In my novel KAY’S LUCKY COIN VARIETY, the protagonist, Mary, is told by her mother that “a name, like a picture, is worth a thousand words. It was a single-word poem that defined a person.” One’s reputation, her mother insisted, would one day be built on it.
As a newly published author, I had not anticipated how much time and emotional stress choosing an author name would require. As any fiction writer knows, it is difficult to come up with character names in a make-believe world, or even more daunting, a title for the novel itself. Deciding on the name that would appear on the cover of my first novel was a formidable task! And I wasn’t even considering pseudonyms; I struggled simply with how to use my real name or variations of it.
Column by Ann Y.K. Choi, author of KAY’S LUCKY COIN
VARIETY (May 2016, Simon & Schuster). Ann was born in
Chung-Ju, South Korea, and immigrated with her family to
Canada in 1975. She holds an Honors B.A. and a Bachelor
of Education. In 2012, she graduated from the University of
Toronto School of Continuing Studies Creative Writing Program,
winning their award for the top final manuscript. A high school teacher,
she lives in Toronto, Canada. Follow her on Twitter.
Once upon a time, it was my life’s goal to bury my Korean last name. My Korean first name had already been taken from me. In the mid-seventies, when my family and I immigrated to Canada, it was public school board policy that immigrant students accept “Canadian-friendly” names. We were told that it would help us adapt to our new lives. This is how I became Ann.
My high school obsession was to marry a white man and lose my Korean last name, thus completing the name burial. However, I had done a lot of growing up by the time I got married, and although I did marry someone with an Irish surname, I had grown proud of my Korean heritage.
So, this left me with several name options to consider. I spent countless hours practicing my new author signature with all of them:
- Ann Choi
- Yu-Kyung Choi
- Ann McCanny
- Ann Choi-McCanny
- Ann Yu-Kyung Choi
- Ann Yu-Kyung Choi-McCanny
In the end, I chose Ann Y.K. Choi. Here’s why. A writer friend pointed out that an author’s name was the first introduction for any reader to the writer. Now that the novel was written, he encouraged me to think like an entrepreneur and look at everything, including my name, through a sales and marketing lens.
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“You want to sell books?” he said, “It’s a lot harder to sell books or to connect with a salesperson who can’t remember your name or the average reader if she can’t say, spell, or even remember your name.”
It didn’t end there. Beyond the name on one’s book, nowadays we also need to consider social media—a Twitter handle, a website domain name, and more. The thought of my name all over the Internet, complete with a photo, was quite daunting! By nature, I’m a quiet person. I’m also a teacher with a public school board and did not want my writing world and my teaching world to collide. Some of the themes I explored in my novel—domestic violence, attempted rapes, racial tension—weren’t suitable for younger readers. This was why I considered using my married name. However, the name Ann McCanny hardly sounded Korean and didn’t feel right given that my story was about a Korean-Canadian immigrant family.
A name can’t get any simpler than Ann—and not so surprisingly, there are many Ann Chois who are writers in North America. In the end, I decided to use the name that best represented who I was as a person and as a writer: Ann Y.K. Choi. Including my initials, Y.K., helped avoid name confusion with the other Ann Chois, but more importantly, it allowed me to honor my Korean name and thus connect my different identities.
Does the name an author selects to grace the cover of his or her book feel right to build a reputation and writing career on? Only the author can ultimately decide what is right. But I have come to realize that choosing that name warrants some serious personal and professional reflection, an open mind, and a willingness to wear not only the writer’s hat, but also the salesperson’s hat, and of course, the reader’s hat, too.
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