you're reading...
Fiction, Humor, Publishing, The Writer's Life

What’s In A Name: The Search for Pseudonym

Recently I was surfing publishing sites when I came across this author: Jasmine Dreame Wagner. Yeah, Dreame. Unless she was born while her parents partied at Woodstock, I’d bet she made that middle name up.

Does having such a nifty nom-de-plume help an author get published? Of more concern to me is this: Does having an uncool name hurt my chances of being published?

Pon-e-pin-to. Seems simple, but there’s the odd spelling, the two disruptive Ps. It’s Sicilian, but it doesn’t look it. Probably got bastardized when my grandfather landed at Ellis Island, although I’ve never been able to find any history on it.

My earliest memories include first-graders finding easy insult in my name. I was a small kid. Remove the first P and the last O, and I am left with One Pint, about the size of me as a child. And don’t think the other kids didn’t notice the aptronym.

Decades of school, military service, and employment, and it never got better, just more absurd: Pinto; Pony; Pinny; Ponepinhead. Let’s just say no one’s ever said to me, “I wish I had a name like yours.”

The name has always given me trouble because it gives so many others trouble. My dealings with restaurant hosts, repairmen and other service types usually include a butchered attempt at pronunciation (Hello, Mr. Pon… Mr. Pont… um, Mr. Pontepintimino?), followed by a correction, followed by the inevitable, “What kind of name is that?” Depending on my annoyance, I reveal that the name is either Italian, Sicilian, or that I’m an agent of beings from another galaxy, sent to earth to confuse the population before our invasion.

When I lived in California, that educational Neverland, it was worse. Instead of asking the name’s origins, people guessed. Spanish? Uzbeki? Native American? Polynesian Islander? I invoked my intergalactic roots much more often then.

So ever since I turned my career towards fiction writing, I’ve toyed with possible pseudonyms. How would I sell stories and books if readers couldn’t pronounce my name? As in any other business that relies on mass public consumption, you don’t sell the steak, you sell the sizzle. You need a name that’s short, snappy, filled with punch and potential. Maybe something Waspish, like one of my writing favorites, David Foster Wallace—three Anglo first names (or three Anglo last names, if you prefer) that fly off the tongue. Bing, bang, boom.

But no, I could never pass. Besides, I feel I should stick with my roots. Go for the cultured, continental image. One of my favorite author names has always been Umberto Eco: note the regal, yet sensual first name, coupled with that abrupt burst of emotion—Eco! In Italian, the word “ecco” can be used as an interjection, meaning “so there!” And if you’ve read a little Eco, there’s no doubt he had that in mind.

All right then, let’s embrace my inner Wop. My mother’s maiden name is Tori. That’s easy to pronounce and remember. How about Joe Tori? Nope. Joe Torre—same pronunciation—managed the Yankees and Dodgers for years. Best I’ve been able to conjure has been Giancarlo DeTorre, but that’s almost as convoluted as my original name—so I’ve consigned it to a character in a novel I’m writing. Everything else I invent sounds even more forced and phony.

And yet, there are other authors who have made careers while keeping their original, unusual names: Paolo Tadini Bacigalupi, Michael Czyzniejewski, Daniyal Mueenuddin. If they can do it, why can’t I?* Should I keep or should I change? I am more confused than ever.

Meanwhile, the search goes on.

*No cracks about lack of talent, please.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


44 thoughts on “What’s In A Name: The Search for Pseudonym

  1. For me, a meaningful (to you) name that is not too difficult to pronounce, and has a slight ring to it would be one approach. That way, both you and your readers get satisfaction.

    Posted by jdhoward | October 13, 2012, 1:21 PM
  2. No pseudonym! You have a great name for publishing! Let’s see, where would your book be on the shelf? Next to whom??

    My nieces are having babies and, though they have plain-as-posts last names, they’re saddling their children with some doozies. Ori. Alta. And my favorite, Jerica —- which always makes me want to sing, “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho….”

    I’ve had many last names. Birth name. Adopted. Married. Divorced. Remarried. I wrote an entire essay on the mispronunciations of my many names. I’m sticking with Carter.

