The (Pen) Name Game

Which author’s real name is Kate? Whose is Mary, Marilyn, or Mariella?

Pen names are a literary tradition. (Hello, Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.*). The reasons for them are manifold. A publisher may request an author assume a new identity for business or financial reasons. An author might use a pseudonym to write in a totally different genre. (I’m talking to you, J.K. Rowling and “Robert Galbraith.”)

Since I’m about to launch my new Catering Hall Mystery series under the pen name “Maria DiRico” – my Nonna’s maiden name – I thought it would be fun to ask other authors how they landed on their alter identities. Authors, I ran out of time and room, so if I missed you, add your pen name and how you came up with it in the comments!

* = the pseudonyms of the three Bronte sisters: Charlotte, Emily, and Anne.

REAL NAME: Kate Dyer-Seeley

PEN NAME: Ellie Alexander


I had always imagined that authors used pen names because they were worried about anonymity. It wasn’t until I began writing professionally that I realized many authors use pen names for a variety of reasons. For me, I was already writing a series for one publishing house and just getting my career started when my agent sold a second series to another publishing house. Enter the need for a pen name. Since I hadn’t intended to write under a pen name I opted for a name that I would feel attached to—my mom’s middle name and my son’s middle name. I have to admit that it took some getting used to being known under a new name, but now I’ve come to love it, especially because every time I sign my pen name I feel a connection with my family.


REAL NAME: Daryl Wood Gerber

PEN NAME: Avery Aames

daryl cover

When a publisher gave me the opportunity to publish my first book, A Cheese Shop Mystery, it was a work-for-hire, meaning the publisher had come up with the idea but wanted me to write it.  Seeing as they “owned” the property, I needed a pen name. I came up with Avery Aames because it would be the first name on any bookseller or library list or even writers’ conference program. The double A in Aames was the trick. When I came up with the Cookbook Nook Mysteries for the publisher, I switched to the name everyone else called me, Daryl Wood Gerber. It has been quite an adjustment to teach my fans that Daryl and Avery are one and the same. In retrospect, I wish I’d used a pen name that was closer to my own, at least with a surname starting with  G, so all my books would be in the same vicinity on shelves. If wishes were  horses…


REAL NAME: Mariella Krause

PEN NAME: Marla Cooper

dying on the vine

Picking my first name was easy: “Marla” is just a shortened version of my real first name, Mariella. As I’ve joked before, “It’s Mariella with the harder-to-spell parts taken out.” When it came to my last name, I wanted something that was easy to spell, came relatively early in the alphabet, and sounded good with Marla. I found the answer while staring at my polydactyl tuxedo cat, Cooper. I’d already picked the name once, and it fit all my criteria! However, when I don’t have the luxury of explaining myself, I usually just tell people it’s a family name — which is technically true!


REAL NAME: Vicki Delany

PEN NAME: Eva Gates

Read and Buried (002) It’s not easy thinking up a name that is easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and never used by any other author. Ever. I needed a pen name for my first cozy mystery, the first Lighthouse Library book, By Book or By Crook. My editor at Berkley and I threw names left right and center. I had some great ideas, but they’d been used before, even for some really obscure books (potty training your baby anyone?). One was too much like someone in the office, so my editor thought she’d get confused. At last she suggested Ava Gates. My grandmother’s name was Eva, so that’s what we went with. And Gates just sounded nice with it.


REAL NAME: Edith Maxwell

PEN NAMES: Tace Baker; Maddie Day

MURDER At The Taffy ShopThe main criteria for choosing a pen name are: easy to spell, easy to pronounce, with the last name near the top of the alphabet, and the name is unique, so the URL and social media identities are available.

My first  and third books, the Lauren Rousseau Mysteries, came out as Tace Baker, because I’d almost signed a contract with a small press when I was reading my Kensington contract for the Local Foods Mysteries, which stipulated I couldn’t publish other mysteries as Edith Maxwell during the term of their contract. Tace is an archaic Quaker name, and Lauren was a contemporary Quaker amateur sleuth, so that was a good fit. Definitely a unique name. Maddie Day was born when my agent and I offered my Kensington editor a second series – the Country Store Mysteries – and he said he wanted me to use a pen name. My agent said he thought it was so the new series would look like it came from a new author.I wanted Ruthie Drew (think Nancy, and I’ve always loved the name Ruthie) but my editor thought it sounded too old. I have a great niece named Maddie, so there I was with a new name! The name itself wasn’t my best choice – other Maddie Days are out there, so I have to use Maddie Day Author as my URL and social media handle.


