A pseudonym is a fictitious name that is used instead of the person's civil name in connection with the author's activities. The term can be traced back to the ancient Greek adjective pseudônymos, which means "appearing under a false name".
Sometimes the term "stage name" is also used. However, this term rather describes representatives of performing arts, for example actors, singers or dancers.
When does a pseudonym make sense?
The reasons for choosing to publish a book under a pseudonym are many. One motivation may be to use a name that fits the genre better and sounds original. You can also use a pseudonym to protect your identity. For example, if you want to remain unrecognised as the author of an erotic novel and, above all, don't want to provoke any unwanted reactions or incomprehension in your personal environment. You can also protect your professional identity with a pen name. If you publish an explosive critique of the German economy, for example, you can avoid having your reputation as a top manager jeopardized.
A pseudonym can also be useful if you want to publish in different genres. Maybe you're a children's author who wants to launch a light novel for women at some point? Then it doesn't hurt to find a suitable pen name to separate the genres.
A growing number of self-publishing authors are now publishing books in English, Spanish or other languages to reach readers of that language area. Here, too, it can make sense to use a pen name in order to adapt to the respective national language.
What are the legal aspects to be considered?
Pseudonym and right to a name
Publishing under a pseudonym is no problem with most self-publishing services and classic book publishers. However, it is important that you do not violate any naming rights and do not choose a pen name that already exists on the book market. Every person, every company and every association is protected by law by the right to their own name.
The best thing to do is to do some research, for example at the directory of available booksif your desired pseudonym already exists. Also search in the search engines to exclude that the name is similar to club or company names.
What does the imprint say?
Attention. The legislator provides that in the imprint the publisher of the book must be listed with full name and postal address. If you publish through a publisher or self-publishing service provider, this is not a problem. In this case, the publisher's address is listed in the imprint. So if you want to publish your book with tredition under a pseudonym, your pen name can appear in the imprint and you don't have to give your postal address. In return, tredition is listed in the imprint with its company name and address.
Self-publishing is different: Either you have to use your civil name and address, or you found your own publishing housewhich then stands with the publisher's address in the imprint. Alternatively, there are various pseudonym service agencies that provide an address. It is best to seek legal advice on this.
The same applies to your author website. If you do not want to give your civil name and address, you would have to apply for a new address via an address service agency. This is because the law clearly requires clear names in the imprint of websites. This also includes a real, deliverable address. This obligation to the so-called "provider identification" (imprint obligation) results from § 5 of the Telemediengesetztes as well as § 55 of the Rundfunkstaatsvertrages. Accordingly, the imprint of a website must contain the first name, surname and address of the site operator.
Artist's name on the ID card?
It is possible to have your artist name entered on your identity card. This can be useful for popular authors or actors who want to separate their private and professional lives. For example, they can book trips, create invoices, pay taxes or open a bank account under their stage name. You can apply for registration at your local residents' registration office. To do this, you need proof that you are artistically active with this pseudonym and are known nationwide. For example, through publishing house accounts or proof of the availability of your book in bookstores and online shops.
Pseudonym as a brand
You can register your pseudonym as a trademark. This may make sense for self-publishing authors in the long run if you publish several books under this pseudonym and they are more successful than average. Especially as a debut author, you should first concentrate on the essential aspects of your publication.
The German Patent and Trade Mark Office (DPMA) is responsible for registering the pseudonym as a trade mark. It is valid for ten years and can be renewed thereafter. Further information on trade mark registration is available directly at the Website of the DPMA.
Well-known artists register their stage names as trademarks in order to use them commercially or to protect themselves against unauthorized use.
Find a suitable pseudonym
There are different approaches to finding a pseudonym. For example, you can find a pen name that fits the topic and genre through the book project, or you can use your civil name as a starting point.
- Theme and Genre: For a non-fiction book, don't choose a fancy name; for a fantasy or romance novel, the name can be romantic or playful. Feel free to look around your genre for inspiration. What do other authors in this field call themselves? But be careful: don't copy and avoid name similarities!
- Inspiration at the Bookstore: Walking along the shelves of your favorite bookstore can give you new ideas. Again, no similarities to other authors' names. But you can take an example from the onomatopoeic quality or the particularity.
- Clarity and comprehensibility: Avoid complicated and unpronounceable names. A pseudonym that hardly any bookseller or reader can pronounce, let alone remember, is more likely to become a disadvantage.
- The civil name as a starting point: You may already be happy with a slight variation of your civil name, or you may tie in with your birth name if it fits your genre better.
- Use name generator: There are various name generators on the Internet that create random names. Nevertheless, check thoroughly whether the name is already used by another author.
What are the disadvantages of a pen name?
Before you decide on a pseudonym, you should consider whether you want to appear in public as an author yourself. If you don't want to reveal your identity, you'll have to do without a lot: Author photos, readings, book signings, personal interviews and conversations with readers, etc. These are all promotional activities that are not possible with a hidden identity. Especially for unknown self-publishing authors, this kind of public relations is important and makes sense in order to get your book talked about.
It's easier if you only use your stage name because your real name is too "boring" or doesn't fit the genre. This way, there is nothing to stop you from appearing in person. At a reading, you can address the fact that you publish under a pseudonym. This makes you even more exciting as an author.
A pen name can be useful if you want to keep your identity secret or are looking for a name that fits your genre. If you're publishing through a publisher or self-publishing service, it's fine to use a pen name. Start with your genre or topic to create a suitable name and consider whether you want to appear in person for readings and interviews or forgo them to protect your identity. In either case, check carefully to see if the name is already being used by another author.