August 20, 2012

A Writer's Life - Pen Name

I guess there are just too many people living on this planet to somehow avoid sharing the same name with a couple of them. You might want to look up your name in the telephone book. Or maybe not. A few might actually find out that they are blessed with a name that no other person shares with them. Praise yourself lucky. Middle names are often a sheet anchor. Sometimes they're not.

For the records – my full name is Birgit Elisabeth Lehner.

When I entered a writing competition a few years back, winning 2nd place, I suddenly got a call from – you'd never guess – a woman with the same name as mine, including the middle name. She told me that people had been congratulating her for winning and she had been absolutely clueless what everyone was talking about. She contacted the magazine and ended up on the telephone line with me. Imagine my surprise. I mean, it sure was funny. But still. I was a wee bit pissed. Most of all, I knew I had to do something about this. I could hardly blame my parents for the name they had given me. I could not blame that other woman either. Still I didn't quite like that coincidence, especially as she mentioned working for the APA (Austrian Press Agency) which also explains why people who knew her assumed it must have been her writing that short-story. That gal was writing. Like yours truly.

They say we all have a twin out there somewhere, though  I've been hoping it wouldn't be a twin in name but maybe some exotic stripper ... ok, just joking! Obviously I've been watching one too many episodes of How I Met Your Mother.

Anyway. My mission was obvious by that time. Though I might add that I had been thinking about a pen name before too. Playing around with different possibilities. Nothing too far removed from my own name. Nothing flashy. Something that was me. Something that shows where I'm coming from. Yet something that's not being shared by anyone else. Hopefully. Actually it didn't take too long for me to find the name I wanted to use as my pen name. While I have never been too fond of my first name as a child I decided to keep that one. I kinda grew a liking to it. It's Swedish by the way. I'm not. But that's a whole different story. Furthermore I decided to drop my middle name. No other reason except for trying to keep the full name short and the additional Elisabeth would have gotten in the way of that goal. Left was the question of what to do with the last name. As mentioned above, I wanted to stay true to myself and where I am coming from. And like an epiphany it became clear to me one day. I choose my maternal grandparent's last names, putting my grandpa's name and my granny's maiden name together.

Birgit Horvath-Muck

I googled it.
And I liked the result.

To all those writers out there - are you writing under your given name or did you go for a pen name as well? If so, why did you decide that your real name just won't cut it? Any similar experiences to mine? Let me know!

12 comments:

  1. I was wondering about that. Good name, and sounds very stylish. Even though Horvath always makes me think of Ödon von...who bored me to death on school, :)

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    1. Why thank you! *smile*
      I too like the sound of it though I'm not sure I want to know what English-language folks might think of the "Muck"-part, hahaha!

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  2. That's a very interesting annecdote...and I can imagine your feeling annoyed about it. My mom told me that she once had a student with the exact same name as mine,...surname et al. I wouldn't be surprised if there are more who share my entire name as well...especially as the surname is really quite common in my country, (although my first name is a bit unusual).

    You've chosen an interesting name for yourself...erm...how do you pronounce "Muck"?...

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    1. I bet many of us have name-twins, some more so than others.

      The "U" in Muck is pronounced like the "U" in "bush" or "sugar".

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  3. I write under "L.S. Engler" for several reasons, and none of them are really out of consideration for the fact that there are a few other Laura Englers out there. The biggest reason is just that I like the sound of it. It calls up, to me, some of my favorite writers: C.S. Lewis, T.S. Eliot, etc. And the big difference is that my middle name doesn't start with an S, but my nickname for some people does. So instead of an E, I went with an S, to touch on that part of my life that the name wouldn't otherwise convey.

    And then I started using it, and I liked it, and so it shall be.

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    1. Thanks for sharing! Your name has definitely a nice ring to it and I've always liked how initials make an author's name sound both classic and mysterious!

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  4. I am lucky -- I'm the only person with my full name out there. I have considered using a penname, though, and all the ones I think up have tons of Google results, or there are already authors using it.

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    1. It's interesting you thought about a pen name despite having a unique name already. Praise yourself lucky for not having a name twin (or twins) out there!

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  5. When I was trying to set up my Etsy shop, I found out there was already another person with my first and last name- and it's not like my last name is Smith. :) She is also in the midwest- which could have made things really confusing.

    I always use my middle initial, which helps 'distinguish' me. So far though, I haven't found the need for a pen name.

    Hey! We have the same middle name. Well, except mine is with a 'z' not an 's'. We're more like twins every day. Sorry to spoil the exotic stripper fantasy though.

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    1. I remember you mentioning that. Maybe you should contact that lady asking what her middle name is ... if you share the same one it's time you thought out a pen name too! Or more like a yarn name, hahaha!

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  6. What an interesting post! I know that my co-author has a popular name, but so far I don't know anyone else with my name. I may have to Google it again though. :) I write under my name because I have always liked my name and haven't run into any problems with it. It was fascinating to learn how you came up with your pen name.
    ~Jess

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    1. I guess in times before Google we wouldn't even have given this all that much thought. Besides, I doubt you'd run into problems even if you shared the same name with other authors ... unless your real name is Joanne Kathleen Rowling and you like to write about wizards too! ;-)

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