Should Freelance Writers Use a Pen Name?

It’s no secret I don’t use a pen name. I prefer the “what you see is what you get” approach to writing. Aside from a (very) brief stint writing a sarcastic humor column, I have never written as someone else. I’ve had other people write as me, however – but that’s another post for another time.

The reason I don’t use pseudonyms has nothing to do with a right or wrong approach, but more a personal preference. I prefer to know exactly who I’m taking advice from so it would be kind of hypocritical for me to blog under an assumed name. . Everything I do, in my name, is representative of me. Thus, I won’t be everything to everyone, or change monikers to suite different roles. I use the same name for my books, my blogs and my jobs. I wouldn’t feel right using a pen name.

Again, this isn’t to say writers who use pen names are taking the wrong approach. It’s all about what works best for you, and what makes you most comfortable.

Why I Don’t Use a Pen Name

I don’t use a pen name for several reasons:

  • Personal branding: I don’t want to have to brand a million names or worry about some fake person taking credit for my writing. If folks are going to give me a Google, they’re going to find exactly what I do. I don’t mind if they find that I comment on blogs and forums and wrote for content sites in the past. I don’t mind people seeing my early writing and the mistakes I made in my journey. There’s some pretty negative stuff directed towards me and that’s OK, too. Potential readers, clients and friends can all draw their own conclusion. Everything I wrote in the past is part of who I am and I don’t mind those who want to hire me knowing about it. I am my brand and I’m proud of my name.
  • Vanity: I like seeing my own byline. Call me vain or call it a steaming pile of ego, but that’s the nuts and bolts of it. I’m proud of my work and I don’t care who knows it.
  • Clips: Clients don’t want to see my clips with someone else’s name on it. They want to see my byline on my writing samples. What if my best piece of writing has some random made up person’s name? What if a potential client finds my very best article and wants hire me, but can’t find me because I use a pen name? What if a client learns I haven’t been honest with him about who I am and doesn’t trust me anymore?

It’s my feeling that when you’re honest about who you are, clients, potential clients, readers and community trusts you more. That’s my preference but other writers feel differently.

Why Other Writers Use Pen Names

There are a variety of reasons why writers use pseudonyms and it’s not necessarily for privacy reasons, or because the writer has something to hide. A conversation taking place at the Freelance Writing Jobs Facebook page revealed a variety of reasons for pen names. Including:

  • To avoid confusion: What happens when another writer has the same name? Some freelancers use middle names, maiden names or create a whole name altogether so their names aren’t confused with others.
  • To be taken seriously: Freelancer P.S. Jones feels using her initials is better for her professional image than her real name, “Princess.”
  • To avoid embarrassment: Some writers cringe when they see their early works on the web. Rather than write them off as newbie content, they create a new name so as not to be associated with the bad stuff.
  • To see how life is on the other side of the fence: “James Chartrand” claims gender bias kept her from using her real name.
  • To keep employers from finding out about a second career: Some writers don’t want their day job bosses to find out they’re moonlighting.
  • To have separate online and offline personae: Some writers value privacy first and foremost and don’t want their private information open to Googlers.

Should you use a pen name?

Pseudonyms are a matter of preference. I find them totally unnecessary for my purposes, but I know plenty who disagree. We all have our own paths to freelance writing success and it doesn’t mean there’s a right or wrong way to do the name thing. So let’s hear your thoughts about pen names and what you think about the folks who use them.

Do you feel those who use pen names are less trust worthy or have something to hide, or does it make smart business sense?



15 responses
  1. Chris Mower Avatar

    I use a pen name on occasion, usually when I’m concerned about privacy, or if I’m partnering with someone to write something, and although I don’t have control over the final content, they still insist on putting my name on it–I’ll use a pen name then too… something like “Daryl Rhea.”

    Otherwise, I just go my real name. Chris Mower.
    .-= Chris Mower´s last blog ..You Want Me to Change?! Holy Smokes! =-.

    1. naomi hamm Avatar

      Yes I like to use occasionaly a pen name. I can tell you one thing: google mail, you know allowed me to have a last name change so pretty soon I may be able to use it for some other email. Maybe set up another one.

      I feel it is everybodys right to use a pen name if they so choose and in this day and age of on-line worship and of having your works published on line I feel a pen name and or username helps protect you, yourself in the long run.

  2. M. C. Avatar
    M. C.

    Thanks for posting this, Deb!

