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What’s in a Name?

Posted by on Aug 15 2014, 12:13 am

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It used to be that if you wrote romance, you did it under a pseudonym as a matter of course. Now, though, I see a lot more writers keeping their own names and proudly pointing to their book covers. These days, if you come up with a pen name, there’s usually a reason. Maybe you work as an educator or a lawyer or some other job where you can’t comfortably risk the exposure, or you write two different genres and need to avoid confusion.

Interestingly, if you look at old book titles, it seems like every pen name was Anglo. No matter what the author’s ethnicity really was, everyone was a WASP on paper. I don’t know how this came about. Woodiwiss isn’t a common name, after all. Nor is Heyer. But it seems to have evolved that way over time, and most authors seem to follow suit. Maybe because publishers believed an author’s name should be easy to pronounce, or maybe they thought it should feel familiar. Comfortable. But in so doing, romance authors’ names became homogenized to a surprisingly large extent.

When I first started writing romance, I knew I’d need a pen name because I also planned to write YA. I needed that separation between the sexy and the relatively chaste. So I came up with a name: Talia Daniels, a nod to my husband’s name. But when I went to register it, I discovered a bunch of Talia Danielses. Who knew?

So I decided to come up with a middle initial. And of course I chose Q, because, well, why not?

My husband, the aforementioned Daniel, scoffed. “What name begins with Q?”

“Quinn.”

“Use that. It sounds better than Q.”

And so Talia Quinn Daniels was born. The first time I said the name aloud was when the RWA board member called to say I was a Golden Heart finalist. It sounded awfully strange in my own ears, but I went with it. I figured I’d get used to it.

Until it came time to design my covers. Turns out Talia Quinn Daniels is an awful lot of letters to fit on a cover that needs to be readable in thumbnail format. The length of the name was crimping my design choices.

And so Talia Quinn was born. It still sounded strange to my ears, but again, I figured I’d get used to it.

Then I looked around and realized just how many other romance authors named Quinn there are. And I started to get “Find out the origin of your name!” Facebook ads talking about its innate Irishness. And, um, well, I’m not Irish. Not anywhere near. That doesn’t have to matter, but somehow it did. Because, by whitewashing my name choice, wasn’t I aiding and abetting the genre’s tendency toward a mainstreamed homogeneity? My real name is almost excessively exotic, and I like that about it.

I realize it’s unusual to change my name at this stage–not to take on a new authorial identity, I mean, but to keep the same one, only shift it slightly. But it feels right. And so I’m now:

Talia Surova.

My mother’s father came to America in 1910 as a nine-year-old boy. When he became an adult, he changed his name from Surovsky to something more Americanized. I’m simply changing it back. Returning to my family roots. So far it sounds a lot less strange to my ears. A lot more like me.

Does an author’s name matter to you? Do you find it evokes a character? And do you think that colors your read?

And if you’ve taken on a pseudonym, how did you choose it, and why did you go for one? And if you haven’t, what made you decide not to?

30 responses to “What’s in a Name?”

  1. Good for you, Talia! I’m glad to hear you feel like you’ve found your “home” name and are happier living in it. But I must ask–where did your grandfather come from?

    As for author names and ME, while I certainly notice the author’s name, unless it’s terribly unusual and somehow relates to the story (as in a very, say, Japanese name on the cover of a very Japanese story), it doesn’t influence my feelings about the story at all. In fact, sometimes I’ll completely forget the author’s name.

    About my author name, it’s my real name, but by marriage. Had I kept my maiden name–the not-so-melodious “Stiglich”–I might have been tempted to find a pseudonym.

    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Colette Stiglich, huh?….nope, doesn’t quite have that romance flair!

    • Colette, my grandfather was from Latvia. Interestingly, by changing the ending of the name, it becomes Slovakian. Which also works, because my father’s family is from Poland and Hungary. I figure it’s all in the right general vicinity.

      I love the name Auclair, and you already had a French first name to go with it. Be honest, that’s the real reason you married Tom. 🙂 A perfect name is hard to come by!

  2. Hi Talia,

    Congrats on your new name!