    Posted by Teri | October 13, 2012, 1:46 PM
    • Interesting that you wrote an essay about your names. I am thinking of expanding this into an essay too. The blog barely scratches the surface of my name’s bumpy journey. As for the bookshelf, I think I’d be between Poe and Annie Proulx. Hmmm. Maybe I’ll stay where I am. Thanks for the vote of confidence.

      Posted by jpon | October 13, 2012, 4:40 PM
  3. Funny, I’ve always thought your name rolls off the tongue in a particularly euphonous way, especially BECAUSE of the repetitive “p” sound! I don’t think that’s only because I took two years of Italian, either. One thing I’ve never understood is why Italians in the U.S. feel the need to conform and clip the final “e” sounds off Italian words to suit a clueless American population: it’s such a nice sound! Of course, maybe it’s dialectal Italian from Italy or Sicily to do so as well, I don’t know, but I’ve always enjoyed the sound of “pas-ta fa-giol-e(i?)” much more than the way it’s pronounced at Italian restaurants here: “pasta fagiol’.” Or “pasta bolognes’.” What’s up with that, when you could be rolling the extra syllable off your tongue and saying “pasta bolognese?” Excuse my ignorance if it is ignorance. I just look forward to every Saturday morning, when I can say to myself, “Oh yes, and today’s when another great column by that talented writer in Los Angeles, Joe Pon-e-PIN-to comes out.” Plus, you’ve just taught me a new word I’d never heard of, “aptronym”! There’s another word like that, eponym, which shares a syllable with your last name. So, try to imagine yourself as father of a city of writers, upon all of whom is bestowed the e-pon-e-pin-to-nymesque name “Ponepinto.” It’s really a very nice name, and all frolicking in syllables and sounds aside, I think you should stick by it! After all, think how long it’s stuck by you, and where you are now!

    Posted by shadowoperator | October 13, 2012, 1:51 PM
    • Great comment–love this line: “…think how long it’s stuck by you”! :-]

      Posted by fpdorchak | October 13, 2012, 2:04 PM
    • Thanks for the great and supportive comments. Maybe some of my frustration comes from growing up in a lower middle class neighborhood, where kids jumped on anything remotely unusual and turned it into an object of ridicule. And yes, the average American should be able to handle four simple syllables, but as we know, that’s not always the case. Today’s blog was written more in fun than seriousness, although I have often thought about name possibilities. But it’s great to hear from so many people who actually like it. Gives me a new appreciation for the name.

      Posted by jpon | October 13, 2012, 4:46 PM
  4. I can sympathize with you, Joe.


    Yeah–check any doors lately? How many? And let’s not get into all the spelling butchery (it’s amazing how many variations can be created) and the [un?]intentional mispronunciation. I feel your pain. It seems, lately, initials and a last name are in vogue (though I don’t recall this 20+ years ago when I created my “F. P.”). I like your name, has a good ring to it. Air of sophistication. Gets my attention. I say keep it, man. Wear it proud! :-]

    Posted by fpdorchak | October 13, 2012, 2:00 PM
    • I was thinking you might have some similar experiences. One of the things I find especially frustrating is that I have several “friends” that I’ve known for 10 or more years who still mispronounce and misspell my last name. Of course, they live in California, so maybe that explains it.

      Posted by jpon | October 13, 2012, 4:48 PM
      • Ha!

        My best advice–thick skin–and laugh it off! There are so many other things FAR more important than the sound or spelling of my name! :-]

        Posted by fpdorchak | October 13, 2012, 6:34 PM
      • Per usual, I agree with Frank — or F.P., as I like to think of him! On a related note, someone recently advised me to change my first name to “Martin” since, in his words, “Martin Schuster scans better than Marc Schuster.” Probably won’t be doing that any time soon, but if you see me answering to the name “Martin,” you’ll know why.

