Orwell-Inspired Tips for the Perfect Pen Name
In need of a pen name, but lacking inspiration? Take advice inspired by someone whose pen name is so good, you may not have realized it wasn’t his given name—George Orwell. Before the author of 1984 became George Orwell, he was Eric Blair. Although no one knows for sure how Eric chose his pen name, these reasons may help you pick yours.
Read on, comrades.
Address your reason for wanting a pen name.
There’s no right or wrong reason to want a pen name. Maybe you just want one. Maybe you can’t imagine your name on the cover of a book—at least not without altering it a bit. Or perhaps you want to keep your personal life quiet, like George Orwell. After the birth of his pen name, Orwell and Blair came to have separate friends and lives, due to Orwell’s fascination with dividing his life into different sections. Additional reasons? Eric Blair disliked his name. He was also afraid of disgracing his family. Figuring out why you want a pen name in the first place may help you find the perfect one.
Pick something that sounds memorable.
Some say “George Orwell” came from St. George and the River Orwell, or maybe a horse in the 1932 Epsom Derby. It’s a bit sketchy there. But according to Orwell, it just sounded like “a good round English name.” He wanted a memorable, full sounding name, and “Blair” was too forgettable. When choosing your pen name, lay out your options and choose something that rolls off your tongue in a pleasing way. If this is the name you’re sticking with, make sound as big and lofty as your dreams (without being pretentious).
Work on your vocabulary.
It’s been said that Orwell’s first word was “beastly.” Yours was probably “Mama,” “Dada,” or “dog,” so you’ve got some catching up to do.
Do some research on names and where they come from. You might find some interesting origins, and if you’re juggling a few ideas, this may help determine which one wins out. Do so while drinking tea to channel some serious Orwell. The man loved his tea.
Spend some time on a remote island.
Not a fan of big, overpopulated areas? Neither was Orwell. Wanting to get away from London and all of the publicity, George Orwell retreated to Jura. It was supposed to be a seasonal getaway, but he stayed there year round and wrote 1984, the bane of his existence, despite not being able to get out of bed certain days due to tuberculosis. By all means, if you have access to an island, go spend some quality time with your writerly self. Just, you know, without the tuberculosis.
Believe in your future success.
It’s been said that in a letter to bookseller Louis Simmonds, Eric Blair chose the name George Orwell because he wanted a name that started in the middle of the alphabet so his books would appear on the middle shelf in bookstores—not too high, not too low. Now that’s believing in the success of your books. Go to your local bookstore, stand in front of a bookshelf, and imagine your future book there. Visualization is something many swear by. If you can envision it, you can achieve it. Study the bookshelf and pick your future book’s spot. Examine the book that’s currently holding its place. What letter does the author’s last name start with? Figure it out and go from there. It’s a backwards way of doing it, but hey, writers are eccentric.
Christina is the voice behind Quirk’s social media channels and editor-in-chief of the blog. She graduated from Rowan University with her M.A. in Writing and joined Quirk in 2016. She loves weekend cooking projects, Cape May in the winter, and her dog, Rocket. Say hi on Twitter @quirkbooks or @saychristina!