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Writing - A Smith by any other name...

Who are you (with apologies to Pete Towneshend)? And who am I?

And was it a good idea?

Hmmm. Perhaps I should start again. Or even just start :-).

The thing about writers, well and actors. And, um, singers. And… well, the thing about writers is – they may not be who you think they are. Or who they say they are.

Er – what did he say?

I said writers, well and actors, and… Oh. I already did that bit :-P. I said writers may be mascare… miskor… moskar… er, I said writers sometimes pretend to be someone else.


The pen name has a long and respectable – or sometimes not so respectable – history. A writer who doesn’t want to use their real name may write under a different one. And there are all sorts of reasons for so doing. For instance, George Sand wrote thirty-nine novels and eleven plays. Or rather, George Sand didn’t. That was just the name on the cover. In fact, Amantine (also "Amandine") Lucile Aurore Dupin, later Baroness Dudevant wrote them. On the other hand, Baroness Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála "Emmuska" Orczy de Orczi was quite happy for her own name, even if rather shortened, to be on the cover of the Scarlet Pimpernel.

But neither of them were called ‘Smith’ :-P.

In the days before the Inter-tubes, pen names have been used to hide the fact that otherwise respectable people were in fact writers. Pen names have been used to hide real names considered, perhaps, embarrassing. Pen names have been used to save readers from trying to remember names they might find hard to pronounce. And they’ve been used to avoid what might become confusion, or even worse, lawyers at dawn. For instance, when Maurice Micklewhite first started out in movies, he took the stage name of Michael Scott. Unfortunately it turned out that name was already in use by somebody called, um, Michael Scott. Wandering round Leicester Square, Mr Micklewhite happened to see a movie poster. Deciding that ‘Michael One Hundred and One Dalmations’ probably wouldn’t be a good idea, he looked the other way. And because of The Caine Mutiny, Michael Caine was born.

But Michael Caine, or even Michael Micklewhite, wasn’t a Smith.

When I started out writing, or at least, when I started out trying to put my writing where people might be able to read it, I had to think about who to be. Whether, in fact, to take a pen name. I thought about being Bard Elcano. I even thought about being Sephiranoth – if a one name nom-de-pen was good enough for Charles Dickens, maybe it would work for me. But even though a web search is more likely to take you to the Captain of the South African cricket team, I went with ‘Graeme Smith’. I went with – me. After all. If it was good enough for Wilbur and Edward Elmer , I figured it was good enough for me.

So there you are. Graeme Smith. That’s me – pen or otherwise. A writer of comic fantasy. But, to paraphrase the Beard of Avon, would a Smith by any other name have been a good idea? I’d be interested in your thoughts. What do you think?


Kelly Hashway's picture

I can see why authors who write very different things like children's books and adult erotica would use pen names for one so the keep their audiences separate. But for me (I don't write erotica.) using my real name seemed like the best choice. This way those who know me can find my books, and those who don't know me will get to know the real me.

Graeme's picture

But you're a Hashway. Not a Smith who doesn't happen to be the Captain of the South African Cricket team :-).
If you were Kelly Smith, and if at least part of your intention was to be found when people looked for your writing, would you have felt the same?

Kelly Hashway's picture

Graeme, I grew up with the last name Bradley. I knew of several other Kelly Bradleys. We were everywhere, so I get having a common name. But Graeme isn't a common name. So I think you do stand out. I wouldn't worry too much about it. Now if you were publishing under G. Smith, then I'd say you might have an issue. ;)

Tricia Linden's picture

Graeme, it's a good thing you're not a John or Bob, or for that matter, Tom, Dick or Harry but that's a whole other kettle of fish. John Smith would be a death knell on the whole easy to find thing. And Dick Smith, well that's just wrong. Stick with Graeme, it seems to be working.

Enjoy always, T

Graeme's picture

Greetings indeed!

Well - I may not be Tom, or indeed John - but I've signed into a hotel on a honeymoon twice - as Mr and Mrs Smith. The staff were, of course, polite, but I'm sure they didn't believe me blush. Er, us cheeky.

One would think Graeme (the Scots spelling of the more frequently encountered Graham) would be uncommon. But so far, apart from the Captain of the South African cricket team, I have:

A foreign correspondent for the Globe and Mail (a Canadian newpaper)
A former Member of Parliament for Livingston in West Lothian, Scotland (who appears to own the domain I'd love to get my hands on devil)
A Research Staff Member at IBM's TJ Watson Research Center (with 135 publications to his name)
The author of a number of articles (and a book - 'THE THEATRE ROYAL: Entertaining a Nation') about theatres in Glasgow.

But at least, so far, no other fantasy authors... laugh.



DM's picture

Graeme, it's perfect, short and easy to remember.  I'm afraid if I had a pen name, I wouldn't remember it.

Graeme's picture

... and that's one of the problems with pen names. You almost have to set up a whole new identity (in some jurisdictions, even things like bank accounts). Never mind remembering who you are when you're replying to emails and the like!

I guess people are stuck with me being, um, me blush.

Elizabeth Maginnis's picture

I Googled myself once and discovered that I have the same name as a deceased Edinborough political figure who was not all that well-liked. Ouch! Still, I want the world to know that it's Me who's doing the writing. I briefly toyed with the idea of using my mother's name (McDonald) but realized that my real name most accurately reflects my self-image. So, like it or not, world, here I come!

Graeme's picture

And by any account or measure of mine, the world is bettor for that coming! So there smiley!

Elizabeth Maginnis's picture

Thank you for your kind words, Sir Graeme. You are too kind!

Graeme's picture

... I just have amazingly good taste!

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