that excites you more than scares you! Don’t worry too much, though. Remember, you’ll be getting a lot of practice and chances to improve.

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© Allyson Pauley 2021

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