Death of a Pen Name

I’ve been on the internet since the early 90s. I remember dial-up modems on my family’s Macintosh Performa, the Geocities revolution and MIDI music formats. And I remember accessing all of those sites with made-up usernames. It was simply the thing to do. From “rapturous_heart” in my early teens to “tokyoshorty” in my early twenties, monikers were simply the name of the game.

And then I started writing.

I have a confession to make. I gave a lot of excuses for using the androgynous “Alex Hurst.” I was worried about my personal security. I was worried about what friends and family might think of my writing, and if they would extrapolate every little defect of personality of the characters in my stories as some sort of deliberate condemnation (for the record, I do not write people I know into my works.) Another reason I went with a unisex name was the trends suggested that in SFF, female authors simply weren’t taken as seriously, and initialed or male-sounding names provided a passive opportunity to get rid of that bias. That’s not really true anymore. Diversity in fiction still has a long way to go, but there is so much support and celebration now that it would be silly to continue using a unisex name just for that reason.

This month (as most of you know), I started a masters course in Publishing at Simon Fraser University. At a social put on by the faculty the first week, John Maxwell and others talked about how they’d had a hard time trying to find “Alex Hurst” in the auditorium during orientation. I’d been blogging about MPub for months, but not under my real name. They were able to figure out that the initials were the same as my real name (AH). But then John asked me something else that solidified a feeling I’d been having for months:

When you start doing your academic writing, what name will you go by?

It was a simple question with a difficult answer. For a few years now my use of Alex Hurst was eroding within my design business (as I met most of my clients through Facebook friends), and then as a volunteer for Kyoto Journal. But that question made me realize something crucial: I want to be able to put my name on my work.

It’s as simple as that. I love my name. I always have. It’s unique, it carries with it a history that I treasure, and it’s me. And I’m tired of juggling the online persona that is really just me hiding, and my real life, where I am confident, free to express myself how I please, and not confuse people to death with a double-sided business card.

So, without further ado, let me introduce myself to you all officially.

Hello, my name is Ariel Hudnall.

It’s pronounced R•E•L Hud•NALL, though I don’t get angry when people say Airy•elle. 

Everything in my bio is true. I was born in Louisiana and lived near a golden river for most of my young childhood until my family packed up and moved to California. I have a ton of siblings, though the count changes depending on who I decide to count (complicated family histories will not be discussed at this point in time, haha).

I’ve lived on the road for a year, in Kyoto for six years, and am now puttering about in Vancouver as an academic.

So, no more Alex Hurst. Forgive me while all of my social media slowly goes through the motions necessary to reflect this massive change.

Thank you!

39 thoughts on “Death of a Pen Name

  1. Ariel,

    Nice transition, in particular I see where your academics require you to be you.

    RidicuRyder isn’t just a pen name…I’ve been at a crossroads for how to relate as I move forward with my stuff. I kinda feel like certain elements came to the surface with RR that would have never happened as Mark. What percentage of alter-ego / free spirit gets left behind with Alex Hurst?

    RR

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    1. I would say that “Alex” definitely helped me experiment, but I feel comfortable enough with myself now to know I’m just fine as my own entity, and don’t need the shield of a pen name to buffer me from the rest of the world. Not just as a weakness, of course, but more, I guess, the feeling that I could be open about anything and everything. So, now that I have courage, I guess I don’t have to lose any of my free spirit… if that makes sense?

      It’s definitely hard to think about your image when (according to your bio, for example) you’re dealing a lot with duality. It’ll be interesting to see where that fork in the road will lead you!

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  2. Great post, Ariel. Names are such a personal attribute, aren’t they? I’m glad you’re happy to be you once more.

    There are times when I question whether I made a mistake using a pen name. I am not trying to hide and am open about my real identity. I would be proud to publish under my real name and my family are well aware of my works. But for me, my pen name allows me to honour very important family members whilst neatly compartmentalising my life into writer me versus worker bee me. I can be creative and imaginative as Tee and then be a good partner, daughter, auntie, voice artist and civil servant as Annette. It works for me. I’m glad you’ve found what works for you.

