It took a very long time for me to hit upon the correct name, that resonates with me well and doesn't feel like a pen name... I played with versions of my first name, middle name, and last name, as well as other names I had always loved. For awhile, I was Raine Voss.
Eventually, I hit upon the one that signs off on this blog. It's not that complex, once you understand where it came from. Katrina is a variant of my first name, and Rue is a variant on my mother's maiden name. Rue is also an herb of remembrance, said to improve eyesight and creativity, both necessary to the writer's life, and also means "regret" or "sorrow."
I wouldn't say that my life is full of regret, but it does loom large in my legend Even though there have been good times, there were also quite a few bad ones, and perhaps a portion of that might be mitigated by turning my life from its relatively modest circumstances currently to a relatively modest success.
My reasons for choosing a pen name aren't simply due to privacy, though I definitely would like some. I think that there should be a separation between the professional life and the personal. At my current job, I certainly don't share every single detail about my personal life. In fact, I err very firmly on the side of privacy. I don't see how knowing certain things about my private life would be conducive to selling books, so I'd prefer to keep some of those bits where they belong, behind my front door.
Also, the last name I was born with is more than a little unwieldy on the tongue. It's a natural telemarketing screen, though, as it is just that easy to mangle. But, it also made my first day of school every single year just that much more hellish, as I would have to take that time to train my teachers every single year how to say it. And if a substitute teacher arrived? Forget about it. Not only that, but the quirks of its spelling have also gotten me in trouble. When I was in Japan, I had some tax documents sent to me by the IRS to my address overseas. When I went to submit them, they were rejected by Japan's tax office since the "O" in my last name was changed to an "A". So then I had to stay up until 2 am to call the IRS eighty times to get me a new form. Ugh.
Anyway, my process to choosing the right pen name is fairly straight forward, but it's relatively easy.
- Choose something close enough to your birth name that you won't have much of an adjustment period to hearing it. One of the reasons I decided against "Raine Voss" was that if someone kept shouting "Raine, Raine!" to get my attention, I would go for an umbrella.
- Choose something that means something to you, and that you can connect with. It might not just be a personal connection, perhaps it's a familial one (i.e. your grandmother's last name) or perhaps a nickname that people have called you.
- Choose something you can live with. If you are published under this name, it's a lot like a tattoo. Once you tire of them, they are extremely painful, difficult, and bloody (at least, metaphorically) to remove.
- DON'T choose something that has been published under already. It's really easy to double check... if you were to Google "Katrina Rue", you'd find my Facebook, this blog, and some news stories about Hurricane Katrina.
- DON'T choose something trendy. It will date you.
- DON'T choose a gag name. If you are not writing a compendium of jokes told by second-graders, a silly name, chosen to make you laugh, can be very hard to shed when the joke is no longer funny.
- DON'T choose something too "out there" without a very good reason. People can be very cruel about names (just see Not Without My Handbag if you don't believe me) and you could be turning people off unnecessarily. Important people. Like agents, publishers, reviewers, and customers. Just food for thought.
- DON'T be afraid to choose something that is different than your birth name. You are not necessarily changing your name, as you can still cash checks written out to your pen name without going through the legal process, and even though families can be strange when one of their numbers drops the name that binds them, you are not doing this to spit in their collective eye. If you absolutely have to, tell them that Katrina Rue says that it is a protective measure for them, and only the lowest of the coattail riders would have a problem with not being able to exploit an obvious connection. They would never be this callous and self-interested, right? Of course not.