How much does a romance writer’s pseudonym matter to her readers? I’ve been thinking about this a lot as I mulled over potential pen names for my fiction-writing alter ego.
Historical fiction writers, especially ones who write English-set romances, all seem to have very English-sounding names: Eloisa. Mary. Sarah. Victoria. Somehow, my French Jacqueline does not fit very well with this traditional British bunch, especially in its nickname form. And my last name, Horne, is not only not very romantic, but it also has an unfortunate tendency to be mispronounced (yes that “e” is silent, thank you very much).
I’m not ashamed of my name; in fact, I’ve used it on all of the articles and books I’ve written as a scholar of children’s literature. Yet I thought it would be better to choose a different name for my fiction, both to keep my identity as a scholar separate from my identity as a romance writer, and to make my romance name more appealing to the romance audience. But what should I choose?
My first thought was to honor my foremothers. I’ve lost both my grandmothers (Helen and Evelyn), and my mother (Rhoda Helen), and thought I might honor them in some way through my choice. Elinor suggestions both “Helen” and “Evelyn” and sounds appropriately Regency-esque. And in honor of my feminist foremothers, I considered “Astell” for a surname, after Mary Astell, an early 18th century writer who is often called “the first English feminist” for her her advocacy of equal educational opportunities for women.
When I tried out “Elinor Astell” on several friends, though, I got universally negative feedback. No one got the reference to Mary Astell; in fact, almost everyone thought I said “Estelle,” not “Astell.” “Eleanor Estelle? Makes me think of that over-coiffed, bejeweled romance writer who was on tv back in the 70s,” one friend told me. Looked like this plan of honoring my foremothers might not be the wisest choice.
Back to the drawing board. What does one need for a pen name? Especially if one is a romance writer? Some research suggested the following:
• A name that’s easy to remember (alliteration, rhythm, familiarity of some sort)
• A name that uses words that evoke excitement, pleasure, and/or fun (Tessa Dare. Loretta Chase. Madeline Hunter.)
• A name that sounds lush and or beautiful (Eloisa. Julianna. Cecilia.)
• A name that sounds appropriate to the period in which one is writing (Victoria. Sophia. Elinor.). But not one with unpleasant connotations (no Agnes, Esther, or Hortense)
• A name that doesn’t sound too much like that of another writer (no Loreen Chase or Jo Breverly)
I came up with a long, alliterative list, and finally settled on Bliss Bennet. Bliss because it evokes happiness and pleasure, and because it’s the name of a friend of a friend whom I admire for her work in the ACLU. Bennet because of the connection to Jane Austen’s most famous heroine. Although I admit if I had really been alive during the English Regency, I’d likely be more of a Charlotte Lucas (or a maid to Charlotte Lucas), than an Elizabeth Bennet.
I’ve grown rather fond of saying “Bliss Bennet” over the last few months. If only writing capital “B”s in cursive wasn’t so damned difficult…
How important is an author’s name to you when you choose what romance novels to read?