    I’ve been musing over a somewhat related issue, only with online handles instead of pennames, and how much we should “own” these handles in our professional life. While you are not the first to suggest steering away from pennames, I wonder if the rules and opinions are different when it comes to online nicknames.

    For example, let’s say I spend my free time wandering the Internet as SciFiLover432 (not my real handle!) and engaging in lots of fun activities like, say, getting involved with Star Trek forums, writing Star Wars fanfiction, sighing over how hot Han Solo is, etc etc. Obviously this isn’t exactly super professional (it’s a hobby, after all!), and if I were only looking for “serious” writing gigs like speechwriting or government contracts, I might want to keep it discreetly out of sight. But if I’m also looking for related work (say, a blog position at a science fiction site) should I acknowledge my “secret” online life as prior experience/expertise? And will doing this turn off more “vanilla” clients who might google my online handle and find my fannish behaviour unprofessional?

    Things seem to get even more complicated when websites, Facebook and Twitter come into the picture. Yes, I might want to follow sci fi blogs and network with that group, but will retweeting lots of geek material annoy non-geek professional followers? Should I have an entirely different Twitter/website under my handle specifically geared for geek clients and remain squeaky clean and “normal” on my main site/Twitter/Facebook?

    1. AuroraGG Avatar

      Like you, I used a different name/nick when I used to do Internet gaming and writing about games(actually it was AuroraGG). It was a common practice to ‘show’ you were a gamer when writing for online gaming pubs. It has been 8 or more years since I used that on any published work instead of my real name, but I have also moved away from covering games to writing about business and technology. Now I use the name only for online forums, discussions boards, Twitter, and blog comments because when my name is Googled I want my articles to show up in results front and center — not a comment I made somewhere. 🙂
      .-= AuroraGG´s last blog ..Ecommerce 101: 6 Guides to get You Started =-.

  3. Dave Guilford Avatar

    This is just a nickel’s worth of free advice to beginning writers who hope to make it a career. If you are writing for content mills, it’s a good idea to use a pen name if you hope to be a mainstream print journalist at some point. I’m not going to go into specifics, just suffice it to say that my association with DS has cost me high-paying print business. If I had it to do over again, I probably still would have done the work with DS but I definitely would have used a pen name so I wouldn’t have to admit it later.

    Fair or unfair, content mills carry a severe stigma in some print circles. You’re better off covering your tracks with a pen name than having to explain to a print editor or journalism association why you “devalued professional writers across the board by working for pennies a word.” You never know which editor is going to have that reaction, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

    1. Deb Ng Avatar

      I respectfully disagree, Dave. I used content site clips to land a newspaper column, a regular gig with a well paying and prestigious online magazine (iParenting Media ) and a stint with Oxygen Media. They didn’t care where I worked, just that I was a good writer and my voice fit with what they were looking for.

      I’m sure there are a few stories like yours, but I doubt they’re the norm. Any editor who doesn’t make it about the writing and would rather focus on a content site and talk down to writers shouldn’t be doing that job.

      1. Dave Guilford Avatar


        I can’t go into specifics (because it’s already caused me enough hassle), but it wasn’t an editor I had problems with. Like you said, every print editor I’ve dealt with had been interested only in the writing. It was an association, and a major one at that.


  4. Jack Burton Avatar

    I now use a pen name when I write because I have had people send letters to my home address threatening to come and kill me because they did not like what I wrote about those who promote gun control. I had a choice, give up agitating for what I thought was right for the sake of peace with my wife and family, or use a different name.

    Surprisingly, those who are quickest to wish violence on someone are those who are strongest on the side of gun control. Cross them and it’s guaranteed that one of them will post that you should be killed with a gun. I would rather not give them the opportunity.
    .-= Jack Burton´s last blog ..Comment by =-.

  5. Leah McClellan Avatar

    I agree that it’s all about the writer’s purpose and preference. I’ve mostly just used my regular name in whatever I do, anywhere: freelance writing, blog comments, Twitter, forums, etc. But I’ve used a pen name for a certain purpose, and that’s to keep some stuff separate from my regular career that clients, friends, and neighbors–oh, and family–don’t need to know about. Or, rather, I don’t need/want them to know about.

    I’ve written on some very factual and well-researched but very explicit sexual topics that I haven’t thought was a good idea to associate with my real name because it’s not my primary identity and it’s too controversial or stigmatized and so on. I’d like to write that stuff in my real name–in fact, I recently started a blog on that subject–but I’m still not sure whether to use my real name for it (it’s just started, only a few very tame posts).

