Sunday, April 28, 2013

Authors' names should be unique brand names

J. J., J. J., A.J., E. J., O. J., A.J.

I keep confusing J. J. Abrams, J. J. Goldberg and A. J. Jacobs. They all have Jewish last names. They all write, but they write different things. I wish it was easier to remember who's who. Fortunately, I don't confuse them with writer E. J. Dionne, singer Jay-Jay Johanson, presumed-murderer O. J. Simpson or actress Jennifer "JJ" Jareau on Criminal Minds. JJ is played by A. J. Cook. It figures.

Any writer who expects to write more than one book, blog or article hopes that people who like one thing she or he has written, will want to read more.

If you want to be searchable and findable so you can sell books or any product or service, it’s important that your name become a BRAND NAME so that people who have heard of you — maybe in a conversation or an interview or an article — can FIND you and PAY you for whatever you want to sell them. 

One good way to help people find your work is to have a distinctive name, like actors and singers. Please pick something more distinctive than all those folks who use "J."

Two tough guys, one born Marlon, one born Marion

The name  of "Jor-El," Superman's Kryptonian father's name, is unique and distinctive. And so is "Marlon Brando," who played the part. (Marlon Brando was his birth name -- a lucky advantage over Marion Morrison who had to become John "Duke" Wayne.)

Stephen King's name is neither unique nor distinctive. But after selling perhaps 300 million books, he probably doesn't suffer from the existence of others with the same name. (Wikipedia lists over a dozen others including a Congressman, a pedophile and eight athletes.) If you use the name Stephen, you have the additional problem of people thinking you are a Steven. The same goes for Jon and John, and Bette, Betty and Bettye.

If you have a common name like Bill Smith, you might be better remembered and found if you change to Xavier Huynh Bacciagalupe or Hamburger Smith. Hamburger is easier to spell than Huynh. Some people think I'm a Marcos or Marquez.

It’s not unusual for a writer to use a pen name (nom de plume in French). Mark Twain is probably the most famous fake. Twain’s real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens, but he also used Sieur Louis de Conte. There are many reasons for using a pen name:

• To make the author’s name more distinctive, more glamorous or more interesting
• To disguise the author’s gender
• To protect the author from retribution, especially if the book is an exposé
• To avoid confusion with other authors or famous people
• To hide ethnicity or alter apparent ethnicity
• To develop different personas for different genres such as fiction and nonfiction, or chick lit and sci-fi
• To have a name more appropriate to a genre (male western writer Zane Grey was born Pearl Zane Gray)
• To avoid overexposure by having too many books on sale at one time
• To avoid embarrassment, such as when a professor writes porn, or to shield the author’s family from revelations of an unconventional or illegal past
• If your name is hard to spell, remember, pronounce or seems too “foreign” or “ethnic.” The original family name of author Irving Wallace was Wallechinsky.
• If you’re afraid that the book could jeopardize your success in another field

Declan prefers to be Elvis
English punk rocker Declan MacManus morphed into a more-memorable Elvis Costello. OTOH, film critic Elvis Mitchell was apparently born an Elvis.

Sometimes a slight change can do the job. Bill Smith might be better remembered as William Harrington Smith. Edward Jay Epstein has written more than a dozen books, perhaps with more success than hundreds of Ed Epsteins.

For my own brand, I've chosen to include my middle initial, N.

A Google search for "Michael Marcus" brings up about 600,000 links -- and most are not me. But a search for "Michael N. Marcus" shows about 100,000 -- and apparently there are just two of us. I'm the writer. He's a psychiatrist. I have many more links.

If you are evaluating potential pen names or just want to have some fun, take a look at At one time, the site ranked popularity for first names, last names and first-and-last-together based on listed phone numbers. ranks first and last names, but not full names. There are lots of lists of baby names, too.

Edward Epstein was the # 254,818 ranked full name in WhitePages, with 123 occurrences. OTOH, Juan Epstein, from Welcome Back Kotter, was unique, with just one listed person in the USA. It's probably not his real name.


  1. Though Declan McManus was born in London, England, we Irish claim him as one of our sons. His Dad Ross was Irish and McManus was brought up in a very Irish household. There is something in the Irish psychology that makes up claim an Irish ancestry to anyone branded or famous! McManus called himself Howard Coward and then D. P. Costello in his early music days before adopting the Elvis moniker.

    I've been battling for years with crazy Mickey Rooney, the American actor. When Mickey does push off this mortal coil, I'm expecting a huge spike in book sales and site traffic! Mind you, I've never been mistaken for the actor.

    1. Mick seems to be a specifically UK label. I know of you and Jagger and maybe a few others -- but none west of the big pond.