Nom de plume versus my real name

One of my tutors said that ‘writing is like taking your knickers off in public’. And it’s exactly that. I think it’s scary, really scary trying to be a writer and even scarier showing others your work.

When I started this blog, I had a decision to make and figured that my own name was a bit hard for people to read, spell, or even pronounce. After all, how would my real name look on a book cover? Would people remember how to spell it or even guess how to say it?

I suppose that’s probably because both my first name and surname are regularly misspelled even when I meticulously print them out on forms. For example, an online application produced a name tag for a conference with my name misspelled. How is that even possible? Perhaps someone thought I didn’t spell my own name correctly and decided to ‘correct’ it for me.

My first name is sometimes spelled, or said, as Cecelia or Celia or Cecile or Celine or Cecily or Sheila or…

My surname goes under some of the following: Carelese, Careless, Carlisle, Carlson.

If I’m dictating my name over the phone or in person, I make a point of saying Cecilia – spelt ‘C-e-c-i’ and Carelse – spelt as two words ‘car’ and ‘else’.

Pronouncing my surname depends on where you’re from, with the most accurate pronunciations probably by South Africans or by those familiar with Dutch surnames. Even within my immediate family we seem to pronounce the surname differently from each other.

So I picked Lia Carel (from Ceci-Lia Carel-se) as a pen name, a nom de plume, from within my own name and started this blog as part of myself and my struggle to write.

But I’ve started to think that it’s not really how I want to be known, if I’m not using my real name.

So why can’t I use my unique, ridiculously difficult to spell, or say, real name? I know it’s a tough sell but I think it needs to be done. I could keep an anglicized version of my name but then I have the task of telling people who know me that anything I publish is not under my own name.

OK, I’ll just check what I need to ask myself to ensure I’m making the right decision (made up using Wikipedia’s page on ‘Pen name’):

1. Is my real name likely to be confused with that of another author or notable individual?

2. Do I need a pen name to avoid overexposure?

3. Do I believe that my name does not suit the genre I am writing in?

4. Do I need a pen name to avoid harming my reputation or am insufficiently established in my writing career to publish under my real name or need to save my real name for more literary works versus ordinary novels?

5. Do I need a pen name using the name of the lead character, to suggest to the reader that the book is a (fictional) autobiography?

6. As a female author, do I feel that I need a pen name to ensure my works are accepted by publishers and/or the public?

7. Do I write exposé books about espionage or crime and need to conceal my identity?

I’ve answered No to every question. Note: Question 3 – I’m currently writing science fiction novels. I also write short stories and poetry. I don’t think it matters either way.

The final question is: Do I really want to use a different name for my own work?

And the answer is: No.

OK, so now what? So now, this is the day I own who I am and my writing.

I’m Cecilia Carelse and I’m a writer. How’s it goin’?

Did you think about using a pen name or your real name when you started writing?

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2 thoughts on “Nom de plume versus my real name

  1. Good for you for standing up for your real name! I considered using a pen name for my blog because, as you say, it was a little scary to put myself out there without that protection, but now I’m glad I did it – as you say, it’s helps give you the confidence to own your writing.

    • Thanks you so much for your words. This was my scariest posting to do, ever. But I’m relieved I’ve taken the first step. I think when I started writing, I didn’t believe in my writing enough but time and more writing builds confidence and now, this post. Scary stuff. Still scared inside but it had to be done. Thanks again.

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