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Monday, May 2, 2016

Coming up with the Perfect Pen Name

Anonymous said: What is the story behind your name? (Love your posts btw)

Thanks, I’m glad you like my posts! Well, if anyone has come here looking for an interesting or cute little story about why my parents chose the name "September" or the roots of my last name, I hope you won't be disappointed. September C. Fawkes is a pseudonym. But hopefully in some ways that makes the story behind it more interesting.

Short Answer

The short answer is that I wanted a pen name that people might think twice about if they saw it on a book cover or at a writing conference or even just online. I came up with September C. Fawkes. But the real answer is more complicated and a lot longer . . .

Long Answer 

So I used to blog under my real name, but I knew wanted to swap to a pen name once I found one. Taking some things I’ve learned from another writer and doing some of my own thinking, I came up with these guidelines for coming up with the “ideal” pseudonym for writing and publishing:

1) Easy to pronounce and spell.

If it's easy to pronounce and spell, then it will be easier to say, and find. When I was looking for names and was looking at "September," My mom suggested “Septembre” as a spelling and I loved it, but decided against it because it might confuse people. Is it spelled “September” or “Septembre” or something else? (Someone might think when trying to remember.) Is “Septembre” pronounced “September” or “Septemb-ray”? So I stayed with September.

2) Easy to remember.

I liked “September” and “Fawkes” because they are names that people can associate with other things (which will help people to remember). My sister suggested the name “Tuesday”-- I liked the idea of having a “calendar” name, but not a day of the week, so I looked at months. And I liked “September” because it’s a real but uncommon name and nothing really happens in the month of September. “Fawkes” came from me trying to think up animal names ("Wolfe" has already been used so much in the writing world). So I had “Fox,” but thought it looked too contrived and went with “Fawkes” instead, slightly different, but similar enough.

I'm sure a lot of people think it came from Fawkes in Harry Potter, because I'm a huge Harry Potter fan, and I was also playing around with "Phoenix" names and spellings. If people think it came from Harry Potter, well, I really can't complain. :) I'll take it as a compliment.

3) Google worthy. 

When people google my name, it should be the first thing that pops up. I really kind of liked doing a single name, like September, like the author Avi is just Avi, no last name. But if people googled “September,” they'd NEVER find me--I'd be so far back in the search engines! But combine it with something else and it becomes unique.

This also means not going with a common name (a writer named John Smith would be hard to find in search engines)

4) Gender neutral.

Okay, so September is usually a girl name, but not always. While times are changing (thankfully), it can be a good idea to consider going with a gender neutral name. J.K. Rowling chose “J.K. Rowling” so people wouldn’t be put off by the fact a female writer was writing about a boy. With that said, it ultimately didn’t affect the sales when people found out. Unfortunately in some genres though, like adult science fiction, it’s still very difficult to get recognition as a female author.

5) Shouldn’t be too far down the alphabet.

In bookstores, other than bestsellers and displays based on an actual point system, books are organized by the author’s last name (another reason not to go with “Wolfe”), and their genre. So if I have a last name with a “W” it’ll be far down the aisle and maybe the lowest shelf. An “F” last name is close to the front of the alphabet, but not so close it will be in the top corner.

6) Don’t pick a name that will be shelved by a famous or bestselling author in your genre. 

If Stephen King has a new book coming out, the bookstore will take down the books closest to his name to make room for multiple copies of his new book. If your name is “Stephenie King,” your book will be the first to go.

7) Pick a name that increases your chance of getting people to do a double take.

In a bookstore, you really only have a cover (which the traditional author has pretty much no say over), title, and name to grab someone’s attention. And you only have control over two of those things. If my pen name can get a second glance--that’s more attention than most other books on the shelf.


I actually don’t really like initials in pen names--just a personal preference. If I meet J.K. Rowling, do I call her J.K., or J.K. Rowling, or Joanne, or Jo? I don’t even know what “J.R.R.” stands for in “J.R.R.Tolkien” (okay, now I do, I googled it). But . . . I decided to use an initial. Having an initial just made it sound more authentic. Instead of people thinking “that’s got to be a fake name” they are more likely to wonder because there is an initial in it. I have a friend named “Nova,” and her middle name is “Elektra” -- it sounds fake. But her last name is Wahl, and it kind of makes you stop and think . . . And then you wonder about the name (again, that second glance I’m looking for).

I picked “C” because “C” (“SEE”) has a repetition of the S sound in my name “September,“ “Fawkes” September C. Fawkes. Making it not only sound pretty good, but easier to remember than say, “September H. Fawkes,” where the initial doesn’t have that repetition of sound.

How much does the right name matter? 

With all that said, of course writers don’t have to do all this to be successful. A LOT of people are successful without these guidelines. Look at John Green. “John” is super common. And some people really want to use their real name. If that's what you want to do, great! Don't feel like you have to follow me or my own personal guidelines.

I have thought a lot about author names, though, and which have stuck with me from the very first time I heard them--like “Lemony Snicket,” “Avi,” and “Chrome Oxide”--I’ve never forgotten them or the story they wrote just because the names themselves are so peculiar. Heaven knows I wouldn’t have remembered Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket’s real name) near as well as “Lemony Snicket”--in fact, to this day I always forget his real name, even though he’s published under it. And I had to hear the name “John Green” several times before it stuck, and stuck with his books’ titles.

So those are all things I thought about. If anyone is looking for a pen name, they might want to look at these guidelines, but again, no pressure. Don't take these words as gospel. It's not going to be the determining factor that makes or breaks your success as an author.

Shout out to Xeno

Hey guys, I wanted to take a second and do a shout out to Xeno Hemlock. I was featured on his blog a while back, when I was dissecting Trigun. Xeno is another writer, and he recently published a book. Yay for goals and dreams coming true! It's always nice to see a writing success story, so I thought I'd share.

About Xeno

Imagine waking up everyday, working for a job that pays you well, wearing your college honours like a crown on your head, and going to sleep every night with all your basic needs fulfilled. Yet everything feels empty. That described Xeno's life for almost a decade.

He lived as society intended him to be: get good grades in school, find a lucrative career, chase the latest trends, buy the latest shiny object, and get drunk in bars every Friday night, yet his life still felt empty.

All that stopped when he decided to embark on the journey of pursuing his dreams - writing. Gone are depression, aimlessness, and self-doubt, replaced by enthusiasm, purpose, and self-belief. His life ceased being empty.

Xeno writes about the pursuit of our dreams, self-growth, books, and writing on his website. He has self-published two books: Xenanimus and Walden and Hyde (and Other Short Stories).

Visit Xeno's website to learn more about him, read his blog, or learn about his latest book: http://www.xenohemlock.com/


  1. I'm sure my pen name wouldn't have been so logically thought out--assuming I had one, of course. I'm sure I would have picked whichever tickled me the most.

  2. I've always thought of using a pen name! I've thought about Opal Scorpius, because my birthday is in late October with the birthstone Opal and my birth sign is Scorpio, plus that sounds cool. Also, do you have any advice for young writers like middle schoolers? I love your posts, you post such cool things for writers both young and old!

    1. Thanks owl! Sure, I'll put the advice in a post in the next few weeks.

  3. It just reminds me of the protagonist in my first novel, who is called November. Not the same month, but pretty close XD


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