If you’ve seen me sprinting on the Sprint Shack Twitter account lately, you may have noticed something. My name is different. Skye Fairwin is no more.
Why? Let me start with a confession. Skye is not my real name. It’s a pen name I’ve gone by for the last six years… but not anymore. Last month I made the decision to come out from behind my pen name and start going by my real name online. So allow me to introduce myself again.
I’m Faye Kirwin and it’s lovely to meet you.
Leaving behind my pen name wasn’t an easy choice for me. I swayed back and forth between sticking with my alias and switching to my real name for months, and not just for the reasons you might expect. Here’s my story—the why and the how I changed such a big part of my online presence and how you can do it smoothly and painlessly if you’re considering doing something similar.
First Things First: Why Use a Pen Name?
There are more reasons than I can list. To keep your writing and personal lives separate. To publish in a different genre. To protect your career.
For me, it was privacy. I created my online alias way back when I was 16 years old, just before I started posting my writing on the internet. My poor, fragile writer’s ego feared my friends and family reading my stories and not liking them. A pen name provided protection against that, but it also came with a price: I was hiding such a huge part of my life and myself from the people I cared about. I’d talk about how much I loved reading, but writing? Not a peep. Yet it was how I spent hours and hours of my day. As time went by, it became harder and harder to break the silence and tell people that I was a writer and so I kept hiding it. I fell into a rut.
My first turning point came when I went to university. In one of the first few weeks, as I sat with my new friends in the university bar and chatted about ourselves and our interests, I found myself talking about writing. I’d never spoken aloud about that part of myself before, and here I was, talking about it with people I’d only just met. It was… weird. But in a good way. In a very freeing way. I didn’t have to hide that part of me anymore and it felt like such a relief.
Though I’d now revealed the fact that I wrote, I continued to keep my online writing a secret. Telling people about my writing was one thing; showing it to them was another entirely. It wasn’t until late 2014 that I finally worked up the courage to tell my friends and family that I had a blog and that I wanted to make it into a business. They were supportive and interested, and now that they knew, there wasn’t as much of a reason to keep hiding behind a pen name anymore. Its original purpose—to keep the people I knew in real life from finding me—was no longer an issue. Time to get rid of it, right? Well…
The problem that faced me now lay in the practicalities of transitioning to a different name. Could I transfer all mentions of my name, across my blogs and social media, to my real one without confusing, bewildering or losing my readers and followers? That in itself was a major factor that kept me wavering for months on end. Finally, I realised that I had to make the change—but I didn’t have to make it all at once.
Here’s how I did it.
Step 1: Changing Social Media Usernames
Before, my social media usernames had involved my pen name, Skye Fairwin. If I changed that straight to Faye Kirwin, it could confuse the heck out of everyone, and followers who didn’t know about the change would have difficulty finding me. Instead, I decided to change my usernames to my blog name, Writerology, as people already knew me by it and could easily search for it.
Quick tip: If you’re switching to a new name, for whatever reason, consider using your brand name as a username across platforms.
While I was changing the usernames of my social media accounts to Writerology, I made sure my alias, Skye Fairwin, was visible in the name fields to make it clear that it was still me and thereby minimise confusion. For example, on Twitter, my name was Skye Fairwin and my handle was @Writerology; on Pinterest, my name was Skye Fairwin and my username (visible in the URL) was Writerology; and so on.
Quick tip: Make sure followers can easily search for you by making your name and username something that’s already associated with you. Don’t switch to a completely new, unknown name and username, at least immediately.
Step 2: The Reveal
A few weeks after changing my social media usernames to my blog title, I told my pen name story to my blog readers and revealed my real name. At this point, I began hunting down all references to my alias on my blog and changed the name fields of my social media accounts from Skye to Faye. For the next couple of weeks, I posted messages on the accounts recapping the reason for the name change to bring anyone who had missed the original explanation up to speed.
Quick tip: It’s unlikely all your readers and followers will know the story behind your name change. Keep recapping it at different times of day on social media and answer any questions they ask about it for some time after you change names.
Step 3: Keeping Tabs on Your Old Name
Just because you’ve switched to a new name doesn’t mean you can forget about your old one. In all likelihood, people will keep addressing you or mentioning you by the old one for a while after you change. Even now, I search for people tweeting to @SkyeFairwin, sending messages to my Skye Fairwin Google account and referring to me as Skye, so that I don’t miss messages meant for me.
Quick tip: Do regular searches for references to your old name and set up a Google alert to let you know when it’s mentioned online. You can find out how to set up a Google alert here.
It’s hard enough making the decision to change from a pen name to a real one without the fear of losing and confusing readers and followers holding you back too. Once you’re certain that switching to a different name is the best thing for you, follow the steps outlined above and make the experience as simple and painless as possible. Then go out there and rock that new name.
Have you ever written under a pen name before?