        Posted by Marc Schuster | October 19, 2012, 3:13 PM
  5. Joe Ponepinto is a fine name…a really fine name. Having heard it once, no one will mispronounce it. Keep it, and as you do, just thing of my writer friend, Jim Miller. I swear, if you give up on Joe Ponepinto, he will grab it. And look…you have several lovely syllables…five in fact. Jim Miller. Jon Zech. Your name has a beat: boom-bada bing bong. Mine? Ker-plop.
    But I’ve considered “better” names too. My birth name? Rob Hart. (ker-plop) Initials of my full adoptive name? J.F.C.Zech. Yeah, for when I write my next volume on inter-personal relationships in fourth century Thebes.
    But here’s the thing…it’s not what your name will bring to the work, it’s what your work will bring to your name. When you hit the NYT best seller list, everybody will know how to say your name.

    Posted by Jon Zech | October 13, 2012, 2:12 PM
    • Interesting how this works. I always thought of yours as a great one for a writer: short, easy to remember, yet distinct. And the Jon (vs. John) is cool too. May we both have an opportunity to pronounce it for an admiring public as we hit the best seller interview circuit.

      Posted by jpon | October 13, 2012, 4:51 PM
    • Oh, and when I start writing F/F erotic romance I will be Zonja Becker. But don’t hold your breath.

      Posted by Jon Zech | October 13, 2012, 6:17 PM
    • I agree with Jon, and anyways, your name sounds just fine. I really like the alliteration P..P. Say cheese for the back cover of your novel.

      Posted by Nadia Ibrashi | October 15, 2012, 4:00 AM
      • What?! You mean there’s something wrong with the picture I’ve been using?

        Just kidding…

        Posted by jpon | October 15, 2012, 2:13 PM
  6. Well Joe, I agree that Ponepinto is a fine name and one I’d be proud to have on my bookshelf. But if you really must look for a pseudonym you’re welcome to share the one I use to get extra letters to the editor printed…Sue Dunham. Perhaps a big bold name might suit you, one to convey confidence, bravado, and accomplishment. One such as Victor Champion. A winning sort of name. Or if Victor and Champion seem like overkill you could keep ’em guessing by employing mysterious initials such as JP Champion. Or even to make it more mysterious and unique you could go with three random initials, maybe BPL Champion. Just a few helpful suggestions.

    Posted by socalsoxman | October 13, 2012, 2:45 PM
  7. Like Teri, I’ve had a few last names. I considered publishing under my maiden name Wilkerson. But then I worried Darrelyn Wilkerson would be too long. So I stuck with the hubby that has stuck by me for 30 years and put up with my ignoring him for the six years it took to co-write and then publish Deirdre’s memoir.

    Stick with Joe Ponepinto. It’s a great name that has spurred many stories. And I love a good story.

    Posted by Darrelyn Saloom | October 13, 2012, 3:14 PM
  8. I recently chose a pseudonym for myself. It’s incredibly plain–completely pronounceable, but also forgettable. I think I need to work on it. I like “Ponepinto” quite a lot. It has a nice roll to it. Not too difficult to say, but just a little, which makes it distinguished. I would stick with it. Besides, you’ve invested a lot of time and energy into publicizing yourself under that name. You don’t want to abandon it now.

    Posted by Meg | October 13, 2012, 3:24 PM
    • Actually, although the incidents and insults I cite in the blog are true, the blog itself was mostly in jest. I’ve thought about creating a pseudonym, but I’m probably too far along as an author to do it now.

      But you mentioned a pseudonym of your own–what is it? Maybe we can get a consensus here on the blog.

      Posted by jpon | October 13, 2012, 4:58 PM
  9. Joe Ponepinto has a nice ring to it. Sounds rather pugilistic, in fact. Macho. A man’s man. They sound good together and it’s fun to say. But if that’s not what you’re going for, DeTorre is good, too.

    Posted by girl in the hat | October 13, 2012, 3:29 PM
    • Too late for DeTorre–I’ve already plopped him into a novel. But I’m glad to see your take on Ponepinto–I think my dad and grandfather would be proud.

      Posted by jpon | October 13, 2012, 5:01 PM
    • I was thinking the same thing. Joe Ponepinto: a nice, macho, badass name. Keep it and be proud, Joe.

      My real name is so alliterative and awful that I had to choose something else. Now I’m so used to being called Averil that I’m considering making it legal.

