Writers’ Strange Names

While reading newsletters from publishing sites and authors’ blogs this morning, it struck me how peculiar some writers’ names are.

Even the most famous of authors haven’t seen their names passed on into common usage. Have you ever met anyone called Bram (Stoker), Hunter (S. Thomson) or Ayn (Rand)?

Other old-fashioned names are seeing a resurgence in popularity. Apparently, Willa (Cather) and Anaïs (Nin) are increasingly common for girls…the latter without the correct diaeresis over the letter i.

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Willa Cather

Oscar (Wilde) is chosen for boys these days—perhaps as a sign of people being more comfortable with different sexualities—or indicative of a rise in ‘stage mums’ wishing to propel their son into the Hollywood film industry!

I’ve never known a Kingsley (Amis), Ogden (Nash), Danielle (Steel), Dashiell (Hammett), Ambrose (Bierce) or Harriet (Beecher Stowe), though these were more common in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Dashiell Hammett

Some writers are known by the initials of their forenames or they add initials to their moniker to make themselves sound distinctive. J. K. Rowling is the best-known modern example, though that was subterfuge on the part of her publisher to conceal that she was female, as it was thought that boy readers wouldn’t take to a story about wizards written by a woman. This sort of marketing deceit is referred to as ‘gender neutral’. I noticed that saying J.K. quickly sounds like “Jake” which adds to the deception, though the J comes from her first name of Joanne, and, as she doesn’t have a middle name, she chose K in memory of her paternal grandmother Kathleen. She likes to be known as Jo. I wonder how many books she’d have sold as Joanne Rowling or Jo Rowling…or would word of mouth praise have carried her books to bestseller status anyway?

Other authors who added initials to their names include Ian M. Banks…he added the M for his sci-fi books and it came from his intended middle name of Menzies. The reinventor of the Doctor Who series screenwriter Russell T. Davies added the T to distinguish himself from a newsreader of the same name.

If you choose to go this way with your author’s name, then how you punctuate your initials can cause repercussions.

Pen names are common among writers. I started out calling myself Augustus Devilheart, but came out of hiding to be just me. I have a middle name—John—which I never use, though official databases list it.

All the unusual names I’ve encountered with authors, made me wonder what strange name I could add to Paul Whybrow. I was born in a cottage in Walkern Road, Stevenage, Hertfordshire. Walkern is a village three miles from Stevenage. Thus, I could become Paul Walkern Whybrow. I don’t know if that makes me sound distinguished or archaic! It makes me think of a Wyvern, which is a two-legged dragon so I could use Wyvern to distinguish any fantasy writing I may do.

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Do you use your initials in your writer’s name?

Do you have a pen name?

Is your name unusual enough to be a marketing aid?

What made-up middle name would you add to your identity as an author?

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