    I use my real name for a few reasons. Mainly because it took me so long to be published and I have done a lot of networking I didn’t want to waste.

    Although I worry a bit about it becoming an issue for my day job. As a real estate appraiser, I often disappoint people who can’t understand why I’m not giving them credit for their lovely purple carpet imported from Timbuktu, and their gold plated toilets. I really don’t want people to figure out that I write books they can trash on Amazon because I’m that moron who came in lower than they expected on their appraisal. (Believe me, I have had many a customer call me up and tell me I’m an idiot and it’s because of me, their kid can’t go to college. Never mind all the jet skies, boats and other various toys in their garage, it’s clearly my fault.) I plan to keep things low key here at home for a while, and then perhaps change that once I quit appraising homes.

    But like Colette, my maiden name left a lot to be desired. (Oppedahl) So I too would have changed it if not for my husband being so heroic 30 years ago and saving me from it. 🙂

    • But a gold plated toilet, that’s gotta add at least… um… five dollars? Yeesh, Tammy, I’m now picturing angry sellers coming after you with glue guns and toilet plungers! Who knew it was such a dangerous profession?

      (I kind of like Oppedahl, though I imagine it caused a lot of headaches getting people to spell it. Good of your husband to rescue you. 🙂 )

  3. robena grant says:

    I’m glad you figured out this name change, Talia. It rolls easily off the tongue, and has a musical quality.

    My married name is German Jewish and the spelling is atrocious and the pronunciation is always muddled. I chose my maiden name, a Scot surname that matched my given name of Robena, instead of my shortened name of Roben.

    When I discussed using a pseudonym someone advised me to make it memorable, and yet familiar to me. The example they gave was, if I was at National conference and my name was called out across a crowded room, would I instantly respond, flinch, or not even know they were referring to me. : )

    Good luck with your new decision.

    • Robena, I think that’s good advice. And I have to admit, Talia feels natural to me. It’s very similar to Tamar, my real name. I’ve had no trouble responding to it. 🙂 My discomfort with Quinn was the unexpected part.

      The great thing about choosing your maiden name is that it already feels like the right fit. (And I’ve always liked Robena, I think it’s a lovely name.)

  4. Kay Hudson says:

    I love Talia Surova–great choice. I’m sticking with my own (married) name because I’ve had it a long time, I have no particular reason to be discreet, and my maiden name does not sound like it looks. And nine letters shouldn’t give me any design problems, assuming I ever get there.

  5. Hi Talia, congratulations on being reborn as Surova. It’s a lovely name and I’m glad you made the choice so quickly. When I came to choose my author name, I decided not to go with my married name of Lloyd-Evans (which still appears on my facebook main page and on some Firebird messages). That Welsh Ll can confuse in some countries and you wouldn’t believe the mis-spellings it causes, mostly ‘Llyod’ which is a most unpleasing variation, to my eye! Evans is easy in most languages and I stuck with Natalie because I felt that if I changed my first name I wouldn’t recognise myself. The Meg came because Natalie Evans googles as a poor lady who got embroiled in a court case over the destruction of her frozen embryos. I didn’t want to use my real middle name Jane as I always hated being ‘Natalie Jane.’ No idea why. I went with short, sweet Meg as she was the first dog in my life, a Jack Russell, long gone. I’ve grown into it and now occasionally answer the phone as it, and then have to correct myself.

    As for how I respond to names on books, I don’t mind at all what ethnicity a name has.

    • Natalie, I love that Meg was your dog. What a lovely tribute to her! I’m surprised that Lloyd causes problems, but yes, definitely better that you steered away from it in that case. (As well as differentiating yourself from the woman with the ex-embryos!)

  6. India Powers says:

    Love the new name, Talia! Quite honestly, the new name is more memorable to me. It also piques my interest a little more, because it makes me think you have a cultural heritage I’m not very familiar with that might make it into your books. Whether that cultural heritage does appear in your books doesn’t matter to me. My opinion of a book is based on the read, not the title or author’s name.

    I’d had a similar issue to yours when trying to find a pen name. Every permutation of my first, middle, maiden, and last name were already taken, so I ended up with India Powers. I write historical paranormal romances set in Regency England, so India actually works. But it does make people think my heritage is Indian, whereas in reality I’m half-Anglo and half-Korean.

