More than a place--it's a writer's muse.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pseudonyms: What's in a Name?

Shakespeare probably wasn't the first to wonder, but his words (spoken through the immortal trope of Juliet) are most frequently remembered as asking "What's in a name?"

Many ancient cultures (and even more recent magically-based cultures, subcultures and faiths) believe(d) names held power. The true name (or the soul's name) gave those who knew it power over the one it belonged to. A quick example? The tale of Rumpelstiltskin in which he has claim to the woman's child (her most important contribution to society at the time) until she learns his name.

As writers we hope to be bold (honestly, who wants to read a dull and sparkless book?). Some want our words to inspire, some to incite. Even as "just an author of werewolves" (which to an extent I believe may lead to dismissals of my novels' underlying themes) I hope my writing makes people think. "What's in a name" is something that is laced through my novels-- some will put the puzzle together before the end and some won't. But it's my obsession with names that led to my pseudonym of Saoirse Redgrave.

Saoirse means "freedom" (exactly what a psuedonym should give an author, imho) and I chose it specifically (well, after finding out that Sarah Redgrave--my previous pseudonym, very shortly lived when I returned to PA--belonged to a real gal in NY, where I moved). I thought I was set. I could write under two names, doing educational and "upright" things with Shannon and doing things certain branches of my family might consider questionable (like writing werewolves) as Saoirse.

And it looked like it could work. Saoirse did well for me, writing some freelance ghost-related articles at a popular site and throwing in with to do my pirate story and my "canon fodder story" 13 to Life. If 13 to Life was a flop, I could ditch Saoirse.

But it didn't flop. And Saoirse's hard to spell (all those vowels clumping together!). I went to RWA in DC under the name Saoirse (she's still my official pen name in the organization) and everyone asked how to pronounce it and then said it was absolutely lovely. Some folks recognized it from my @AuthorSaoirse_R Twitter account (now defunct). Heck, Jenny Crusie even signed a book to me: "For Saoirse, whose name is going to look great on a book cover!"

But approaching the St. Martin's Press party at Bardeo, I had the sense that Saoirse might not make it out alive. I knew I'd be meeting my publisher, Matthew Shear. I knew he wasn't totally sold on my book's title (and yet it was SO integral) and I decided if there was a deal to be made, I might just make it.

I shook Mr. Shear's hand, introducing myself as "Michael Homler's girl" since I knew no other editor at SMP then and when Matthew said "13 to Life?" I replied, "Yes, please." He smiled. "We'll talk about it," he assured. Later, standing by the bar and chatting, Mr. Shear said something about the name Saoirse. Something about it being tough for people to pronounce. P.C. Cast was standing there (I was gobsmacked to be talking with her and her father and my publisher--no wonder my brain misfired).

P.C. asked me to spell Saoirse. I did (and yes, I got it right) and she said, "That is difficult." Boom! It was the nail in Saoirse's coffin. And later, when I learned 13 to Life was being kept but that Mr. Shear let my editor Michael know I was willing to change Saoirse... Well, the deal was done.

Last night on the phone my brother was laughing at me about the whole situation.

"So--" he said, "There's no escaping this, huh?"

"No," I agreed.

"You're a werewolf writer," he said.

He knows I hate labels that simplify stuff. I am NOT an Occam's Razor fan.

"And the family?" he asked. I knew which one he meant.

"Will surely disown me by book 3," I confirmed. "Heavy petting," I specified.

He snorted. Then laughed. A lot.

So, kids. When you're devising your pseudonyms, follow the KISS principle, and "keep it simple, stupid." ;-) What's in a name? Your location, your phone number, important details about your life.

And yes, I'm going unlisted. Soon. ;-)


Robin said...

Saoirse will always be remembered. I also would bet that those "certain" family members won't be to harsh when you start raking in the $$$. We could always refer to you as "The writer preciously known as Saoirse".

Shannon Reinbold-Gee said...

LOL--I appreciate that sentiment, Robin! Yeah, we'll see how that branch of the family takes things...I may actually have allowed them a fabulous option at self-martyrdom.

Brother's convinced they'll burn me in effigy. I laughed. Outside of the werewolves and external conflicts in my series, the internal conflicts and teen issues seem accurate considering my time as a teacher (and previous teen). I want that accuracy.

And, the more I chat with folks about the books, the more I hear that no matter what you do, you'll never please everyone. And there will be crazies. Seems like things are never dull in the publishing world. ;-)

Perseus Grump said...

Interesting how the real world creeps up on you in regards to a name.

In 2004 I self-published my first novel and shortly after searched my own name via the Internet to see if my marketing efforts had created some kind of blip on the world’s “New Author” radar. Imagine, a Youth Fantasy Adventure Novelist being the first to coin the phrase “MILF!” I was horrified, as suddenly my name, MY GIVEN NAME, became something unspeakable around children.

My advice in choosing a pseudonym, be certain that you didn’t murder someone, star in some nasty, off coloured, movie or were involved in a scandal as a corrupt politician.

Research, research and more research!

Don Lafferty said...

NO INITIALS! I work with L.A. Banks. NYT best-seller, USA Today best-seller, Essence Storyteller of the Year...and impossible to search in a bookseller database.

Jane Smith is available, kid.

Take Holmer to a Yanks game...

Shannon Reinbold-Gee said...

