When I decided to finally start writing my memoir, I knew I had to choose a pen name for two reasons: The first is that my real last name is just not very author-ish. It’s German, hard to pronounce, and harder to spell. If, by some chance, there is a miracle and this memoir does get published, it’s not very desirable to publish under a name nobody can say or write. Unfortunately, my wife’s last name is equally as tricky, though it’s Sicilian. So, it wasn’t an option either. The second reason I chose to use a pen name was
that I don’t want to get sued by any family members who may or may not be happy with how they are portrayed in the book to protect the privacy of myself, my family, and my friends.
Let me tell you, coming up with a pen name wasn’t easy. I searched Babycenter, the Social Security website, Pinterest, and random google searches for name lists. I also used dozens of name generators, including the name generator built into Scrivener. Hell, I even purchased an Ancestry account for inspiration – now being auto-billed to my credit card at a ridiculous monthly fee because I keep forgetting to cancel it. It was an exhaustive search with many, many contenders. Too many, actually. I’m talking several notebook pages and an excel spreadsheet full of names; I’m not exaggerating.
Initially, I was planning to change my first name, considering it’s also used by billions of other women born in the late ’70s and early ’80s. So, I picked names like Jessica (equally as common), Chloe (vetoed by wifey), Charlotte, Courtney, Ashley, and so on. Every single one of them ended up being rejected for one reason or another. Finally, I hit on the name for Jenessa. It was uncommon enough that it would work for any last names as a web address. I also liked it because it was a combination of the first names of two of my great grandmother’s Jessi + Genevieve. Unfortunately, I had to drop it when I ran it by someone who said it reminded her of a polygamist name. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a polygamist…If you’re over the age of 18, not forced to wear a prairie dress, use birth control responsibly, and have plenty of life options at your disposal.
It’s not just my indecisiveness and inability to stick with a decision for too long that haunted me in the process, however. Along with anyone else who considers using a pen name, I also needed to consider a few other questions. The most important being:
- Does someone already own that domain?
- Is it being used by an existing author or public figure?
- Is it easy to spell and pronounce?
- Will it work well as a social media handle?
- Does it fit your “genre”?
(I don’t really know how the last one works. Although, I do know that one of the last names I considered did make me feel like I would be required to write shitty romance novels as a condition for use. So, there must be something to it.)
Eventually, I gave up on trying to find a different first name. So, I started working on last names until I finally found a combination I really liked: Jennifer Hollins.
It has some sort of ring to it that I like, though I’m not sure what it is exactly. Although, it may have something to do with the “o” sound in Hollins, which is considered “pleasant-sounding,” according to some linguistics research I read. Yep, I took this name shit seriously enough to read actual research articles on sound (riveting, they were not).
Luckily, the domain name wasn’t already taken, and, according to Good Reads and Amazon, there aren’t any other authors with the same name. It’s also pretty easy to say, remember, and spell.
Numbers 1-3, check.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite as lucky with #4. The Instagram username I wanted didn’t even show up in search, so I assume it was someone who ended up deleting their account. I did, however, find someone on Twitter with the handle of @jenniferhollins. Although she hasn’t used her account in several years. I reached out, hoping she would consider transferring it to me, but I never heard back. Probably because she doesn’t check her Twitter, seeing as how she has sent a total of 0 tweets with no other activity since she joined in 2011. So, I’m still messing around with different alternatives on both accounts (which makes me look slightly insane to my followers who continue to see my usernames switch back and forth from Jenn_hollins to jenniferhollins.author, to authorjenniferhollins, etc.)
Aside from these minor issues, though, I’m pretty pleased with my choice. So pleased, in fact, that I actually considered changing my real name. That is until I remembered the main reason why I didn’t change my name when wifey and I got married was so I didn’t have to deal with the damn DMV.
So, there you have it—the story of how I came up with my pseudonym.