What's in a Pen Name?

Montelimar's Nougat. Photograph taken in Redon...Montelimar's Nougat Image via Wikipedia
What's in a name?  People hide behind pseudonyms and pen names, or what the French so nicely call "nom de plume", and I've always wondered why.

Do you have a pen name? And if you do, why? Is it to hide from family and friends and gain more freedom? Is it to make a statement or maybe indicate the kind of writing you do, like a different pen name for a different genre (lots of writers do that, it's a question of "branding")? Or does it better express the kind of person you are than the name you were born with?

Charles Dodgson is a famous example of picking a pen name to hide behind:  he wrote Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass under the name Lewis Carroll to preserve his reputation as a serious mathematician. Famous authors also use pen names to get away from their fame or intrigue their readers. Carmela Ciuraru's Nom de Plume, recently published by Harper's, is full of fascinating information about this.

And how did you come about your pen name? 

Many friends have asked me why I picked Nougat as a pen name. My mother (age 97) was rather annoyed at this: "why did you pick such a silly name when you were born with a perfectly good one?"

Well, I don't think Nougat is a silly name. Actually, nougat is rather a yummy thing, isn't it? You know what nougat is, don't you? It's a wonderful traditional sweet made of almonds and honey, usually white and sticky, but it can be covered with chocolate, dark or light, and filled with crunchy nuts. In Italy (where I live), it comes in all kinds and shapes: small, big, long, short, soft and gooey, hard and crunchy.

A fellow writer, Martin King, recently approached me via Twitter with a neat idea. He had decided to run a #blogfest as he called it, a "100 Blogs Festival" this August, and to give it focus he'd picked on childhood memories, and asked me to contribute one of my own.  If you want to read about childhood memories (some rather weird and intriguing), here's the link: http://martinkingauthor.com/blog/7094550076

That got me thinking, and I remembered that my pen name actually came about through a childhood memory of sorts.

One day, when I was fourteen, my father idly wondered how one makes such extraordinarily different types of nougat, particularly the crunchy vs. the gooey sort .

I had a ready answer: it all depends on how it's cooked. He looked interested so I went on, explaining that for the crunchy variety you have to beat the egg whites hard and dry the whole thing in a slow oven, while the gooey sort only uses the yolk and you have to carefully cook it in a double-boiler. 

"How do you know that?" he asked. 

I told him I didn't, I just guessed that's the way it had to be. I never lied to my father - that's the generation I belong to, the one that was still submissive through adolescence - and that was, of course, my downfall. 

He laughed and immediately made a verb of it: "Claude, you are nougatizing!"

I was annoyed at first, but then gave in. It's true: I do nougatize about everything. I did then, I do now. I make up theories, I feel good about them. I think that's the fun side of life! And I've never stopped nougatizing since!

Whether this pen name will help me in my writing career, I don't know. One writer, Jamie Hall, really delved into the question and if you're thinking of crafting a pen name for yourself, this is a must read (see here). He even came up with the notion that you should avoid a name in the second part of the alphabet (from N to Z) because your books would be shelved out of sight!

Yikes! Nougat starts with N!

Well, so far, my book is only digital and that's the advantage of virtual shelves: not only are they up there forever, but you're not sitting in any specific alphabet-determined location! Phew, I feel reassured!

So if you have a pen name, why did you chose it? Are you happy with it?


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