What if your family hates your pen name? A request for advice!

A very interesting question came in from a Wonderful Reader:

I have a question. My pen name is my grandmother’s name. It took a long time and a lot of thought to chose that name, but now various members of the family (grandchildren and great-grandchildren of all things — she’s been dead for over 60 years and I never knew her) are offended that I’m publishing, even daring to blog in her name. Should I change to make them all happy? Should I write only “nice” things under that name? I’d love to know how you came to your name and what you think.

(She agreed to let me post this on the main page to ask a wider audience for help, though she’s asked to remain anonymous.)

Readers, what do you think? Anyone face anything similar? How did you resolve it? What happened to your relationships with your family? With your writing? With your sense of self?

And even if it didn’t happen to you, what do you think of this? Dead for over 60 years? On the other hand, who “owns” a name? And who are we to hurt people, even if inadvertently? And what does a writer do if they can only write “nice” things?

A very fascinating set of issues here. Please feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments!

Advertisements

37 thoughts on “What if your family hates your pen name? A request for advice!

  1. Tough one. Ultimately your family will drive readership to and from your site, or make your life miserable, even if your intentions are good. Might have to change it. I blogged for over a year before I told family I was blogging. I don’t use a fake name to hide behind either. I had to be selective with the stories I told as I didn’t think my mum needed to hear about how reckless I was in my 20s.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Several issues here. First of all, why writer under a pen name? I believe this is discouraged unless there’s some really heavy shit involved. And if that’s the case, perhaps it explains the family’s reaction. Bottom line: it’s the writer’s decision, but she should think carefully about the reasons behind the choice and the consequences for the family.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I agree with MELewis, pseudonyms don’t work for me. I think we have been given our own identification, and unless we are hiding from the world for whatever reasons, we should be able to be traced by our handiworks even when we are gone. Using someone else’s name sure does not sound right, especially if many want to forget that person. But these are just my thoughts.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. And I agree with both MELewis and amoafowaa. At one brief point I considered using a pen name, but after giving that some thought, I felt that in getting published, the moment wouldn’t feel real because the name on the cover wouldn’t really be mine.

        Liked by 3 people

  3. I doubt writing can be categorized into “nice” and “bad” things. In my perspective it’s more about what’s interesting and deep and what is shallow and well, vague. If she can reel in a few readers make it worthwhile for them, then she’s doing her granny proud.

    Like

  4. Oh for goodness sake. Write under a pen name – there’s no reason other than it gives freedom of expression for those who are manipulated by small minded relatives. And secondly, it’s not JUST your grandmother’s name – it’s a pen name. I hate to say the word, but these days your grandma wouldn’t give a … Tell the relatives to jump in the lake.

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Families are sacred, it is in the least insolent to write in a name of a relative, especially one you didnt know. What’s in a name? Everything. Not only is it disrespectful of the deceased since you cannot acquire permission, but it definitely is insensitive towards the other members of the family….legacy, name, ancestry are extremely important, they tell us who we are and where we come from, you don’t just assume a name of a deceased relative, whether it is to hide behind it or to, in some dubious way, honor them, it is insensitive & arrogant or in the very least flippant.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, this notion has certainly thrown up rival camps, both as passionate as the other. What’s in a name? Was the pen name very distinctive? I can see relatives being upset if they thought that what was being expressed was disrespectful of mindset or memory. But really?

    Reminds me of the English teacher in, I think, the Sudan, who got into deep religious trouble by inadvertantly naming the class teddy bear Mohammed. Societal sensibilities were offended: there’s no accounting for irrational reactions to imagined affronts.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Before making a decision to use or not use the pen name, I think it’s important to calmly–though it may be difficult–sit down with family members and talk about why she chose the name, and why they are offended. Since Wonderful Reader spent a long time and put a lot of thought into it, I think it is very important for her family members to hear her thoughts. The passionate reactions from her family are certainly very off-putting and alarming, but progress can be made. Familial bonds, after all, are strong in a strange way and may help pull her through this conflict when compounded with honest and humble discussion, without accusations coming from her (though her family members are likely to be mean, it is important for her to remain rational and show by example that they are being a bit too reactionary).

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Some interesting thoughts here. It would never have crossed my mind that adopting the name of one of my long deceased relatives would cause affront. In my family it probably wouldn’t be an issue. In fact the family would probably be delighted that the relative was being ‘remembered’. Of course families are different, people are different. Clearly strong feelings in this writer’s family. I would drop the name (unless it’s really too late to go back) and find something neutral. Being obliged to censor yourself constantly due to your family’s ire would not be a healthy or happy thing for any writer.

