Should I Use a Pseudonym?

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Pseudonym (noun): A fictitious name, often used by an author.
Also called a pen name, nom de plume, nom de guerre, or a stage name.

Bloggers often choose to use an assumed name for their brands.

Sometimes, they’re seeking anonymity since they prefer not to receive direct attention from fans.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of branding. A pseudonym might be more recognizable or memorable than their given, legal name.

In all cases, using a pseudonym is purely a matter of personal preference.

If you’re not quite sure exactly what you prefer, though, read on. We’ll get a few things sorted out.

When Should You Use a Pseudonym

The short answer is this:

Whenever you want to.

That makes for a short blog post, though, so I’ll elaborate.

When you’re in business – especially when you’re in a business (like blogging) where your personality is at the forefront – your name is a brand.

Remember this, though:

Even though your name is a branding element, it’s not anywhere near the most important one.

The way you communicate your brand will give meaning to your name – not the other way around – so don’t spend too much time on this.

There’s no reason to stress over pseudonyms. It’s not a big, important decision.

Here are some situations where a pen name is probably ideal:

  • Your name is hard to pronounce, spell, or remember
  • Your name is very common, so it might be hard to find you online
  • You share your name with an existing brand with which you don’t want to be associated
  • You’ve built a different brand using your name and you want to avoid confusion or association
  • You prefer not to have your real name be public knowledge

Of course, even if none of those conditions apply, you can still use a pen name just because you feel like it.

As long as you’re not wasting time and energy trying to come up with the perfect name, go for it!

Choosing Your Pseudonym

I have a confession to make.

These aren’t my real eyebrows:

And “Lusby” is not my real, legal last name.

My legal last name is exceptionally common, and after Googling myself (use an incognito window or someone else’s computer to Google yourself) I discovered that there are lots of people who share it.

Lusby is a family name.

When it came time to pick a pseudonym, I had a few ideas that I liked, and I spent about 10 minutes Googling them all to see if there were conflicts.

This one was the winner.

If you’re going to use an alternate alias, the Google it method works wonderfully.

Don’t agonize over it.

Don’t spend days doing opinion polls and focus groups.

Simply come up with a few ideas that you like and that you think people can spell fairly easily, Google them, and see what comes up.

I took inspiration from my family tree, but you can come up with options however you like.

Some people like alliteration – David D’Angelo from Double Your Dating is actually Eben Pagan.

Other people use their middle name as a surname, use a shortened variation of their given name, or identify themselves with initials.

You might use a baby name book.

You could pull names from your favorite fictional novels.

Perhaps you might even honor a mentor or friend by taking a variation of their name.

It doesn’t matter.

Come up with a few ideas. Google them. Make a decision.

Then move on with your life and do the branding stuff that’s actually important.

A Few Pseudonym Cautions

In general, there usually aren’t any major drawbacks to using a different name for your blogging, but there are some minor inconveniences you should know about:

Your friends will be confused.

When new people meet you, you’ll probably be introducing yourself under your pseudonym.

Your existing friends will understand that you’re using a pen name…

But they’ll also be confused about what to call you in front of those new people.

As you make friends out of your readers, they’ll likely socialize with other people who aren’t used to calling you by your “new” name.

The transition is a little strange, and there’s an adjustment period.

Eventually, you and your friends both get used to it.

Just be prepared for some awkward situations while you decide what to call yourself in social situations, and while your friends decide whether or not they’re accepting your new self-appointed nickname.

Old friends will be even more confused.

One of the joys of Facebook is reconnecting with friends from long ago from whom you haven’t heard in years.

As grownups, we’re sort of accustomed to name changes due to marriage and divorce.

But we’re not necessarily prepared for a total change in identity.

Using a pseudonym makes it harder for long lost friends to recognize you.

Most of them will get with the program, though it might require a little bit of awkward conversation.

Which brings us to the 3rd point:

Until you start to gain a little notoriety, you’ll probably feel awkward.

The first few months, maybe even the first year or so, of using a pseudonym feel a bit like you’re playing a part.

Until you start to get comfortable with that identity, you’ll feel strange introducing yourself.

There will be times when you don’t know whether to use your legal name or your pseudonym, and times where you accidentally say one when you mean the other.

Your new name is sort of like a new shoe – you’ve got to break it in, and the only way to do that is to use it.

After it ‘wears in’ the situation flips, though:

Once you’re used to using your pseudonym, it feels strange using your legal name.

There will always be situations, like filling out forms to sign up for events, where you’re not sure what to do, but those are only minor inconveniences.

You may be able to avoid some of these little growing pains if you decide to use your initials and real surname – like J.K. Rowling, whose name is Joanne.

[Side note: the K in J.K. is for Kathleen, her grandmother]

Pseudonym inconveniences are so minor that they’re basically irrelevant, like running over a piece of gravel in a car.

If you’re going to run into branding problems by using your real name, it’s definitely worth using a pen name.

Time for homework!

It’s time to Google yourself.

Make sure you’re using an incognito or private window to do this – when you browse normally, Google will look at your history and show you websites it thinks you want to see.

Browsing in incognito means that you’ll see what the rest of the world would see if they Googled your name, and that’s what you want to know.

Google your name however it would show up on your blog posts.

Take a look at the results on the front page, and in the images.

If there’s anything there that you find objectionable and definitely don’t want to be associated with, you probably want to use a pseudonym.

If the coast is clear, you’re done!

Extra Credit:

For those of you who are already using a pseudonym, it would really help out other readers if you shared in the comments how you picked it.

Where did you find inspiration?

What was your deciding factor?

Any advice for others in the same situation?

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