1. makdadsb
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    makdadsb Member

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    Pen Name Rules

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by makdadsb, Feb 21, 2010.

    I have a question for the community about pseudonyms. I am guessing that using a pen name that is obviously being used to profit off of someone else's name is probably not allowed, but where is the line drawn? For example, I have thought of using one particular name (which is based on my real name), but it is also the name of a well known TV character. Should I stay away from that sort of thing?
     
  2. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Names aren't copyrighted. I don't think so, as there's always the possibility that it is someone's real name (as long as it sounds like it could be). If it probably isn't someone's real name, then I wouldn't use it. But if it's standard, then I think you can.
     
  3. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    But you should make sure they are not Trademarked. Though probably best to consult a literary attorney on this matter.

    I haven't given it much thought. Right now the only penname I would want to use is Unit7. While as cool as it might be to see a book with that name, I can easily see many people calling it the mark of an Amatuer or a simple gimmick.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you use the name of a well-known character in a copyrighted work, even though the name, as a name, isn't protected by copyright, the character is, so you could probably be sued for copyright infringement on that basis...

    and gimmicks like this are usually frowned upon by most publishers... why not just use your own name?
     
  5. SliverXII
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    SliverXII New Member

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    This is an interesting issue. I have such a common name that when I was a telemarketer in high school, people I had called would joke about Hall Of Fame Phillies Third Baseman Mike Schmidt being on the phone trying to sell them magazine subscriptions. Now, I know that if I were to pretend that I was that Mike Schmidt, it would be fraudulent. But using the same name I don't imagine anything could be done. I would imagine it would more likely just be a pain for both sides.

    I would think that you would want to use a pen name in order to set yourself apart from others, at least that's my thought from my experience with such a common name.
     
  6. afinemess
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    afinemess Active Member

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    I wouldn't use it if it was the name of a popular character, but you could always consult a lawyer.

    When deciding on a pen name, I think the following are good justifications for using one.
    *google your real name, if there are a million people with your name, then you might want a new one. Something more original would be easier to find in an internet search if someone likes your work and they want to find other things from you.
    *you want to use your name as your domain name. My name is taken, my maiden name is also taken. You'd be surprsied to find that alot of names are already in use.

    Those were the only two things I could think of when I was contemplating using a pen name. Both my maiden name and my married name already have women who immediatly pop up in google as writers. Since I want to stand out if succesful, I came up with a new one. (just using family names.)

    I see where it can get gimmicky, but if your work is fantasic, I think that will trump a 'gimmicky' name. Rappers have different names, why can't authors? haha
     
  7. makdadsb
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    makdadsb Member

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    Thank you for all the good comments about this. I don't really have a good reason for not wanting to use my real name other than I simply don't like it. I am not attached to a particular pen name, so maybe something else will appeal to me.
     
  8. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not putting any money on it but, I'm guessing that ANY name you can think of, there is at least one person, if not more, who would share that same name. I have discovered, no matter what character name I come up with for my protagonist, I can always find someone with that name (Even when I'm not trying!)

    I've met Laura Petrey (diff spelling but same name as Mary Tyler Moore's character on The Dick Van Dyke Show). I've met Steve Miller (though he has yet to play the blues for me!) I talk to Debbie Reynolds on the phone at least twice a week. The list could go on with all of the real people with well-known names. Some of them are pretty off the wall, too. For instance - Do you think Reese Witherspoon is the only one with that first name? Think again. (Though I haven't checked to see if there are others with the same name combo there.) And did you know there is no Kurt Vonnegut Jr.? (His real name isn't Kurt but he 'borrowed' it in hopes that his writing could sell as well as Dad's by using Dad's name... it didn't. And I don't think he's writing anymore.)

    If the name you want to use is obviously a take off on your real name, even though it migrates into the name of a tv character, you can probably feel free to use it with impugnity. IF, however, it is a wholly off-the-wall name that people will tease you about because it is the name of a tv character, you might want to re-think it.
     
  9. tcol4417
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    tcol4417 Member

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    I've got a common name too, but my pen name is still common - just less... well, cumbersome.