REAL NAME: Liz Mugavero

PEN NAME: Cate Conte

Witch Hunt_ (002)


When I signed a contract for a new series with a new publisher, I had to use a pen name. I chose Cate Conte – Conte because it was my grandfather’s name, and Cate because it went nicely with it!

Cate’s new series is called The Full Moon Mysteries, and the first book, Witch Hunt, is up for pre-order now.




REAL NAME: Jessie Crockett/Jessica Estevao

PEN NAME: Jessica Ellicott



Choosing a pen name is a great deal of fun! So far I have used three names but only one is partially a pen name. I’ve written under my nickname (Jessie), my full name, my maiden name (Jessie Crockett) and my married name (Jessica Estevao). Most recently I have added a surname that is a pseudonym. I choose Jessica Ellicott because I liked the way it sounded, it is easy to spell and the domain name was available!




REAL NAME: Julie A. Hennrikus

PEN NAMES: Julianne Holmes; Julia Henry

Digging Up The Remains MMI didn’t intend to have three names. I didn’t understand why I would need to until I learned more about the publishing business. My first series, the Clock Shop series, was a Berkley series where they hired me to write an existing idea. They would own the name, so I used Julianne Holmes. My parents were going to name me Julianne Holmes Hennrikus, but shortened it to Julie Anne, so it made sense. Then I signed two contracts around the same time. One for my Theater Cop series, and one for my Garden Squad series. They both needed their own names. I decided that my names would all be Julie derivatives, so I’d answer folks when they talked to me. I also decided that they’d all be JH names, so that I could let folks know about each series. If, for example, you like my Clock Shop series, you’ll likely enjoy my Garden Squad series. I put the Theater Cop series under J.A. Hennrikus, and my Garden Squad series under Julia Henry. I’m delighted to have released several books in each series.


REAL NAME: Mary Sutton

PEN NAME: Liz Milliron



Several years ago, I published some middle-grade fiction under my own name – M.E. Sutton. When I sold my first mystery, I was more comfortable creating a new brand for the adult fiction, especially since the target age for middle-grade is 10-12. Quite a difference. I was named after my grandmothers and Liz is from Elizabeth, which is my middle name. Milliron is my paternal grandmother’s maiden name.



REAL NAME: Marilyn Levinson

PEN NAME: Allison Brook

I staMarilynrted out publishing books for kids. When I began to write mysteries and romantic suspense I considered getting a pseudonym but decided not to. I felt that all the books I wrote were my babies and I had no reason to adopt a new identity. This decision, however, was taken out of my hands when I signed my contract to write the Haunted Library series. I believe my publisher wanted this because he felt my earlier mystery sales were pretty low at the time and a new name signified a new start.

I found myself enjoying the prospect of creating a new persona for myself. I came up with a few names, received input from a group of mystery authors I belong to, and selected the one we most preferred. And so Allison Brook was born! However, pseudonyms are open secrets and I’ve been very open about mine. I’d venture to say that all my readers who know anything about me know that Allison Brook is Marilyn Levinson.


Readers, what would your pen name be?

Did you enjoy this article? Subscribe to Chicks on the Case and never miss a post. Just click the button on the top right side of this page and let the fun begin!



42 thoughts on “The (Pen) Name Game

  1. What a fun way to start the week! Confession time – J.C. Kenney isn’t my real name. Which, like Marilyn and Liz say, isn’t a huge secret. I originally wrote contemporary romance under my own name, Jim Cangany. When I switched to cozy mystery, my agent suggested I come up with a new name to go with the new genre. In a moment of utter lack of imagination, I took my initials for the JC part. The Kenney is a nod to my confirmation name, Kenneth. I will swear on a stack of bibles the name has nothing to do with a certain retailer.

    Liked by 7 people

  2. This is fascinating–I learned a lot! There’s so much more to think about with a pseudonym than I ever imagined.

    *takes notes about shelving books and checking domain names and answering when people call you*

    Curious: how should someone address you if they know you by your real name but now you are at an author event or online “as” your pseudonym? Do you prefer that they use your pseudonym?

