Monday, June 18, 2012

What's in a name? A heck of a lot actually.

by Jennifer Harlow

Recently I accidently commented on a Facebook post under my real name. A very nice person (Thanks, Sarah) then wrote me an e-mail letting me know I'd done this. I didn't see the big deal but she mentioned I should be concerned about stalkers. I did a little double take. Stalkers? You're talking to the girl whose nickname in high school was, "Hey you!" I can't even get the cute dude a Blockbuster, who I've known for ten years, to pay attention to me even in low cut shirts, there's gonna be someone who's obsessed with me? Who follows me around and wants to wear my skin like a mink? Not in a hundred million years. But my mother was aghast. "You pen name protects your anonymity," she chided. "Don't do it again." When I decided to use a pen name, this thought never crossed my mind. 

My real name is Jennifer Kathryn Do**s (sorry, I can only take one chiding a week) but everyone calls me Jenna. I was named after a character in Robert Ludlum's book The Parsifal Mosaic. Jenna was a Russian spy. My parents always had high hopes for me. It would have been my official name but my parents wanted to give me other options (Jenny, Jen, J-Woww) so they went with Jennifer. Strangely they thought they were being original, that is until my first doctor's appointment. The nurse called, "Jennifer" and three mothers stood up. (We are legion.) I never minded the Jennifer part, but my last name was always a problem. Davis, Dowie, Dallas, no one has ever gotten it right. The one time I've ever won an award in 3rd grade, they called "Jennifer Davis" and I didn't know they meant me. I didn't find out about it until after. I stopped correcting people around that time. When my feminist friends asked if when I got married I'd take my husband's name, I responded, "Hell yes! Unless it's like Winklebottom or Titsipoop." (Though I am not adverse to Cumberbatch as I once was). So I jumped at the chance to change my name when I became an author.

A lot of thought came into my nome de pluume. Here was my chance to completely reinvent myself like I was in the Witness Protection program. I could go sophisticated: Genevieve, Helena, Gwendolyn, Madeline. Exotic: Natasha, Vivienne, Jasmine, Nathalie. Old school: Nora, Iris, Elizabeth, Jane. There were too many to choose from so I chose to stay with Jennifer. But the last name had to change, no question. 

For the longest time I was going to be Jennifer Schaffer, my grandmother's maiden name, which had died out with her and her sister. But then even I had problems getting the spelling correct so I went farther back and asked for another to another extinct family name. I was given Reilly, Stern, Alape, then Harlow. I loved Jean Harlow movies (Bea got it from somewhere, right?) so I know people would never get it wrong thanks to her. But beyond sentimentality and ease, the real reason I chose it was far more business minded. Ask yourself, who are the biggest names in the Urban Fantasy genre? (Cue Jeopardy music...and done). That's right, Laurell K Hamilton, Kim Harrison, and Charlaine Harris. I'd be shelved in between them on the bookstore shelves. When I realized that I knew I had a winner. Jennifer Harlow was born.

A large majority of authors have pen names. We spend our days inventing people, giving them names, why not ourselves? I like Jennifer Harlow. She's simple yet elegant, not to mention easy to remember. And she, not I, can take on the stalkers. 

What about all of you? What would be your pen name? Why?


Beth Groundwater said...

Mu writing name is my real name, because Groundwater is so unique and easy to spell that it's easy for people to find me on the Internet. If you Google "Beth Groundwater," all you get is sites about me. My husband and I are also the only Groundwaters in the Summit County, Colorado, phone book, so we're easy to find in the real-world, too.

I've occasionally received a phone call from a mystery reader, sometimes to invite me to speak to his/her book club or other group. I'm always happy to chat for a short time. However, I've never had a mystery reader show up on my doorstep and haven't had problems with stalkers, either. Maybe that's something I can aspire to--to become such a bestseller that I worry about being stalked. ;-) If that ever happens, I would go to an unlisted phone number. In the meantime, I don't worry about it.

Lois Winston said...

You're a Schaffer? I think we might be related.

As for stalkers, they do exist, but you usually hear about them in the romance genre. There have been some really horror stories (no pun intended) regarding romance authors and stalkers. Haven't heard of any concerning mystery authors but that doesn't mean they haven't happened.

Kathleen Ernst said...

I've kept my own name, although I can imagine and relate to the fun of choosing a new one!

Jennifer Harlow said...

Beth-Now they know where you live! You'll have a line to your door now! No, really, it's not even close to a concern. It's right between catching the Black Death and an asteroid crashing into earth. I really only changed it because no one could ever get my real name down right.

Lois-Good thing I'm more of a fighter than a lover.

Kathleen-It was fun

Sheila Webster Boneham said...

Fun post, whatever your name is. :-) I'm intrigued by your comment that "a large majority of authors have pen names." That's not actually my impression so I'm wondering whether you know of any data on this? Just curious! I've always used my real name even though I write in several genres. I do sometimes long to completely reinvent myself, though! Maybe next book.... and it will be a name people can pronounce!

Beth Groundwater said...

Stalkers may be afraid of mystery authors because we know so many ways to kill people! ;-)