Perseus! WOW! That would have freaked me out, too. It stuns me how many people can just snatch up a name and run it into the ground. An aunt of mine (now deceased) was absolutely certain I'd spread horrible defamatory stories about my family under a different version of my actual name--insisting it was on the internet. I finally found what she was talking about: another writer with 2/3 of my hyphenated name popped up (she was a survivor of childhood sexual assault--and she came out against her family publicly). Although she was clearly of a different race (and pictured with the articles) my aunt (bless her heart ;-) insisted it was me. Talk about a mess!

Don, that's a great point about initials making it hard to find you in a search with booksellers--hadn't thought about that. And plain Jane? LOL. Not quite my style. ;-)

Having broken in as a cell phone novelist, I did toy with the idea of a single name (all the rage in Asia) but decided since Madonna was taken, I'd stick with what I've got. ;-)

Thanks for stopping in!

Kelly Daniels said...

I'll admit it; Kelly Daniels is a pen name. My sister and I write together and neither of us wanted to use our real names so we chose our Dad's name and flipped it.

I don't know how happy he would be to have his name on romance and YA books but we have decided that if and when we get published a portion of the sales will go to Veteran charities in his honor.

Shannon Reinbold-Gee said...

Kelly (or whoever you are ;-). I think it's a fine thing to use names that way, and definitely put part of the proceeds towards something in his honor--great idea. I've gotten involved in a bunch of things already with helping to raise awareness and money for different causes through my writing. It's important to put back into the community any time we can. :-)

Anonymous said...

I never had a doubt I would use a pen name. I don't want my family to have to deal with the publicity should I manage to grab that brass ring.

I did KISS with "Jessica Rosen," a name which has become so comfortable through the years that it's like a favorite pair of shoes.

I loved your story and your advice. Thanks for sharing it.

Take care,
Jessica Rosen

Robin said...

My maiden name is Slavic and though if you look at the way it is spelled, it is phonetically correct. It just takes awhile for people to sound out the 12 letters. So, my pen name (you will see it here first) will most likely be Robin E. Harris. Why not stay with Robin Wright? "W" is on the other end of the alphabet, and i figure landing in the middle would be just fine with me. Plus, a certain Charlaine Harris would be my neighbor on the shelf...

Shannon Reinbold-Gee said...


I agree, your pen name works well, and as for family dealing with the press when a writer grabs that brass ring--my remaining family would do admirably. My father willingly chats with anyone about anything and my brother's quick to put a clever spin on things. My in-laws are bright and strong folks who say exactly what's on their mind, they'd cope, too. ;-)

See! Robin, I thought about that, too--the last name positioning dilly-o. But (even removing part of my hyphenated name is just one disaster after another). And neither of the parts of my hyphenated last name have ever been consistently spelled or pronounced the same way, so I'll just have to cope I guess. Yours will work, though.

Liane Gentry Skye said...

*sigh* I love Saoirse, and were I ever to be blessed with another girl child (insert image of DH fainting dead away), I swear, that's what I'd name her. This was a beautiful post, Shannon. Thanks so much for sharing your wit and wisdome with us!

Liane <---pronounced LEE-AH-NEE,which is my middle name. Most say LEE ANNE, which I gave in to, and yeah, I see the old name change coming down the pike.

Shannon Reinbold-Gee said...

LOL-- Liane, it seems we all have name and pseudonym issues to consider. ;-)

Glad to share. :-)

SarannaDeWylde said...

I chose Saranna DeWylde when I was 12. It's basically "Sara of the wild" and man, does it ever fit like a handcrafted Italian shoe. It's so me.

I thought I needed a pen name, something that brought to mind impoverished wards and dashing lords, wicked pirates and sexy highwaymen... My spouse-creature says it sounds like a porn star's name. But I don't care. I love it. If I ever put the shine on that other YA I've been kicking around, I'm sure I will need another one. I certainly wouldn't want my children reading anything off of the google pages that you'll get with Saranna DeWylde. Not to say I'm not proud of my work, but everything out of Saranna's mouth is intended for an adult audience.

I'm not so much worried about exposing my rl identity. As the other Divas know, I was a corrections officer in my day job adventures and all those freaks can find me if they are so inclined.

And, Saoirse does flow off of the tongue beautifully. But Shannon is just as lovely. :)

Shannon Reinbold-Gee said...

Thank you, Saranna (and I do adore your pen name--very cool).

I agree there needs to be a separation of pen names regarding YA and other genres (especially the erotic stuff). It's good for readers and definitely part of the current "branding" mentality.

Cheryl Kaye Tardif said...

Hello Shannon/Saiorse:

Congratulations on all your success!! I am very excited for you, especially since I knew you before you were Shannon Delaney. lol

I'm getting ready for a major virtual book tour for Lancelot's Lady, which debuts September 27th. The tour runs from Sept 28-Oct 10 and I'm looking for hosts who will allow me to be a guest blogger.

Would you consider hosting me on Texting Between the Sheets?

Since Lancelot's Lady was a contestant in the Textnovel/Dorchester Next Best Celler contest, I thought your blog would be an awesome stop on the tour.

I'm making it worth my hosts while. Free ebooks will be given to all hosts. Also, your readers who leave a comment and email on my post will receive free giveaways as well.

Sound like fun? I hope so.

Please email me at cherylktardif (at) and let me know if you'd like to be part of my "Cherish the Romance" Virtual Book Tour.

Cherish D'Angelo
(aka Cheryl Kaye Tardif)

The Sanibel Divas © 2007 Template feito por Templates para Você