Romeo and Juliet had name troubles. One of them a Montague and the other a Capulet (or perhaps a Jet and a Shark, if that's more your thing), their love was forbidden by the very labels given to them by their families (or by their toe-tappin', finger-snappin' gangs, if that's more your thing). But Juliet knew. She got it. Juliet knew that a simple label did not define her Romeo. "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Call a rose a pickle, and it would still smell like a rose. The name does not matter.
Or does it?
I've read of several independent experiments that tested whether the name given to an object changes the way we smell the object. Essentially, smelly things (good, neutral, and bad) would be put into bags or otherwise hidden from view and labeled. Test subjects would then read the label, smell the substance, and their reactions were recorded. What happened? If you labeled a bag of cheddar cheese as "cheddar cheese" people reacted favorably. If you labeled the same bag as "body odor" people hated it. Guess old Bill got it wrong.
So what's in a name? If you read the results of these experiments: a lot, apparently. And I've struggled with this concept for two, ten, or forty years, depending on where you start counting. If you're reading this post and you happen to be my biological mother, you might want to skip down a bit.
For the rest of the world, I have a confession: I don't really like my name. Meaning no disrespect to the Great Charlies of the world (Chaplin, Brown, the Unicorn, ...) but the name just always felt, well, a bit dorky to me. I always wanted a real name, like Mike or Steve or maybe Tom or Richard. As I grew older though, I got used to it, and I realized it was part of my uniqueness (meaning no disrespect to the other Great Charlie Hillses of the world).
But early feelings like that never really go away. Not completely. And once I realized I wanted to write, I started thinking about using a pen name. I knew in my heart of hearts that my real name just wouldn't look right to me, given the subject matter of interest.
Take, for example, Exhibit A:
You might look at this and think nothing of it. "Hey, great book title. Hey, I like that author. I'm going to buy it." However that's not how I see it.
The way I see it is represented in Exhibit B:
It just doesn't look right. So what's a budding author to do? Well, just make up a new name, of course! Many, many great writers have, and I bet their mothers probably didn't even get mad at them: Lewis Carroll, George Orwell, Ayn Rand, Mark Twain, Dr. Seuss, . . . the list goes on.
But there's a catch! Before you use a pen name you have to actually come up with it, and that's a lot more difficult than it sounds. Sure, you could pull any two random names out of a hat (for example, "Harry" and "Potter") and run with it, but if you're going to go to all this trouble, shouldn't it have some real meaning? Shouldn't it pay homage to someone important to you? And shouldn't it be infinitely more amazing than the name you're leaving behind?
The answers to these questions are different for everybody, of course. For me, however, after years and years and year, I've at long last found the perfect pen name for me: