anglo-caucasian names, anglo-saxon, author names, book, Ermisenda Alvarez, female authors, gender neutral author names, Harry Potter, jk rowling pseudonym, perseus inkelstain, Robert Galbraith, sales, spanish names, stories, the cuckoo's calling, which penname to pick, which pseudonym to pick, writing
Recently, news has broken out that JK Rowling released a novel under a pseudonym. When I read this, I thought it was fantastic. It would be such a great change of pace for these high profile writers to get a book out there without so much hype and expectation. She could get feedback that wasn’t coloured by everyone’s thoughts on Harry Potter.
What irked me a little was that she chose a male name. Her pseudonym was Robert Galbraith. Now I know the reasoning. I also know the reasoning why she chose initials rather than using Joanne when she wrote Harry Potter. It’s unfortunately true that male or neutral names have been said to sell more than female names. I remember being confronted with this choice when I chose my author penname. I chose Ermisenda as it was the name of my great grandmother who raised my mother as if she was her own child. Her life is one that could be written into a story. How she struggled with her family, a terrible husband, and being ostracized for some time in her own Spanish village. But this isn’t a post about her. I chose the name because I wanted to be identified as a female, and the name had personal significance to me and my heritage.
I could still have chosen a name like E. S. Alvarez. I would know what the E stood for, even if no one else would. Realistically, no one knows what Ermisenda means to me even if I use the uncommon name ‘Ermisenda’ rather than just an E. But I wanted to be identified as a female (if people know that Ermisenda is a female name). I wanted to identify my Spanish heritage with my name (both first and last). Maybe that means that I will lose sales. If so, I don’t care. If by some chance I make a fantastic book that everyone loves and I do get ‘famous’, then I want people to associate great novels with female sounding, Spanish sounding, names.
Maybe it’s stupid logic. I cannot ignore the stats if they say neutral/male names sell more. But there are plenty of women who decided to keep a female sounding name. Without those females becoming bestsellers, maybe all the names in the book market would be neutral or masculine today. In my eyes, it’s a way to make a stand and be a tiny contribution to social change. If I lose sales as a result, so be it.
What do you think? Am I being too idealistic? Should I just listen to the stats and go for gender-neutral, Anglo-Caucasian sounding names?
– Ermisenda Alvarez