Picking a Pen Name

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

My grandmother.  
Recently I got an e-mail from my editor. “Would you be willing to take this on? One thing – all of the writers working on this project have to use pen names.”

There are a variety of reasons that writers use pen names. A friend of mine who writes romance told me about the male members of Romance Writers of America who often use pen names. Another friend uses a pen name for her work for hire and her own name on her royalty paying jobs. Yet another writing friend, an engineer, writes science fiction and cozy mysteries under her own name and erotica under a pen name. I’ve heard from some writers that they use one name for their work for young readers and one for their thrillers and other books for an adult audience (adult as in grown up, not X-RATED ADULT). 

And yet there are other writers who eschew these conventions and write everything under one name. Brad Meltzer writes picture book biographies for young readers (I am Frida Kahlo) and picture books illustrated by Dan Santat (A New Day). But he also writes political thrillers and nonfiction about historic conspiracies. And? He writes it all under his name – Brad Meltzer. 

Still, if I wanted this job, I had to come up with a pen name. I went to my mystery writers group for assistance on how to choose a name. 

“Use your mom’s first name.” That wouldn’t work because it is also my first name. I don’t want to hand someone my full legal name if they put two and two together.

“Use your mom’s last name.” Sigh. That’s the security question I always choose.

“Pick a stripper name. Daisy Dazzle!” I think Daisy Dazzle could only be a stripper name in a cozy mystery but that’s what most of us write so it works. But I really dislike the name Daisy for a person. When I was a kid, the poodle next door was Daisy. Crazy Daisy. 
L.C. and Sue (my aunt)

Naming myself was proving tricky, and part of it is certainly the history of my name. My first name was my mom’s and my great-grandmother’s. My middle name is my aunt’s and my god-mother’s. There’s my dad’s last name and my husband’s family name. A name with no history just didn’t feel right. 

That was my clue. A name with history. When my grandparents moved to Alpine, Texas, my grandad started using his initials. L.C. But when people heard that someone new lived on Ft. Davis Road, they heard the name as Elsie. 

My pen name for some of my work for hire jobs is L.C. Edwards. And when I write I sell a cozy, I can use Elsie Edwards. Two names. One history.


Sue Bradford Edwards' is the author of over 27 books for young readers.  To find out more about her writing, visit her site and blog, One Writer's Journey.

Sue is also the instructor for  Research: Prepping to Write Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins June 7, 2021) and Writing Nonfiction for Children and Young Adults (next session begins  June 7, 2021). Her new course, Pitching, Querying and Submitting Your Work will begin on June 7, 2021).


Sioux Roslawski said...

L.C. A gender mystery. A swirl of unknown. You created a great pen name.

My question is this: why is everyone involved using a pen name? I'm curious.

Jeanine DeHoney said...

Sue, I agree with Sioux, those are great pen names. I love the history behind your name and the photos.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Thank you, Ladies! I couldn't believe it took me days to come up with such an obvious solution.

Margo Dill said...

I want to know too: Why does everyone have to use a pen name? I love both names!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Great pen names, Sue, and I love your photos, especially that one of your grandmother. :)

I used a pen name generator to come up with mine. It takes things like your real name, pet's name, street, adjective, weapon, planet, and some other descriptions to come up with several names to choose from. If anyone is looking for a pen name, check it out and see what it comes up with: www.name-generator.org.uk/pen-name

I got a bunch of crazy names because my first pet, when I was a one-year-old, was named Snooky (lol), but I picked the one that sounded real--Andrea Mackall--and I use that for various projects.

It must be some covert project for all writers to use pen names!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...


I have very firm opinions about the vast majority of "top secret" and "covert" work. But keep in mind that a grew up near a military contractor. Very strong opinions.

And I so had to laugh at the vast majority of pen names that generated for me! It doesn't help that my first pet was my mom's cat, Sissy.

For one, just slapping an S on my last name was a big thing - Sissy Bradfords. But where did Sandeep Edridge come from? That seriously doesn't match anything! And Suellen Bradviolet? Wow.

But this might be a really fun way to generate some character names.


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