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    1. I can completely understand the need to compartmentalize, given your career. For me, it just started sounding silly because my career goals are publishing, and two hats under one roof is just confusing people. Also, once I start publishing professionally (articles, research, whatever), it’ll be hard to change… and an added benefit to the name change is I can FINALLY consolidate all of my email accounts! No more flipping between multiple Gmail and Yahoo and custom-domain accounts. X_X Such a time sink!

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  3. Hi Ariel! 🙂 I understand your dilemma about pen names and I’m glad that you’ve decided to go with your real name which actually seems more pen name-y than your pen name LOL

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  4. I’ve enjoyed following Alex for a while now. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to following Ariel.

    I used the name Hannice Knight as a ndp for a while (it’s an anagram of my own name, offered to me by a clever friend when I asked for suggestions). I still love the name; Hannice has now become main supporting character in one series and lead character in his own series.

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  5. I remember using pen names but truly can’t remember all of the ones I used. I’ve been on the web since the late 80’s. While I only show my first name now on my blog, anyone with a knowledge of Soundex can figure out my full name. And I think Ariel fits your personality perfectly.

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  6. Well, I just assumed that Alex was short from Alexandra. So you fooled me! 😉

    Anyways, your real name is a lovely one, and I’m glad you’ve found the bravery to share it with us. And I agree, there’s something about putting YOUR name on the things you write. It’s a true declaration of ownership, a badge of pride.

    It’s weird, because I’ve never hesitated using my real name on my blog and social media. I think it’s because I started using most of them when I was in college, so it was easier for my real-life friends to find me that way. So when I started blogging, I didn’t see the point of creating a pen name.

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    1. That’s probably it. Truth be told, NJ and I met online under pen names, and we were both cloaking our genders (default: male) to avoid “weirdos” as young teens. But that part of my life is truly over, so it’s so nice to finally be able to just be “one” person. I’ve felt so relaxed the last few days. ^_^

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  7. At first I didn’t believe you because your real name is so cool. Ha!! Fascinating post, and nice to know your real name. Although I know this is not the point of the post, I’m now curious about your design business. What did you/are you doing? Loving your posts, as always!

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  8. Nice to meet you, R•E•L Hud•NALL. Sounds strange saying NALL loudest. (I’ve been saying it like I’ve always heard it, which is incorrect in your case. Fixed, now.)

    I’m Run-NAY Luh VINE-us. (La Viness means “the wine maker” or “of the vine.”)

    You’ll always be Tokyo to me. However, I am glad to read this decision. Although I’ve liked everything I’ve known you by, I think your real name fits you best.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s okay! I was saying VIN-us, so I was wrong, too. Lol. At least your name means something interesting…. mine just means Hud’s Knell. 😛

      I am happy I’ll always be Tokyo for you, though. I’m very sentimentally attached to that name, and I don’t want it to go away anytime soon. 🙂

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  9. Hi R-E-L 🙂 Nice to meet you – again 🙂

    I’ve always found the concept of pen names very interesting, but as you mentioned in your post, I think I would want people to know it’s MINE … not some fake persona.

    You’re embracing all kinds of change right now, aren’t you?!

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  10. Oh, goodness! I didn’t even know Alex isn’t your name O_O
    Well, if you are confortable with the change (and I suppose it is a huge one) you did well to do it.
    I have a friend who uses a pen name for her fantasy stuff, because she also writes scientific stuff under her true name and she thought the two subject matter were too different to be under the same name. I think that is a very good reason to use two different names.
    But as you say, you’re pursuing the same goal.

    I’m so pleased to meed you, Ariel 🙂

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  11. Beautiful name Ariel (I had no idea you pronounced it REL, either pronunciation is beautiful and musical). I can totally understand your struggle and your decision to use your real name. I went through a similar phase but in the end, I decided that for me at least it felt like I was trying to hide and I have sworn no more hiding. So no pen names for me. Plus, like you, I love my name. 😀

    Good to meet you (again). Do I need to re-follow social accounts?

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