The Boring Reasons For Using PseudonymsI just finished reading a pretty shocking essay all about the topic of pen names, anonymity, and the importance of being able to separate your online life from your "real life". Why would anyone use a fake name? You hear that question a lot, usually mixed with "I bet they wouldn't write bad reviews if they had to use their real names," or "Who cares about the opinion of a phony, anyway?" We all know there are many reasons people use fake names, and we tend to focus on the most obvious and extravagant reason: protection. We don't want to be stalked or harassed in our real lives. There are crazies out there, people who won't just dislike a book, but who will hate it, who will--for whatever bizarre reason that exists in their heads--take the things they don't like personally. Then there is the flip side of this, the author who just can't stand that you didn't like his book and who decides he is going to argue with you about it, or worse. Self protection is the most important reason people use pseudonyms, to be sure, but there are also other reasons why someone would choose to use a "made up" name online, especially as a writer.
1) Politics: Let's face it. Politics are nasty. In this day and age, if you don't agree with someone on every political issue, you are quite likely to be labeled "one of them" and find yourself summarily black-listed. "Oh, you're thinking of reading one of HER books? I heard she supported [fill in the blank]...." A person's politics don't even need to be loud or explicit. It can take as little as an out-of-context screenshot of a Facebook comment somewhere and, before you know it, you're receiving demands to "explain" yourself. Let's not even get into the fact that campaign contributions are a matter of public record. If you know someone's real name and the county in which they live, there are apps that will tell you exactly how much that person donated and to which candidate they donated. Imagine seeing that in a Goodreads review, i.e. "Don't read any of So-and-So's books! She gave money to What's-his-Face!"
This can also take the form of PC harassment (Yes, the so-called tolerant can be very intolerant when they think you aren't being tolerant enough. Say that three times fast). No adult likes to be scolded like a child, pulled aside by the arm and told that they "shouldn't have said that" or, worse, that they "need to apologize." Them's fightin' words.
(From my personal experience, I was once taken to task because a response I had written online featured the third person "him" as a generic substitute for a hypothetical. The alternative is to write "him/her" every time, or to use the singular "one" and end up sounding like Queen Elizabeth. Until English gets a gender-less, third person singular pronoun, we're kind of stuck. In this particular instance, my defense of using the generic "him" got me labeled a--let's see if I can remember--a "patriarchy brainwashed idiot". Yes, that's something I would rather NOT have follow me to my writing career, lol.
2)Common Name: The issue of politics still sort of falls into the realm of protecting yourself, but what about something as simple as having a common name? If you're a writer or any kind of artist who is trying to make a brand of yourself, having a common name can make that nearly impossible. For instance, my real name, including the middle name, is shared by at least sixteen other people with significant online presences, and many more off-line, I'm sure. And several of them are underage. That isn't even that common. Some of us will get dozens of name match hits on Facebook alone (Smith? Gonzalez? Miller?). This is even more of a problem if there is already a published author out there who shares your real name or something close to it. Why go through the hassle of trying to make "a name" for yourself when your name is John Smith? Talk about a futile endeavor.
3) You Hate Your Name: Maybe your parents thought they were being clever when they named you Percival, and even more so when your last name is Merciful. Or maybe it isn't that your name is embarrassing or silly or whatever other hangup you have with it...maybe it's just strange. Guicciardi is a beautiful surname, if you can manage to pronounce it correctly, and spell it correctly, and fit it onto your ebook cover art without making it 10 pt. font. If you haven't noticed, some search engines are VERY unforgiving with spelling errors.
"Oh! You can't spell this thing exactly right? Oh, well! Too bad! No book for you!"
~ Sincerely, the search engines on Goodreads and Smashwords.
We also should acknowledge that even the most tolerant among us still have those ingrained "reactions" to things that have stereotypes, and names don't escape this. A woman named Candy will struggle to be taken seriously all her life, no matter what. A man named Ezekiel will have to explain that he is not devoutly religious to pretty much everyone until his dying day, because that name just makes people assume that he is.
And sometimes, we just want a name that sounds better. Many actors change their names early in their careers in order to make them more memorable, more flowing. There is, apparently, a science to this. Some name combination just work better to the human ear *See Name Nerds - Rhythm .For whatever reason, some people just don't like their real names, and that's just fine. It's their business.
4) Pre-Established Name: This reason is probably less common, but still happens. In this instance, your real name is already noteworthy for something else and you just don't want to "mix media" so to speak. I know an indie published author of gay romance who is a pretty well known museum curator, with many editor credits for exhibition books very popular in their genre under her belt. It isn't that she is embarrassed or trying to "hide" her fiction writing...it's just that she doesn't want the two very different fields of her work to overlap and cause confusion. There are still people today who are confused every time they pick up a Stephen King novel and it isn't horror. Sometimes, people can only attach one limited reputation to a single name.
So, the whole point of all this is that people need to relax about the fake name issue (hear that, Facebook?). The simple fact is the vast majority of us will never meet or never personally know the people we interact with online, so what difference does it make if we know their real names or not? And even if we do meet them in real life, is it even necessary then? Is the author you geek out over and always wanted to meet any less talented, funny, kind, or anything else just because you STILL don't know what's written on their birth certificates? Get over it! =P