    There’s also a book I’m writing that I think should be published (assuming it will be) under a pseudonym to protect my family. I can’t write it without saying some things that would hurt them badly, and I really don’t need or want to hurt them though I’m just stating facts or personal experience. If any of them read it–no matter how I disguise things–they’ll know exactly what I’m talking about–why hurt them?

    So that’s my take on pseudonyms.

    Also I read the comment about gun control…yeah. Sometimes you have something to say but can’t risk your privacy or your family’s privacy or feelings or whatever. I prefer to stand by my opinions or thoughts or whatever, but I also have a very practical side. Kind of like no ego involved, in a way, but I still want to get the message out or write about it.
    .-= Leah McClellan´s last blog ..How to make your blog pay the bills with Leo Babauta =-.

  6. Christina Avatar

    Heh, what a coincidence! I was just searching on Google whether or not I should use a pen name.. since I noticed random people searching my name on my blog’s analytics. Then I checked Google Reader and here I am; Another post on the subject.

    I’ve decided to just stick with my real name, rather use a pen name. It might present problems later on if I use a pen name when I’m ready to start getting clients.

  7. Jennifer L Avatar

    I was all set to say “NO! Don’t use a pseudonym if you’re a freelance writer! You want to build a portfolio or clip file, after all, and potential employers may even try to Google you, and don’t you want them to see what you’ve done?”

    Then some of you mentioned very reasonable circumstances under which someone could use a pen name. So I changed my mind! I have never used a pseudonym for my writing, nor do I intend to, but the type of writing that I do really doesn’t necessitate it anyway.
    .-= Jennifer L´s last blog ..After the flood: moving forward =-.

  8. Danica Avatar

    I use pen names both online and in offline print markets because each is for different niche markets. For privacy onlin is one reason. But it’s a habit that followed me online after writing for trade magazines for years.

    With that said, a writer who uses a pen name does not necessarily have anything to hide nor do I consider them untrustworthy because they have chosen to use a non de plume. At one time it was a common practice by some well known authors. Stephen King used Richard Bachman for years, and it did not hurt his writing career.

  9. Cheyenne Moon Avatar

    I use a pseudonym in place of my real name for a couple of different reasons, both of which I believe are valid.
    First of all, my real name is difficult to spell, so I chose a name that would be easier for my readers to use. Some believe that “Cheyenne” is more user-friendly, and I happen to agree.
    On top of that, because my ‘real’ name is known, I want to keep an amount of distance between my writing and my real life. If the truth comes out, I can accept that, but I see no reason to be the one holding the gun on my entire writing career.
    Those that I work with in my writing career know that my name is false, and they know what my real name is, so the conflict of not being able to find me hasn’t been an issue… so far.

  10. Jungo Avatar

    Back in 2006 I started to do some freelance work under my real name; however, that changed recently. I am writing under my Pen name, Jungo. At first it began as a way to change my image followed by a way to be remembered. Now it is about three things: 1. Its meaning, in Latin it means to unite. 2. To prevent my current employer access to what I do outside of work. 3. It’s a fun name to use. It allows me to be who I am as a writer. I guess a pen namebwill work for me because I will be focusing on providing Ghostwriting services instead of writing to have my name in print….unless it’s relevant to my creative writing. This way I can write thought provoking pieces without the client having to be involved in any criticism. All of their content are Ghostwritten.

  11. TheTaskGirl Avatar

    I’ve always blogged under an assumed name, and occasionally under my first name (sometimes with my surname’s initial). Now that I’m considering getting into freelance writing, I’m trying to decide whether to:
    a) use my main pseudonym, TheTaskGirl,
    b) use a combination of my name and my alias, such as Jane D. TheTaskGirl, or
    c) simply transition over time to my name/initials and a fake last name, such as J.D. Randomcoolname.(those examples were if my name were Jane Doe, obviously).

    I think having at least my initials in my penname might be advantageous when it comes to invoicing clients, etc..

    I value my privacy, and like to keep my work life somewhat separated from my personal life. My main blog only has about 300 followers, and I’ve rarely guest posted until recently, so I don’t think a new name would be too much trouble for them to wrap their heads around. However, many of my followers are freelance content marketers, businesses, and writers, themselves; I don’t want to hurt my chances of getting contracts from any of them. I also plan to continue writing for my blog,, and am a bit hesitant about choosing a name that would dilute potential traffic.

    What do you think? Any ideas? Thanks for any advice you can provide 🙂

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