Why Pen Names Might Be a Bad Idea for Most Bloggers

Why Pen Names Might Be a Bad Idea for Most BloggersFor about 15 years now, I’ve been writing under the pseudonym Matt Ryan. This name became the one I used in business back when I started working in FM radio. At the time, I was 15 years old and having my full “real” name out there was ill-advised. Even in a small town, you never know who might be listening in and looking you up.

My mother, a DJ since she was in college, also uses a pseudonym while on the air. She selected hers partially because it sounded better than her given name and had more public appeal. This is one of the more common reasons people use these names, and I felt Matt Ryan sounded a lot cooler than Ryan Pierson.

After doing radio for a number of years, I began doing Internet television and eventually syndicated radio. In each of these jobs, I continued to use my original pseudonym because it was familiar and I had already invested so much time into the personal brand that I felt it was too late to switch back to my real birth name. That is, until I started blogging for a living.

Going to Conferences

When you write under a pseudonym, the world knows you by that name. It becomes a part of you and how you identify with the world. For all intents and purposes, I am Matt Ryan. This combination of my first and middle names has been what I’ve gone by in private and in public for years. The problem is, folks at conferences and other events that require ID rarely know who you are or understand pseudonyms.

I walked around conference halls with a badge that said Ryan Pierson, yet I introduced myself to people as Matt Ryan. Can you see where the confusion might come into play here?

The other problem was being invited to conferences and having a badge waiting for me with my pseudonym on it. When I presented my ID to pick them up, it was very difficult to explain that my badge is under a different name than the one on my driver’s license.

Business Deals

Business deals are harder to make when you’re known under a different name. Let’s be honest here; no one wants to do business with someone who changes their name in the middle of the deal. “But I wanted to talk to Matt Ryan” is a common problem when money becomes an issue. If you make a check out to Matt Ryan, I wouldn’t be able to cash it.

In addition to the boost in credibility that not changing your name on a client can give you, there’s also a number of benefits in terms of paperwork. Everything is easier (and more legal) if your legal name is used. You could register your pseudonym as a DBA, but that costs money and a common name could be difficult to take off with.

Great Names Are Probably Taken

When I started using Matt Ryan as a pseudonym, there was a musician with the same name who was moderately well-known, but not enough to grab search rankings. A decade later, a football player emerged with the same name and became the quarterback of the Atlanta Falcons. He has since gone on to become a pro bowl level player and become one of the most recognizable faces in football today. Where does that leave me? On page three of Google search when you try to look for Matt Ryan.

Meanwhile, my birth name is matched by a basketball player currently in college and expected to make the pros soon. That means my birth name will undoubtedly be grabbed and my Google ranking would probably be forfeit there, as well.

This could be considered a Catch 22. You win or lose no matter what you do. This is one reason so many actors have very specific names. The SAG (Screen Actors Guild) will only allow you to become a member if your name isn’t being used by anyone else in the association. Because of this, many actors opt to invent their own pseudonyms or include their middle name. It’s a strange rule, but an important one because personal brand is everything when you’re in the public eye.

When They Can Be a Good Idea

Bloggers who write about sensitive topics, have an unusually common name, or regularly deal with whistleblowers are absolutely entitled to use a pseudonym. In fact, it’s encouraged in these cases because what you do could very well place you in some level of danger. If you wish to remain anonymous, then by all means use a pseudonym that is both original and in line with your message.

There are also cases where you might happen to be in the same industry as another person with the same name. Two food bloggers named John Doe would be easily confused, and could result in legal battles later on. If you changed that up a bit to call yourself Johnny Do, you might be in a better position to establish yourself as a personal brand in your field without risking conflict.

5 comments On Why Pen Names Might Be a Bad Idea for Most Bloggers

  • I used to use usernames I created in games in order to identify myself on the internet. It sounds silly now, but at the time (at the age of sixteen) everyone was warning about identity theft and how you shouldn’t reveal too much info about yourself. Now I’ve gone the complete opposite way, as how will any be able to identify me as a random username that only exists in certain sites?

    • The same happened with me as with Elliot, I used to be known on Internet by an online nickname I picked and used for several years, but once you start really working and you need to be noticed, the best bet is to use your real name. I have a middle name and 98% of people are not aware of that cause I already established my way as only Felipe Baez. I’m considering entering with a special request to either remove my middle name in the country I live, or opt to officially not use it anymore, as like you said, suddenly people see that your name in the ID is a bit different, or longer.

  • I’ve never used a pseudonym. Cameron Ryan is my real name and the only other thing I’ve been called is “Lacobus” or “The Lacobus”. I’ve been called that because I hated my name “Cameron” for a long time, and I always wanted to be named James. James in Latin is “Lacobus” which I pronounce lake-o-biss.

  • It seems that all of the bad reasons involve using your pen name as a business entity. I have owned a couple of single proprietor businesses in the past in different states and when registering for the license to be “DOING BUSINESS AS” or dba you set up checking accounts in the business name. You place the required intention to dba in a local paper to check for availability of that name and when you show up at a client location you introduce yourself as ******* ****** from “Water Solutions Max” and folks call you by your name or say “Hey, guy from Water Solutions”
    I think it might be easy enough to show up at conferences and say “Hi, I’m Ryan Pierson from the Matt Ryan blog and I file my self employment income taxes under my real name Social Security tax ID instead of filing for a Federal Tax ID number.” Because you do report all that other income don’t you?

  • jesse garboden

    When I took my gaming name super2explor off of twitter. My Klout score went from 43.92 to 48.44. My real name is Jesse Garboden and not super2explor so a fake name does make a big difference. i’m separating my real life from my gaming life and it made a hugh difference across the board.

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