    Thank you all for visiting today and for sharing your stories.

    Liked by 5 people

  3. It’s always interesting to get a glimpse behind the scenes at this kind of thing. Thanks for sharing everyone.

    I use Carstairs as my user name all over the internet. Why? Because 25 years ago when I started signing up for internet accounts, I was discovering that variations on my name were already taken. Mark Baker is so common. I was really into the Mrs. Pollifax series at the time, and I decided to steal the name of her boss at the CIA. Now, I feel like Carstairs is part of who I am. Although I don’t respond to it much in real life since so few people call me that in real life.

    Liked by 8 people

  4. And now I’m SO embarrassed to admit that I didn’t realize some of your names were pen names. (Never saying who, though!)

    My name is pretty darn unusual, but lo and behold, the domain name was already taken, so I had to go with LeslieKarstAuthor. Sigh…

    Liked by 5 people

  5. So happy to learn the backstories of all these names-behind-the-names, many of whom are good friends of mine. When I wrote for hire many series ago (YA and middle grade, mostly), I had to use all kinds of pseudonyms (and yes, I was even Mary-Kate Olsen once, as the twins’ official autobiographer). I did write some historical mysteries and a Lizzie McGuire mystery series under my previous married name. But when it came time to use my real name for my first adult cozy series, I included my maiden name middle initial (Q for Quinn) so no one would get the website of a certain Playmate of the Year (lookin’ at you, 1993!) when they googled me. (The photos still pop up in Google Images, though, lol.) People have asked me if I added the “Q” to be quirky. Um…no. I’m quirky enough on my own.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Lol, I love that! You’re not the first author to share a name with a playmate or porn star, BTW. Makes for some interesting searches. 😉

      And I think I’m going to call you Mary-Kate from now on!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Such great info on the pen name journey. Thanks, Ellen, aka Maria, for putting this together! And thank you Marilyn, Mary, Julie, Jessie, Liz, Edith, Vicki, Mariella, Daryl, and Kate for sharing your stories with us today on the Chicks!

    Liked by 5 people

  7. Nancy Lynn Jarvis is part pen name. My real last name, though simple, is had for some people to pronounce. I’m glad I decided to use a pen name because being schizophrenic enables me to keep my real life and my factitious life separate.

    Liked by 5 people

  8. I love my pen name. And I do use it for anonymity reasons. I chose Kassandra because one of my IRL nicknames is Kass, so I knew I would answer to that name. And Lamb is derived from my maiden name. I’ve used it for so long now that it feels real to me, and sometimes I hesitate when people ask my name. Otherwise, “Kass Lamb” is as likely to come out as my real name.

    Liked by 5 people

  9. What a fabulous post! Thanks to all who shared their pen name back-stories. FASCINATING!!

    Before Protocol was published, my dad encouraged me to publish under my maiden name, but people have a hard enough time spelling/pronouncing Valenti (hello Valentine and Valentini!) let alone Melkonian!

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Fun post about pen names. I like Julie Hennrikus’s technique of keeping her initials all the same and similar first names. So if I ever have to create a pen name, I’ll keep Julie’s methods in mind.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Yes, Please try to keep the same initials like Julie did. It makes it easier to keep track of your books. I hate starting another page for the same author.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. As always, your topics and thoughts and so interesting! I’m particularly struck by the authors who looked for last names that are near the beginning of the alphabet to ensure visibility by the reading audience.

    In an aside, my dad was a U.S. military spy in the Korean war and used a pseudonym. When I became a military intel officer too, his advice was ‘find a name that is close enough to your own that you’ll answer to it under any circumstances’. Luckily, I’ve never had to do so!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Amazing what little bits of things we wonder about really are quite big things.
    I was telling husband recently that I noticed many Authors I like write under several names. Many might not notice but I read so much I write Authors And their books on a 4x6card. I circle books I have, write a note about the book when done if I can’t get to computer right away to do a review.
    Keep this huge stack in BIG rubber band,
    Probably because I never thought it would grow this big. Started with the kids so they knew to retain a book we read they used 3x 5cards.
    Now I guess I can just wing it with the names. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s