Recently, one of my writers’ groups has seen a lot of posts about how to choose a pen name. Several authors have described a variety of ways they used to select their pen names, and even my critique partner had a difficult time with hers.
My pen name came easily to me. Not because I’m particularly savvy in that regard, but simply because my family’s history has so much to offer. One side of my family goes nearly all the way back to the crossing of the Mayflower. Some family sources even say it goes back to the crossing, but I haven’t been able to confirm that. The other side of my family has recent and not-so-recent immigrants from Ireland.
I chose my pen name by using my mother’s family history: Dorothy, for the first name of my grandfather’s first wife, and Muir, for the last name of his second wife. My mother’s family history would make a marvelous novel, romance or otherwise. My father’s family history would make a fabulous historical novel. After all, on that side of the family there were no less than 7 ancestors who fought at the Battle of Gettysburg, on both sides! And that’s not counting the family link to Captain Kidd.
While not every family has a plethora of hidden stories like this, it’s guaranteed that if you look back far enough, you will find some hidden nugget of gold that will help in your writing. Even if you can’t use it directly, it can become the inspiration of some of your greatest stories. Alex Haley and Roots are not the exception. Everyone’s family has a story (or two) to tell, ranging from tragic to simply amazing, so when you’re in need of inspiration, whether it’s for a pen name or a story idea, shake your family tree and see what kind of golden apples drop!