How to choose a pseudonym: 4 rules

Leigh Turner
Leigh Turner

How to choose a pseudonym? It’s important to have something that sounds OK, and that you can live with. Four rules, and mistakes I made. 

The reasons I had to choose a pseudonym and use it for seven years are set out in my book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Diplomacy.

It was all about bringing the Foreign Office, supposedly, into disrepute.

The result was that in 2014, I started writing under a pen-name.  How did I choose the pseudonym Robert Pimm?

How to choose a pseudonym

Before deciding on a name, I consulted guides on how to choose your pseudonym.  They said:

(i) don’t pick anything too daft.  People may address you by this name, eg at readings or in interviews.  So that ruled out “Fluke Xenophon Chapman”, a juicy character in my unpublished novel “Holiday Period“, a prequel to my speculative thriller “Eternal Life;

(ii) a first name that is familiar to you may be helpful.  So “Robert”, which is actually my first name (I am Robert Leigh Turner, known as Leigh) made sense;

(iii) something in the middle of the alphabet may help shift books in bookshops, because people tend to go to the middle of the shelf (sounds a bit quaint, but plausible);

(iv) in choosing a surname, it’s good to have something with family heritage, or perhaps a geographical link.  So from my home in Pimlico, London, came “Pimm”.

Steps to a new pseudonym

Back in 2014 changing my name meant a vast amount of work.  It included:

– inserting the name of the author Robert Pimm into the title pages of all my books, including the only ones I had published at the time, “Hotel Stories” – together with the author information inside.  The latter in particular, reassigning authorship from my real identity to a new person, was a strange sensation;IMG_3170

In 2014 in Dubai

–  changing my name on the Amazon “author’s page” at “Author Central”.  It’s easy enough to edit your biographical information, but to change the name of the author’s page itself you have to send an e-mail to Amazon and ask them to do it;

– updating my Facebook page and rebranding it with the same cover photo as this blog. This confused a lot of people. So did running parallel Twitter and Instagram accounts;

– buying myself the domain name of robertpimm.com and changing my “primary domain” for this site so that users would see “robertpimm.com” when visiting the blog.  That cost $18.00 a year.

How to ditch a pseudonym

In September 2021, when I retired, I decided to ditch Robert Pimm. I had become fond of my pen-name, and Robert Pimm had assumed a kind of distinct personality. Some friends thought it was cool that I had a “secret” name. But once I was no longer working for the government, I felt able to dispense with him.

The good news was that I felt a sense of liberation. Suddenly my life was simple. Only one name! Only one identity!

The bad news was that ditching a pseudonym, or a pen-name, that you have built up over seven years is itself a huge exercise. On this blog, for example, removing all references to the pen-name Robert Pimm was a challenge (I know, it still appears here and there). I had to get all my book covers redesigned, have new cards printed, and so on. It is impossible to remove “Robert Pimm” and his books from Amazon and Goodreads – he will live on there forever.

In short, I would far rather never have had to do the whole pseudonym thing. But sometimes it is unavoidable.

If I were choosing a pseudonym another time, what would I do differently?

How to choose a pseudonym: mistakes I made

I made a couple of rookie errors choosing my pseudonym:

(i) Pimm – how do you spell it? Tell anyone your name is “Robert Pimm”, and they reply “is that P-Y-M? Or P-Y-M-M? Or what?” Whatever name you choose, make it obvious how to spell it;

(ii) Robert Pimm sounds a bit too much like Barbara Pym, a best-selling writer of social comedies. I don’t think this was helpful. I checked that there was no other major writer called Robert Pimm. But when choosing a pseudonym, you should also check for similar-sounding ones;

(iii) similarly, many people associated “Pimm” with “Pimm’s” – an excellent British summer drink concoction often consumed at embassy cocktail parties. I considered this a potential plus when I chose the name; but when the hundredth person of the week said ‘Is that something to do with Pimm’s?’, my heart sank.

Having said all this, Robert Pimm had a good innings; and I was delighted to work with him for seven fine years.

Books by Robert Pimm – and Leigh Turner

If you would like to have a look at my writing, now exclusively as Leigh Turner, please check out my latest books. Blood Summit, Seven Hotel Stories and Eternal Life all appeared first under the name Robert Pimm. Palladium“, published in 2022, is the first to have appeared with Leigh Turner as its author. That will be true, too, of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Diplomacy” when it is published in 2023.

 

Leigh Turner books

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