An Author By Any Other Name

As I come closer to self-publishing my first novel, the very important question came up: Should I use a pen name?

-I Have a Weird Name-

My given name isn’t easy for your average person. I’ve come to get used to it. I am not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that my name was misspelled no less and probably more than ten times during the process of buying my first home. You’d think with something that important that everyone involved would double check an odd name and make sure it was right before they printed out cashier checks, sale contracts, HUD statements, and insurance and remodeling estimates (yes, these are just a few examples of the documents that had my name spelled wrong).

After that fiasco, it was very clear to me that if I published, I needed to use a pen name. I can’t have people not being able to find me because my given name is too hard.

Do I want to use a pen name? Well, no. I’m not ashamed by my name, I don’t hate my name, and I really would like to see my name in print. But I feel like if I am going to succeed, I need to give prospective readers the easiest way to remember my name, and that’s by going by an easier one.

-Isn’t Just As Sweet-

Which is a whole ‘nother box of rocks in itself. Picking out a pen name is not as easy as throwing together a couple names you like to name a fictional character. This name is something that you, YOU, are going to be called from that point forward in some manner or another. You, in a way, are taking on a second identity that is also still you. It’s a nickname you assign yourself. And some names are not going to fit you. And some names are not going to fit your genre or your audience.

I first looked at the market when trying to find a name. I know that it’s said that men sell more books than women, so I wanted to pick a unisex name that could be interpreted either way, just in case. If it’s not obviously apparent from just my book cover if the author is male or female, I hope to get the benefit of the doubt and appeal to whichever gender that the prospective reader wants the author to be. But I also didn’t want to pick out a name that is mostly considered male because, again, I’m not ashamed of who I am or what my gender is. I’m a strong, independent woman and I’m proud of it!

I toyed with names like Robin, Harper, and Riley, but none of those names sounded like me. So I had to keep digging, and eventually I found the name Dana. At first, I wasn’t really sure. For being a girlie sounding name, the only Dana’s I have ever heard of were male. But after doing some more research, I found that Dana was significantly less popular with boys than it was with girls. About the ratio that I wanted. And suddenly, it clicked. I could see myself being Dana.

-Make a Last Name Last-

But I kept hitting snags with the last name. By the time I had settled on a first name, I’d learned a lot more about pen names. Pen names typically should be unique in order to minimize confusion with other authors or celebrities or even with things that might already be copyrighted or trademarked. A unique name will also allow readers to be able to find you and your books faster than if they have to sift through a million Jane Does.

But even more than that, all the last name ideas I had just didn’t flow nicely with Dana. My favorite pen name is Cassandra Clare, author of The Mortal Instruments series. The name rolls off the tongue so beautifully that I was a little upset when I found out it was a pen name because the name was just so good I didn’t want some metaphorical person to be stripped of it because it wasn’t real. As much as I tried to find alliteration and flow with Dana, I kept failing.

Eventually, I turned away from trying to make my pen name sound nice and catchy, and instead tried to focus on making it sound like me. Because this is what it’s really all about! A pen name might be a necessary evil for any number of reasons, but you also have to enjoy it. You can’t resent your pen name any more than you can resent yourself. You also can’t pretend to be someone that you are not for the same reason. Eventually, something is going to clash. This doesn’t mean you can’t go by an opposite gender name – it just still has to embody something about you as well, an atmosphere, an image, a memory.

-The Essence of a Name-

So for more inspiration, I turned towards my ancestry. I started looking for names of long lost cousins, great great great grandfathers, and even names that entered my family tree by marriage and not blood. And that’s where I found a strong name in Clark. Dana Clark. It reminded me of a short, to the point name, like Dan Brown. But it still wasn’t quite right for me. Dana Clark sounded to me more like an author of crime fiction, something I have no interest in. I’m all about fantasy and young adult realistic fiction. Plus, I did find a few mentions of a Dana Clark in my Google searches so it wasn’t totally unique. I kept digging, and finally found the name that I have decided on: Lockhart.

Lockhart is the last name of my father’s half-brother. Which I guess would be my half uncle? Or would he be a fourth uncle? Either way, Lockhart was on the other half, so the name has no relation to me, technically. But I am related to him, and to me, that’s family. My uncle Lockhart was lost to us at far too young an age, and I was too young myself to really even have any memories of him.

Lockhart is a name that I feel like I can stand by. It conveys a sense of both hope and tragedy, which is the essence of what a lot of my stories are about, and dare I say it, is also the essence of me.

Dana Lockhart.

-What Now?-

Now I have my name. Now I have to decide who I am.

I don’t plan on publishing anything I’m ashamed of, and I don’t plan on burying my identity. In the professional publishing world, I am Dana Lockhart. In my personal world, I am Kalyn Surls. Will these two worlds collide? Absolutely! There will be overlap and confusion, but ultimately, I believe that my decision to take on a pen name is going to help not only my publishing career, but my personal life as well.

And now that I finally have my name, I can start working on a book cover! Stay tuned for more information on this website or my facebook into the progress of the novel, which I am hoping to submit to Amazon Kindle Scout by the end of the month. I will probably tease a chapter and/or the book cover in the near future.

Until then!

–Dana Lockhart


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