How to select a pen name…

When I started writing erotic romance that included a bit of kink, I knew from the start that I would use a pseudonym not only to protect my privacy, but also because my legal name is difficult for people to pronounce when they see it written and hard for them to spell when they hear it spoken. And it’s long.

Since I was writing erotic fiction, I wanted a name that sounded sensual without being over-the-top sexual. So no Lolita, or as my husband jokingly suggested, CarLotta Cummings.

I had considered a lot of names, but kept returning to Cara — pronounced CAR uh — which means “dear” in Italian. A term of endearment. I liked that. For my last name, I was adamant: since I had the opportunity to name myself, I did not want a nom de plume that was derivative of a man’s name. So no Williams, Carlson, Mitchell, etc. I liked the sound of Bristol, which, by the way, DH suggested (so maybe I didn’t name myself after all.).

However, Cara is all mine.

But what about your pen name? Do you need one? Why would you want one? Here are some reasons:

  1. To establish an author identity separate from your other professional life.
  2. To protect your other professional identity/reputation. If you’re a school teacher and you’re writing about kinky sex, a pen name is probably the only way to go. If you work in an industry and you’re writing fiction knocking that industry, you might want to use a pseudonym.
  3. To protect your privacy and that of your family. Will your middle school or high school age child appreciate it when all his or her friends know what mom writes?
  4. To distinguish between the different genres you write. You don’t want readers to pick up your no-holds-barred BDSM novel expecting a sweet romance. Or pick up your historical novel and expect science fiction. Yes, covers and blurbs should alert readers as to which is which, but trust me, they don’t  always!
  5. Your own name is hard to spell or too long.
  6. Your name is too common and used by too many other authors or too many other people period.
  7. You don’t like your name or it doesn’t fit your genre. If your name really is CarLotta Cummings and you want to write children’s books or religious fiction, you might want another name. If you’ve always hated your name, why not change it?

Things to consider when picking a pen name

  1. The tone. What feeling or emotion does it evoke? Does it sound sexy, authoritative, masculine, feminine, friendly, etc. How does it fit with your genre?
  2. Spelling. Don’t go creative. Pick a name that is easy to spell and use the most traditional spelling.  You want readers to find you! Candy is a much better pen name than Khandi.
  3. Pick a name that is not used much. You don’t want to share a name with 30 other authors no matter how cool the name is. You can achieve distinction through the combination of first and last name, but also consider the commonness of the last name. Black, for instance, is used by many romance authors. In an alphabetical list, you want to stand out. Run a search on to see how many authors pop up with your name.
  4. Google your potential name to see who else has it.
  5. Check the availability of your pseudonym as a domain name, and on Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, and other key social media. Ideally, you want to be able to use as your domain, rather than, or If your name is not available, consider another one.
  6. Keep your name — first and last — relatively short. Remember, it needs to fit on a book cover. The longer your name, the smaller the typeface will need to be. Your name should stand out. For instance, Alexandria Covington-Williamson would not be the best choice for a pen name. Remember: when you are a rich and famous author and people are lined up around the block for your autograph, you’ll appreciate having a short name to sign. 🙂

The ultimate goal in choosing a pen name is to sell books. Your books. Make it easy for your readers to find you.


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10 Responses to How to select a pen name…

  1. Hi Cara! Pauline Allan is my pen name. I was sitting at my favorite dive bar many moons ago and had written down three first names on a piece of paper and three last names. All the names were very sentimental to me. I let the local patrons o the tiny gay bar vote for my name. I had no aspirations of being published at the time. I had just written a book and wanted my name on it. Lol. So, here I am now. Books and name out for the world to see! So…Pauline is named for Pauline Reage who wrote Story of O (whose real name was Anne Desclos), and Allan for the love of my literary life Edgar Allan Poe. 🙂

  2. I came up with my pen name kind of last minute. It was longer at first but I just cut it down. It’s a play on my real name which is WAY too hard for people to spell (even my husband, after 4 years of dating couldn’t get it right – and no, he’s not slow!)

    I have to say, if I could do it again, I might go with something less slutty sounding. I do think it sounds slutty and I don’t like that part! It is easy to remember, flows well, fits on a page and easy to spell. But still…

    On the up side, I just sign all my mail with an N as my real name also begins with N so even if I’m thinking as Natasha and I reply to my kids’ teachers and sign N, hey, it’s ok. 🙂

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I don’t think Natasha sounds slutty at all. Funny, but my husband thought “Carmen” sounded sexy. I was like, “Carmen? Really?” He said, “Oh, yeah!”

  3. houston_switch says:

    Interesting read…. not thought about a pen name…maybe I should.
    houston_switch (at)yahoo (dot)com

  4. Great post, Cara!

    I chose Celeste years ago when I started writing for Discipline and Desire. I like C names and just a first name was sufficient. I had no idea then (2003-4) that I would be writing ebooks. When I opened a Celeste email account and the email program asked for a last name, I panicked and chose Jones. Not the best way to go, but that’s what I’ve got.

    But, Celeste and I have been having a good time, so I guess I’ll stick with her. 🙂

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I like C names too! When I first wrote Unexpected Consequences, I had four characters all with “C” names. Jared was originally Chase/Case and Tucker was Chuck. I kept Conner and Candi.

      And, of course, I’m Cara.

  5. Basia Rose says:

    I love the name Cara. 🙂
    Because we always pronounce Cara-Tara etc. that way in Australia, I didn’t realise anybody would think otherwise.

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