the writer is a lonely hunter

writing by Gail Aldwin and other authors

How to find a pen name

on May 30, 2015

At one particularly difficult writing group meeting, when I yet again presented the synopsis of my novel for discussion, a fellow writer told me that it wasn’t worth bothering with a synopsis, as I was too old to be published! Although I am probably one of the youngest members of the group, there is a grain of truth in the comment. Many of the debut novelists that I follow, some now into their second or third book, do have youth on their side. This got me thinking.

Chuck Palahniuk’s advice, which I’ve written about here, suggests getting an author photograph taken while young, and reuse it frequently. Not that I am young or that I’ve done anything about this, but the idea remains. Another problem is my name. Many first names are indicative of the timeframe of birth and although Gail was never a particularly popular name, it does have echoes of the 1960s. Indeed, when I checked this out, I found that Gail was the 94th most popular name in America in 1961.  If you click on the screenshot that follows and insert the information required, you can find out what your name would be today, according to the ranking of popularity for your year of birth.

Screen Shot 2015-05-30 at 09.48.00

So, how does this help me in choosing a pen name? It doesn’t because my corresponding name is Isabelle and that’s the name of my daughter. However, when a friend called Debbie entered her details, she came out as Zoe, and I did think that might be suitable. I’m still left with the problem of my surname. Chappell was my last name for 21 years, then Marshall for 9 years and I’ve been Aldwin since marrying my husband in 1991 (although Aldwin isn’t his family name – but that’s a whole different story). I don’t like the idea of moving back into an old name, so I shall select a new one. As a nod to the wonderful productions of Merchant Ivory, I’ll take a variation on Ismail’s last name to become Zoe Marchant.

How does that sound?


4 responses to “How to find a pen name

  1. Kathy Maclean says:

    Sounds like a whole different person Gail, but if you like it then go with it. My nowaday name came up as Charlotte which is really spooky as its a name I’d always planned for a daughter if I’d had one!

  2. gailaldwin says:

    Such a pretty name – at least Kate and William have used it!

  3. Cathy Randall says:

    Hi Gail. That was a fun time-waster! I suppose really though one should look for the equivalent name in 1988 or however old one wants to appear…. Also the trouble with pen names is their anonymity. If I ever get a book published I want to make damn sure everyone knows that I wrote it!!!

  4. gailaldwin says:

    Yes, there is that!

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