    Don't get caught up in the "don'ts" (ignore the hypocrisy there for a second) when making a pen name - you need to make something that resonates with your target audience.

    For instance if I were writing a post-apocalypse survival horror novel then I would use the name Tom Falcon. If I were writing a children's book then I would use the name Tom Robbins. Names that have the 1-2 or 2-1 syllable format are easily remembered and have a good iambic rhythm to them.

    There is every chance that there is someone somewhere with that name but you're only stealing it if it's well established that it "belongs" to someone else already. Look at the Fuji vs Apple iPad lawsuit, the J.K.Rowling vs Designer Clothing Harry Potter disagreement. It happens, but it's for the courts to decide.

    Besides, there's always google.
     
  10. jacklondonsghost
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    jacklondonsghost Contributing Member

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    I feel like as long as you're not writing with a name that is extremely unique to a certain TV character you shouldn't have a problem. I would just make sure you have a purpose to using a certain pen name. I personally use my first and middle initials and my last name to write under because my name isn't sexed that way and I am writing about high school boys. I would just make sure you're not using a name like Oprah Winfrey or something and make sure it's for a good reason.
     
  11. makdadsb
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    makdadsb Member

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    Lots of great information here. So, the name I was thinking of was Michael Scott, which is somewhat related to my real name, is fairly generic, and not gimmicky, so I should be ok. However, now that I check Google, there is another author with that name.
     
  12. rory
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    rory Contributing Member

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    There goes my pen name out the window... :rolleyes:


    makdadsb, that's murphy's law in action. Maybe you could swap it around to Scott Micheals? I'm partial to initials in names myself, I'm just not so good at thinking of what the initials should stand for.
     
  13. makdadsb
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    makdadsb Member

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    Yea, or maybe I could add a middle name...maybe Oprah :)
     
  14. writewizard
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    writewizard Contributing Member

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    I don't think anyone's going to buy it if your middle name is Oprah. Try Ester.
     
  15. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    There can be very good reasons for using a pen name. I have to use one because my Turkish married name is unpronouncable and unprintable without Turkish letters. Also, we never address people here with their surname e.g. 'Mrs. Demir' or 'Mr. Öztürk' we say 'Ayşe hanım' or 'Çağdaş bey'. So, it would feel odd for me to be known by my married surname.

    As well as this, my very common maiden name, coupled with my very ordinary first name, throws up thousands of other users. I already use my first and middle name with my maiden surname for academic work. So, I use my grandmother's name for my fiction writing.

    Another reason for me using a pen name, publishing only in the UK, and not giving links here to two recent stories I've had in British magazines, is the laws in this country that writers who are considered critical of the Rebublic can fall foul of, but I won't go into that...fortunately, attitudes are much more relaxed than they used to be, though.
     
  16. Anders Backlund
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    Anders Backlund Contributing Member

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    I don't at all mind using my own name. However, when the time comes to try to get published, I'm thinking of using my mother's maiden name instead of my actual surname, since it's very uncommon and I figure that might help draw attention.
     
  17. BBWalter
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    BBWalter Member

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    I think all would be ok with using a television character's name; however, I would probably double check with an attorney, to be on the safe side.

    When I chose my pen name (and B.B. Walter is my pen name), I selected it for simplicity sake. I like my first name (Billie), but my last name is complicated and a mouthful (or so I've noticed) for people when using it for the first (sometimes second and third) time. (It's Bookwalter, if you're wondering.) So, for simplicity, I abbreviated my first name and the first initial of my last name. Walter is easier for most people (I'm never asked to spell it or repeat it, and it's not so common that I get the wrong pizza when I picked one up at the local pizzeria. LOL) As far as the B.B.; my dad made a joke about calling me B.B. (in a sing-songy voice, might I add) and it sort of stuck, along with it being the short version of my real name.

    I think the big thing is if you chose a pen name, it should feel comfortable (this would avoid the gimmicky thing, I suppose) and something that can relate to the audience/fans.

    Hope that helps!
    BB
     

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