      Posted by Averil Dean | October 13, 2012, 5:50 PM
      • Can’t say I’m not curious as to what the real name is, as I’m sure many others are. But we know you so well as Averil Dean that even if we knew, we’d think of you in your writer persona.

        Posted by jpon | October 13, 2012, 7:08 PM
  10. I once reviewed the CV of a medical researcher with the first name of “Aashit.” I wondered sometimes if he got published merely so the editors could use that name.

    I use a pen name (which is similar to my actual name) for the reasons you state in this post. People tend to mispronounce and mangle and misspell my actual name. It’s a fine name, too.

    Posted by Paul Lamb | October 13, 2012, 5:41 PM
  11. Oh, Paul, now you’ve done it. Triggered my memory of the all-time most unfortunate for real name I ever saw. A client where I worked. He was old in the 1970s, gone now. Rest in peace, Oral Manlove.

    Posted by Jon Zech | October 13, 2012, 6:24 PM
  12. You’d be surprised how many people can’t spell or pronounce Mears. Sears, no problem. Ears, no problem. Mears, andI get Mayers, Meyers, Mares, and that doesn’t begin to touch the spellings.

    Stick with Ponepinto. It’s a good name, and an unusual last name didn’t hurt Chuck Palahniuk.

    Posted by Stefon Mears | October 14, 2012, 12:20 AM
    • I am surprised that people have trouble with your name. But then, considering the state of education in the US, maybe I shouldn’t be. Thanks for the vote of confidence. Move over, Chuck P.

      Posted by jpon | October 14, 2012, 1:07 PM
  13. I’ve heard Paolo Bacigalupi has a song he uses to teach people how to pronounce his last name. (Personally, I think with the number of stories you’ve published under your real name, it would be a shame to switch now. Unless you’re entering a new genre.)

    Posted by akhoffman | October 14, 2012, 5:56 PM
  14. Joe, I agree with those who say keep your own name. It’s a fine name, a manly name, and a literary-sounding name, I think. It suits you and your work. And people will mispronounce or misspell just about anything. You’d be surprised at the weird stuff I get with Lundstrom – Lundberg, Landstrom, Lundstorm… Some people just don’t have the decency to pay attention.

    Posted by klundstrom | October 15, 2012, 10:18 PM
    • Thanks, Kim. I’m honestly amazed at how many people with names that seem easier to pronounce and remember have just as much trouble as I do. As you said, it’s people, not our names that are the problem.

      I’m equally impressed with how many people find the name manly, or even macho sounding. If the writing doesn’t work out, maybe I can get a role as a bandito in the next Antonio Banderas flick. Always wanted to play a bad guy.

      Posted by jpon | October 15, 2012, 10:24 PM
  15. That’s her real name, and you’re an ass.

    Posted by Verbal | January 18, 2013, 12:14 AM
  16. Sorry to rain on your parade Joe, but Jasmine’s name is no nom-de-plume. I attended high school with her at Phillips Exeter Academy.

    Posted by Mina Cunningham | January 18, 2013, 6:37 AM
    • I apologize for having a little fun with Ms. Wagner’s middle name. Trust me, my name’s been butchered and insulted more times than I care to remember. The point of the reference, however, was only to use it as a lead in to talk about names and how they are perceived in general.

      Posted by jpon | January 18, 2013, 11:45 AM
  17. As one of Jasmine Dreame Wagner’s publishers, I can vouch that Ahsahta (and Cathy Park Hong) selected her manuscript before we even knew what her name, or her middle name, was. That is, we selected her book on the virtue of the poetry. That may, indeed, be why her work is fairly widely published–because it kicks ass. And that should be the only thing you worry about when it comes to publication, my friend.

    You didn’t “have fun with Ms. Wagner’s middle name.” You suggested she made it up, which is something different, suggesting she is frivolous, conniving, or worse. You owe her an apology.

    Posted by Janet | January 18, 2013, 8:21 PM

Tahoma Literary Review Now Open for Submissions

TLR is officially open for submissions of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. To find out more about this new (paying) literary journal, please visit us at Tahoma Literary Review.

Enter your email address to subscribe to Joe's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 7,385 other followers