    Yes, I do believe there is a place for pen names. I write horror, mostly, I do so under my own name. Now, if I decided to write a children’s book about a cute fluffy little dog, I’d probably adopt a pen name. Save upsetting parents and horror readers 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  9. I think a name reveals a lot about us. Almost everything. Look at my one. It is very, very eastern European, so people tend to question my abilities in the writing field more than other authors who write in their native language.
    However, I didn’t choose to write under a pen name.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I think you should consider changing your pen name or writing under your own name. It isn’t really something worth losing family over. I think you should at least hear what they have to say and give them a chance to explain where they’re coming from before you make your decision. But remember, there are an infinite number of names out there, but you only have one family.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I understand both sides here, as much as I can as an outsider, and see no reason for anybody to attack you for your choice. It is your choice in the end. What feels right inside? That is what you should do.

    Like

  12. Do what you want not what your family or friends expect you to do. We are here for the experience of life, not to fulfil expectations. Using your grandmother’s name as a pen name should make your family proud. If you are going to lose your family over this, as harrisclaire07 suspects, perhaps it’s time to ask your family questions. In any case, be who you want to be. It is your life, your experience.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Interesting one, I’ve been tempted to use my great-grandma’s name just because it was Blodwyn, which is pretty cool.

    I’ve got nothing against using a pen-name, I think there are all sorts of valid reasons, but if you find out it’s upsetting people that you care about, and you haven’t yet published for money under it, then it’s probably best to change it to be honest. Why fall out with people over something like that?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. The real issue is not the pen name. Family members have attacked the writer’s choice of name as a surrogate for attacking the writer herself, for adopting the vocation of writing. No matter what name she writes under, their persecution (including attempts to censor) will continue. The form it takes may change, but it will still be there.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. I think it is ultimately your decision. I can understand where your family is coming from, but it’s not their choice. Many writers use a pen name, but some don’t. At the end of the day, it is about the work, not the name of the author.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I’m guessing that the writer chose the name because of its familial significance (she’s a writer, after all; she can come up with names that just sound good on her own); so if her family disaproves, her reason for keeping it is lost.

    Or maybe it is just the best name in the world. Then secede.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I wouldn’t use a pen name. I intend to publish under my own name – it’s mine and why shouldn’t I use it? I think your family being happy that you’re successful should trump any other concerns. Do think about what you’re writing, if you’re using a family name. Writing erotica when you come from a very conservative family, using your beloved grandmother’s name, probably won’t go over well – name or no name. Otherwise, if your grandmother is fine with it, the rest of the objections really shouldn’t matter.

    Like

  18. My family is very small (only two people, apart from me) and I’ve never hidden any of my ‘pen names’/aliases etc from them. However, I’m about to publish a blog under a pen name, and I thought I might use my maternal grandmother’s last name (maiden name). I asked my mother what she thought, since you could say that she knew her mother even better than I and my sister did. She thought my grandmother, her mother, might have been flattered and pleased, so I have decided to go ahead with it.

    If my family didn’t approve, I think I, personally, wouldn’t use the name, but it’s really tough to give advice to other people. I suppose it comes down to personal circumstances. Does the original poster care what her family thinks? If she does, then I think she might have to change her pen name. If not, then she can just ignore them.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Years ago I toyed with the idea of a pen name, largely because I wanted privacy. Both from my family and readers. But then I realized that I wasn’t comfortable with that. I want ownership of my work, whether good, bad or ugly. However, that being said, I think the choice of a pen name once a writer decides to use one brings great responsibility. I, personally, would not choose a family name because each member of a family has ownership of the name. It is also part of their identity.
    The genre where the choice of whether to use a pen name is memoir. I emailed a childhood friend a piece I had written, positive in this case, asking if I should change his name and if he perceived the memory as I did. He replied that it rang true and to use his name. But, if I had written memoir containing pain and dysfunction, I would definitely have a moral quandary. In these cases, family members and others would lose privacy they may have worked so hard to obtain. In that case, I would definitely write under another name.
    is a highly individual choice, but I’m wondering why once deciding to disguise their identity by using a pen name, a writer would choose any identifying family name. Once that decision is made by a writer,
    any name a possibility, Why would a writer not choose one that is not personal in any way to family? Why does this seem like a moral stand? Why not create your own new identity in a totally original way? I see it as an opportunity, not a restriction.

