what’s in a name?

Have you ever wondered about writers who use initials instead of spelling out their names?

Writers like:

A.A. Milne
E.B. White
W.H. Auden
T.S. Eliot
W.S. Merwin
e.e. cummings
S.J. Perelman
L.L. Bean (oops, Maine attack).

Most of the time they’re all male.

Here come some more:

D.H. Lawrence
J.M. Barrie
M.T. Anderson
G.K. Chesterton
B.B. King (gotta have the blues)
W.B. Yeats
A.E. Housman
(somebody stop me!)
C.S. Lewis
J.R.R. Tolkien . . .

Didn’t these men like their first and middle names enough to put them on their books? Or are/were they just too lazy? Do you think they were hiding behind their initials, or trying to glorify themselves?  

I admit, initials look distinguished, old school, pipe and slippers, tweed jacket. They look Ivy League, Rhodes Scholar, chauffeur and butler. In some cases, I’m glad the writer used his initials. Take E.B. White (whose work I love). I’d much rather call him E.B. than Elwyn Brooks. And I like C.S. better than Clive Staples Lewis. 

But for the vast majority, the initials transform ordinary mortals into literary legends. William Stanley Merwin, Edward Morgan Forster, James Matthew Barrie, Gilbert Keith Chesteron, and Alfred Edward Housman, could easily be found wandering around the local A & P, going by Bill, Ed, Jimmy, Gil, and Al. I could easily ask Gil or Al, but would be intimidated to ask G.K. or A.E., if he wanted paper or plastic.


Female writers rarely use their initials; they love all their 
— first, middle, maiden and last. They don’t want or need to hide behind initials, or make themselves seem more "literary," or mysterious.

Bask in

Laura Ingalls Wilder
Linda Sue Park
Sara Lewis Holmes
Louisa May Alcott
Frances Hodgson Burnett
Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor 
Loree Griffin Burns
Myra Cohn Livingston . . .

Wait a minute. What if female writers spell out their names because they need to appear stronger, more confident, more out-there? What if they have been so oppressed throughout history that they are prompted to proclaim their presence and their gender in a more forceful, noticeable way?

Wish I could ask

Sarah Orne Jewett
Laurie Halse Anderson
Virginia Ewer Wolff
Lynne Rae Perkins
Margaret Wise Brown
Cynthia Leitich-Smith.

No matter how crazy you think I am, you must admit:  it does make a difference when you see a name on a book. A given name or two somehow makes the author much more accessible. Their names, and a part of their personalities, are in plain view.

I never considered using J.K. Rattigan on my books. I didn’t want people to think I was male, even though some still think Jama could be male. And I decided to include my maiden name, Kim, to honor my family name. So for me it’s definitely an identity thing.

(OMG!! Stop the presses! I just realized that J.K. Rowling and I have the same initials!! This surely entitles me to a small, teeny tiny portion of her royalties.
That teeny tiny portion could keep me in Fig Newmans forever.)

So you think J.K. Rowling has just disproved my whole theory (and ruined this entire post)? Well, look at it this way. J.K. Rowling, the richest woman in England and the one author who has sold more books than anyone ever in publishing history, didn’t spell out her names like all the other female authors I mentioned. She used initials, like all the men. Look where it got her! I’m just saying . . .

4 thoughts on “what’s in a name?

  1. Interesting post!
    Someone in the children’s book industry once told me that using three names is a no-no from a marketing standpoint. “Two names are hard enough to remember,” she told me. “Three is impossible.” But my three names are ME, and so I went ahead and did it anyway. (I will never be the richest woman in England … but that is okay with me!)
    Loree Griffin Burns


  2. Re: Interesting post!
    I love all your names! In fact, your full name makes you stand out and got my attention right away. I think that marketing person was wrong.
    Welcome, and thanks for stopping by (esp. nice to hear from another HMCO


  3. So why didn’t you tell me this BEFORE I slapped my name all over that cover? I could’ve made millions as S.L.Holmes! No, that just doesn’t sound right. No rhythm. And it’s kind of bland.
    To be honest, I love having three names, and the reason I use my middle name is (like you) to honor my family.
    And oooh! Newman cookies!! I love the chocolate mint ones…


  4. I agree that Sara Lewis Holmes has a beautiful sound and rhythm to it. Besides, S.L. Holmes would make me think of Sherlock Loopy Holmes or something. Let’s hear it for 3 name writers!!


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