How I Chose My Pen Name


I have to admit, I chose a pretty confusing pen name for people. My real name is Samantha Gale, though I go by Sam. My husband’s surname is Purkis. But my pen name is Samantha Parks. When people hear my pen name, they assume it’s my married name or maiden name or middle name or something. But actually it’s none of those things.

So why did I choose a pen name if I’m going to publicly own my writing? Where did the choice of name come from?

Most people who use pen names for their debut novels do so for one of two reasons: they’re worried that people they know will think it’s bad, or they are trying to distance their writing from their career (and in romance that’s usually because of the steamier scenes). Then you have your JK Rowlings who put something out in a new series or genre and don’t want their name creating preconceived notions about the book. However, as similar as Jo and I are (read: worlds apart), that’s certainly not the reason I chose a pen name.

The reason I use one isn’t because I’m ashamed of my work, or because it contains “adult content.” It’s quite tame, actually, and I’ve worked really hard at it. I’m proud of the book I’ve written, even if it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

No, the reason I use a pen name is twofold:

1) I am a multi-passionate entrepreneur.

I have two business right now with a third and fourth on the way. I’ve created new identities for all of them, and while my name is attached to all of them, it’s not the business name. And that’s by design. Writing is no different for me. Having a “brand name” to work with helps me be more diligent in my work and think more practically about the next steps.

2) I write in more than one genre.

It’s not uncommon for people to have different writing names for the different genres they write for. Even CS Lewis used a different name to publish his poetry, and Agatha Christie wrote romance as Mary Westmacott. As an author, you want to make sure that your name doesn’t bring with it any preconceptions when you’re entering a new genre, especially when all people need to do is click on the author name on Amazon to see his or her other books. Would you feel the same about a horror novel you were about to read if you saw that person also wrote science fiction? It may not dampen your excitement, but it will set expectations about the subject, tone and style of what you’re about to read.

So how did I choose my pen name?

I played around for a while with variations on my real name: Samantha Jo, Jo Gale, etc. But none of them felt right for the genre. SJ Gale felt like more of a thriller or YA author name, so I’ve set that one aside for another genre. My husband’s surname is lovely, but it doesn’t sound as good as an author name. I thought about something that sounded similar and thought I liked the sound of “Samantha Jones” until I realised that was because it’s the name of a Sex and the City character.

So I started looking to my family names. My mother’s maiden name is Hobbs, but then we’re back to Sex and the City. My grandmother’s maiden name was… Parks. Samantha Parks. Hey, that sounds pretty nice.

At the time I was selecting my pen name, I was in the first draft of The Summer House in Santorini. As expected, the book shifted drastically from one draft to the next, and at that point Eirini (who was then called Agatha, but that’s another story) played a much larger role in the story. Since she was the main character’s grandmother, it felt fitting that my pen name should pay homage to my own grandmother, who passed away in 2010.

Like Eirini, Velma Louise Hobbs (nee Parks) was practical and wise and honest and generous. I miss my grandmother a lot, and using her name as my pen name helps me feel closer to her. She was always such a big fan of my writing and one of my biggest supporters when it came to following my dreams. I know that she would be the first person to preorder my book if she were still here. She’d read every last word, then she’d scold me about the cursing and the sex before telling me how proud it made her. It breaks my heart that we can’t have that moment, but I can just hope that I’m doing right by her name.

Writing/NewsSamantha Gale