Friday, September 24, 2010

What's in a Name?

Someone I know from VCFA is about to have her second book published. (She gave me her permission to blog about this as long as names were omitted). Her first book, which I loved, is a YA with a male protagonist. This second is a middle grade, again, with a male protagonist. The publisher/sales department of the second book (different from the first) asked if she would consider using her initials instead of her full name on the cover for marketing reason. They assumed/thought/suspected that "impulse" buyers would be more inclined to pick up a book about a boy if the gender of the author were not blatantly female.

My gut reaction was "Heck, yeah!" But when you stop and think about this, the ramifications are huge.

So, was the publisher thinking that boys won't read books written by women? Or that girls won't read books written by men? I think someone needs to stop and explain that boys are certainly reading books by Kathryn Lasky, Lowis Lowry, and Cornelia Funke. And girls are certainly reading books by Rick Riordan and Eoin Colfer. (But, oh, never mind, we shouldn't worry about girls because girls read everything . . .?) And are they assuming that young male readers or "impulse" buyers can't figure out that sometimes "J.K." is code for - "I'm really a woman, but am using my initials so you boy readers out there don't know it"? And what does it say about female writers - that we should hide our identity? That we should encourage boys to only read books they suspect are written by men? And what should a writer do - Stand on their ego and refuse to change at the risk of not selling as many books? Or be a team player despite the ugliness of the situation and the idea of it making their guts roil?

Personally, I still think I would use my initials if asked, or write under my middle and maiden names, which sound fairly androgynous. (With a last name like mine, it would be pretty hard to think if I suddenly started using M.B.T. Wiviott instead of Meg Wiviott that someone wouldn't it figure out). I think it's a personal decision. Some people just like their initials! And other's don't.

I could go on, but I won't. I'd like to hear from you all. What do you think? I'd especially like to hear from people who write under their initials? (J.A. and J.L.???) Why do you choose to use your initials?

Oh, yeah, and my friend . . . she's going with her full name and her editor backed her up 100%.


  1. Interesting post, Meg. It would never be an issue for me because everyone thinks I'm a boy anyway! :)

  2. Hey, Corey, I'm the same! With my spelling of Gale, I often get advertisement letters addressed to Mr. Gale Jacob. And now that Suzanne Collins created a male Gale . . . and then there's Gale Sayers. The list goes on.

    One other thought on this: if the writer changes her name for one book, then there are consequences for internet searches. Better to be consistent.

  3. P.S. Just for the record, my name is spelled this way in honor of a grandmother whose maiden name was Gale.

  4. Corey & Gale - so does that mean we should give our daughters gender neutral names? (for the record, my daughter's name is gender neutral). And yes, Gale, internet searches and the "sound" of my friend's initials were considerations.

  5. I've actually given this some thought Meg. 'N.D. Valentine' certainly doesn't sound very manly, it's not easy when you're named after a hearts and flowers holiday. I think I'd stand my ground and go for the full name, do anything else and we're insulting boys intelligence.

  6. Will stereotyping never die?

    Linda A.

  7. Hey there, Meg: One reason I use my initials is because I hate my first name--it's so out of fashion. (Just ask my mom--I tell her this all the time.) If it ever comes back into vogue, I might use it...unless a publisher told me not to, in which case, I'd do whatever he or she said!

    On the other hand, if I had a name like yours, which happens to be the name of one of my all-time favorite MG protagonists, I wouldn't hesitate to spell it out!

  8. Nicole - You are at a disadvantage. Even if your name was Brutus! But I think you're right, using initials isn't pulling the wool over anyone's eyes.

    Linda A - That's the question, isn't it?

    J.L. - I don't think your name is old fashioned . . . "Mitzi" is old fashioned.

  9. Hmm..I actually have a "boy" name too, but since I mostly write about girls and what they think about boys...not sure it's an issue for me.

    I would like to think it doesn't matter and until your post I don't think I gave it much thought. I think initials lend mystery to an author, and I might consider doing that if I had some initials that sounded good. If I used my initials people might think I'm a nurse, and then that would bring up a whole host of issues, lol.

  10. I'll pose another question to all of you writers -- are the names of your characters important? Why? Character names are vitally important to me. I can't fully identify with my characters until they have the name that clicks for me.

    As for my choice of initials, it follows the same reasoning. I've never particularly liked my name and feel no real allegiance to it as a writer. Nor do I feel any feminist guilt about not disclosing my gender on a book cover. I've gone through various choices and am most comfortable with using my initials.

    And, quite frankly, when the time comes, if it helps make boys pick up my books and buy them, I will be even happier with my decision.

  11. Just goes to show it really is a personal choice.