    Best of luck with the new pen name! It’s great! 🙂

    • India, I’ve actually been thinking I want to start weaving more cultural/ethnic touchstones into my romances. (There’s plenty in my YA already.) I mostly write New York-centered books, and New York is such a fantastic multicultural community–or sets of communities– it would be wrong not to include more of that flavor.

      I love the name India, and to me it does speak of the East India Trading Company, but I guess I can understand the confusion. (Kinda.)

      Glad you like my new name! I do too. 🙂

  7. Good for you! I love the name.

  8. Piper says:

    Hi Talia!

    I was cool with your previous name, but if this one means that you are unique–that is what matters, I’m told. If you Google it and you are the only one that comes up–bingo! That’s the name for you.

    I tried to create pen names since my first name combined with my married name creates an unflattering word. Other people kept coming up. So my writing name is really my maiden name. It may be hard to say, or spell, but I’m the only one with it and I’m fine with that!

    Thanks for the great post. I love talking about names!

    • Piper, I’ve come to the same conclusion–if your name is incredibly common, then you won’t stand out, and memorable is GOOD. Honestly, I didn’t dislike Talia Quinn in and of itself–but it also didn’t feel like *me*. I may not be absolutely sure how to pronounce your surname, but I recognize it when I see it. 🙂

  9. Elisa Beatty says:

    Talia Surova–that’s just gorgeous, and rolls off the tongue. Much more interesting than Quinn.

    Good for you for taking the leap! It will be more than worth it in the long run, for you to feel like you.

  10. Darcy Woods says:

    I have to agree with the masses here, Talia Surova has a glorious cadence! And I love that it embraces your roots.

    Since I don’t have a pen name, I’ll have to continue to live vicariously through the alternate identities of my friends. Which is probably just as well since I confuse easily. 😉

    Now, please resume hugging your name.

  11. Gail Hart says:

    I went with a pen name because my real name is hard to spell – there are at least six variations. But I my real first name for the reasons others have mentioned, so I’d recognize when someone was talking to me.

    Gail

    • I think you found a good solution, Gail. And I sometimes wonder why I isn’t just stick with my real first name. Though I confess, I’ve been surprised how natural Talia feels, so I guess it’s worked out fine.

  12. Sandra Owens says:

    I thought about a pen name, but I have trouble keeping up with just me. Two of me??? Disaster in the making. But then, I know how organized and focused you are, Talia, so no worries there for you. Love the name!

  13. Hi Talia! You already know I wholeheartedly approve of your new name– it’s unique and just *sounds* romantic, you know? And like you, I’m doing the double-writer-name thing because I write YA as well as NA and don’t want my audiences to get confused (that is, someday when I HAVE audiences). It’s already a lot of work, though. Thanks for sharing your naming story- very interesting. And best of luck to Ms. Surova!

    • Thanks, Amy! It does have a romantic feel, doesn’t it? That was an almost unexpected benefit.

      And don’t get me started on the dual-name, dual-persona, dual-social-media confusion. It’s hard to balance, and I have a feeling it’ll only get worse as we both get further into both our YA and non-YA careers.

  14. Terri Osburn says:

    The more I read this new name, the more I like it. I always thought a pen name (or any author name) should fit the genre, but never thought about ethnicity. I stuck with my real name since it fit contemporary romance, and like others, I was afraid I wouldn’t answer to something new. If I wrote historicals, I’d find a prettier pen name.

    I do think any pen name should mean something to you, and I love the history and sentiment behind Surova. So long as you don’t change what’s inside the books, I don’t think readers will mind at all. 🙂

  15. Interesting, Terri. I hadn’t thought about the difference between historical and contemporary when it comes to names, but I think you’re right. Huh.

    And I agree wholeheartedly–a pen name should have personal resonance. It’s part of what felt wrong about Quinn. It carried no meaning for me.

    Glad you like the new name! And yes, the content remains the same. 🙂

  16. Lovely post, Talia! I love my pen name because it is pronounceable and because it lets me be the outgoing author I’m too shy to be in real life. XO

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