    Like

  20. There are lots of reasons to use a pen name, and it’s not always about writing erotica. My real name is highly google-able (I’m the only me in the U.S., to the best of my knowledge), and I have two little kids, who are the only ones with *their* names in the U.S. either. Yay for an odd spelling of our surname. They’ll have to choose what they want to do with that, but I decided to mask my identity a little bit when I write and publish, mostly because I wanted to give them a shade of privacy, should someone be looking for *them* and find *me.*

    To the OP question, I wonder why you chose your grandmother’s name? If it was to honor or celebrate her in some way, you could try explaining that to your family, and see if they can better understand, but in the end, you may be looking at choosing between alienating your family or preserving the choice you made. I’d suggest it’s probably easier to rebuild an online audience than to create a new family, but it’s a very personal choice to need to make.

    Like

  21. I’m joining the “change the pen name” camp. a. she can’t ask permission from the grandma. b. I think pen names should be a name you don’t know and is disconnected to you (e.g. Mark Twain) or based on your own name (J D Robb), or like using only your first and middle names (e.g. Piers Anthony). Taking the name of someone else who you and your family know seems a bit like stealing to me.

    Like

  22. I used my middle name and my great great great grandmother’s last name. No one in my family seems to care. A few thought it was great that I recognized her! Some just think I use it because it’s a color. I felt close to this woman because of her Native American heritage and I thought it worked well with the first name. All of my fans seem okay with it. Why not? Would I ever publish anything ultra risque under it? Maybe not. My family is aware of the pen name.

    Dealing with families is delicate though. In the case of literary nonfiction, we always change someone’s name to protect his or her identity. With a pen name, you’re right. It takes a lot of thought to choose the right one. I ruminated over mine for a very long time before deciding. It also depends on how big your fan base is, how developed this whole thing has become. Are you just starting out? Then you have time to change it. If you are already established, it would take a lot of work to reestablish yourself in the industry, all the making the attempt to tell your current fans your name has changed. Did you take your grandmother’s full name? Since she’s passed on, it doesn’t matter in the legal sense. But, is this going to cause constant drama with your family?

    I have a friend who invented a product and he named the product after his grandfather because he respected him so much. It was a nice thing to do. However, since then, he’s not only had problems with his family, but a few professional people he dealt with assumed he stole the idea from his grandfather, which couldn’t be further from the truth. All in all, quite the quandary, but he really doesn’t want to change the name of the product either. I think you need to examine the reasons you chose the name, but in the end, just go with your gut. Your instincts will never fail you.

    Like

  23. Please yourself. You can never please everyone. Your family, are they jealous? envious of your talent? Using your grandmother’s name is a nice idea. I’m sure it took a long time to come up with a name. Stick with your decision. What they should be discussing is your book not the pen name.

    Like

  24. Jacke, I’ve read a few of the comments so I think you are getting the drift. Writing under a relative’s name may not be the way to go. I have been called Tina all my life. I only sign my full name for legal reasons. I should have changed it. So I will be writing under Christina. Its not a person I can relate to because I’m not Christina, I’m Tina. I don’t write under one genre so when I rewrite my detective novel and the paranormal, I’ll chose different names. Jane Ann Krentz writes under 3-4 names. Christine Feehan has 5 different series. She writes under her own name.
    You have to be happy with the name you chose. I vote you leave Grandma’s name to her gravestone and go with another name you love. Just not Tolstoy or Chekov or Grisham. First names can be anything that is comfortable with you.

    Like

  25. Without knowing the family history, the nature of the writer’s work and whether the deceased relative was someone of importance in society, I don’t see what all the hullabaloo is all about. I believe authors are allowed pen names just as singers are allowed stage names. If you care about privacy as I do, then you could benefit from using one. In choosing a pen name, which I am still trying to lock in, I make sure i don’t choose one already belonging to someone of importance. If the author in the passage above had a special relationship to the name itself and allowed them to write with pride, why shouldn’t they be allowed to use it? I see it likened unto naming a child after a relative; it’s not disrespectful but honorable in a way. Just my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. Even if you are the next Shakespeare you need to do something to differentiate you from your grandmother. Her name is hers. At least add a Jr. or something. Make you family part of the solution.

    Like

  27. I chose to write under a pen name for the reason that my real name is a rare one, to my knowledge I am one of five in the world, at least on the internet.
    My pen name relates to my family, although the connection is obscure.
    Choosing the name of a deceased relative can be a mark of respect for that person, and I tend to agree with those who have commented that the ones complaining may have other reasons for their claiming they are offended.
    At the end of the day, make a balanced decision and then stick to it; there will always be dissenters.
    You are a writer, so it is best to get used to it.

    Like

  28. If I were to use a pen name, the main reason would be to keep the work away from my family. I think using a family name is just asking for trouble; can you modify the spelling or, as suggested by AorilEsutton, “do something to differentiate you from your grandmother”? If not, it’s up to you whether the name is worth the hassle from family or not. Good luck.
    .

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s