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Author names can be tricky. Some names, like Umstattd, are hard to remember. While my unusual name is hard for people to spell and say, it gives me an advantage because I rarely have to fight over domain names. 

But what if you have a very common name?  

Samantha Johnson, author of The Beginners Guide to Vegetable Gardening, recently asked about her author name:

How do you stand out when your name fits in? When your name is something super-common, it’s next to impossible to find unique domain addresses. Google Alerts are ineffective because there are so many other people out there with the same name. 🙂 

Then there’s the Goodreads issue, when other authors with the same name have books that end up on my list (and sometimes they are NOT books I want to have associated with my name–ugh!). My brother and I have co-authored several non-fiction books, and we’d love to hear some marketing tips for people with common names like Johnson, Smith, or Jones.

In my role at Author Media, I name a lot of authors based on what domain names are available. I typically search NameCHK.com and InstantDomainSearch.com to see what iteration of the author’s name is available. When we find an easy-to-remember domain for the author’s name, we’ll decide on their official author name. 

The following tips will help you stand out when your name fits in.

Become the Most Famous Person for Your Name

Not everyone can implement this strategy, but if you can, you become THE Samantha Johnson from an SEO perspective. When someone googles “Samantha Johnson,” you and your books appear as the first search result.

However, this requires

  • Aggressive SEO
  • Lots of Blogging
  • Writing lots of Magazine Articles
  • Paying for PR

If an aggressive SEO strategy isn’t something you want to tackle, you have other options.

Pivot to a Unique Name You Don’t Have to Fight Over

In Hollywood, actors are often encouraged the change their entire names. For example, when Arnold Schwarzenegger began acting, he was told to change his name to something more ordinary. In his first movie, he is credited as “Arnold Strong.” After that, he was savvy enough to keep his true name because he knew it stood out.  

People with common names that don’t stand out may want to consider the following options:

Change Your Entire Name

Hollywood stars can’t have a screen name and a real name because they have to be a star all the time. Most of them end up changing their full names. 

  • Marilyn Monroe used to be Norma Mortenson.
  • Whoopi Goldberg was born Caryn Johnson.
  • John Wayne was born Marion Morrison.
  • Cary Grant was born Archibald Leach.

Change Your Last Name

Some authors and actors will change only their last names.

  • Natalie Portman was born Natalie Hershlag.
  • Author Ben Wolf used to be Ben Erlichman.
  • Nicolas Cage used to be Nicolas Coppola.

It’s much harder to change your name than it used to be. 

If you don’t want to completely change your name, consider the following options that will help you find a name and domain you can own.

Switch to a Nickname

You might want to swap out your first name for a nickname version. Samantha Johnson might try Sam Johnson, Sammy Johnson, or Bam Bam Johnson. 

  • Carlos Ray Norris became Chuck Norris.

Swap in Your Middle Name

  • Walter Bruce Willis swapped his middle name to become Bruce Willis

Add a Middle Name

You can also add a middle name. I like this option because having three names is classy. Consider these examples:

  • Edgar Allan Poe
  • James Scott Bell
  • Orson Scott Card

Very few people choose this method, so it could be an easy way to lock in a name you want to use. 

Turn Your First Names into Initials

  • C.S. Lewis
  • J.R.R. Tolkien
  • J.K. Rowling

Using initials instead of a name can obscure your gender, which may be a positive or a negative, depending on your genre. For example, J.K. Rowling was told that no one would buy fantasy by a female writer, so she obscured her gender by using her initials. 

Some women don’t want to read romance novels by a man, so men who write romance may use their initials to obscure their gender.

Obscuring your identity with initials doesn’t work as well in the age of social media. You’re always yourself on social media, so people will easily discover the person behind the initials. 

Pick a Pen Name (Not Recommended)

Pen names used to work before the days of social media. Today, a pen name just causes confusion and keeps you from personally promoting your book in the most effective ways. Authors end up giving their pen names and their real names, which becomes very confusing for readers. 

When you brand yourself, you “burn” your name into people’s minds. Your fan base will know you by one name. 

Add a Suffix (Not Generally Recommended)

On the cover of my book, I’m Thomas Umstattd, Jr. My name’s uniqueness wouldn’t be a problem, except that my dad has the same name, and we both own businesses in Austin. But I’ve worked a deal with my dad, and now he goes by Tom G. Umstattd to reduce confusion.

The problem with a suffix is that people tend to leave it out because they consider suffixes optional.

Add a Middle Initial (Not Recommended)

People also tend to leave out middle initials. When James L. Rubart was trying to decide on his author name, he thought James sounded classier and more author-like than Jim. He added his middle initial, L, because there was a famous TV writer he admired named James L. Brooks. Thus James L. Rubart became his author name. He wanted his unknown last name (Rubart) to be subconsciously associated with a well-known writer (James L.).

The problem is that people tend to leave out the middle initial.

Jim attended a conference where the director created a beautiful canvas for each speaker. Each canvas featured a quote by that speaker. Jim’s canvas was lovely, but his name was printed as “James Rubart” without the L. People often neglect the middle initial when introducing Jim as a speaker as well. 

Goodreads Corrections

If someone else’s book is listed under your author name on Goodreads, you can “Suggest a Change” to Goodreads by clicking “edit details.” Amazon’s Author Central also allows you to fix similar problems. 

To discover whether your name is available as a domain, type your name into InstantDomainSearch.com, and see if anyone has registered your desired domain name. You can also find out whether your author name is being used on social media by using NameCHK.com

When I’m helping an author choose their name, I check both sites to see what’s available. Both sites will give you an idea of how much competition there will be for your name. 

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