Friday, December 4, 2009

What's In A Name?

I've been thinking about names a lot lately.

Possibly because in just under two months, I'm going to be saying goodbye to, Kara Bonnevie, a name that I have enjoyed for 27 years and, admittedly, am very attached to, and saying hello to Kara Isaac, a name that, as much as I love the man it comes with, I'm still trying to get my head around.

I have even, after spending a quarter of a century of saying I would NEVER hyphenate, been doing the unthinkable and considering Kara Bonnevie-Isaac, but quickly realised that I would be dooming myself to spending the rest of my life with a last name too long for any official form.

I have to admit that there has been a bit of an identity crisis going on as part of all of this. Who is Kara Isaac? She sounds like she'd be a very different person from Kara Bonnevie. More respectable. Serious. Not as much fun. Kara Bonnevie sounds like the kind of person who writes romantic-comedy. Kara Isaac? I'm not so sure about her.

Let's face it, names mean a lot. For good, or bad, we automatically associate certain names with certain types of people or brands. Entire industries, billions of dollars a year, revolve around names. Of people, products and brands.

As a writer, our name is the primary leader of our brand. I was in a bookshop last weekend and I picked up the latest Karen Kingbury. The front cover was dominated by her name and, on the backcover, where the blurb usually is, all there was was a full page picture of her face. That was it. Opened the front cover, again no blurb, just rave reviews for her previous books. In fact, without actually starting the book, there was nothing that told you what the book was about.

For me, that lead to putting the book down. Not because I don't think she's a great writer, but because when I'm choosing a new book the back cover blurb is one of main ways that I decide what to buy. But obviously beyond me, there are thousands and thousands of dedicated Karen Kingsbury readers who don't need to know what the book is about, is she wrote it, they're buying it.

Like those fans, I have a (short) list of authors who I hold in that kind of esteem. Julie Lessman. Rachel Hauck. Erynn Mangum. Bonnie Grove. Jody Hedlund. Authors who have so wowed me with their writing that my selfish prayer is that they give up any semblance of a life to write faster so I don't have to wait a year, or more, for their next release.

As a finicky shallow reader, perusing the bookstore, contemplating leaving my comfort zone and splurging out on a previously inread author, I make snap judgements on names and covers. The colour of the spine attracts me first, then the name of the book, then the name of the author. On the basis on those three things, I decide whether to bother to even pick the book off the shelf.

Have I heard of this author before? Was what I heard good or bad? Have I heard of this book before? In what context? Some of my thinking is slightly self serving. I like to buy debut authors over well established authors. Not just because as an aspiring writer I have some idea of what it's taken them to get that book on that shelf, but also because, as an aspiring writer I want someone somewhere it the great land of publishing to take a chance on ME. Yes me, the precocious girl from New Zealand who dares to dream of one day seeing her name on a shelf.

So for arguments sake, say I was sitting on the shelf. My sole lonely debut novel, who are you more likely to pick up? Kara Bonnevie or Kara Isaac? Does it even matter? Would you pick me up regardless as long as my cover was pink? Or featured a pony or a dark meancing shadow or a meadow or a woman in a bonnet? When you are browsing those bookshelves, what takes you from glance, to pick up, to scan, to buy?


  1. Hi Kara -

    Congrats on your upcoming marriage!

    Why don't you use your maiden name as your professional identity? Your marriage name will keep all the reporters and rabid fans at bay. :)

    I pick up books on the basis of book reviews, personal relationships via the Net or Facebook, and genre. An attractive cover and back cover blurb doesn't hurt, but it's not my main reason to plunk down my money.

    Susan :)

  2. Hi Kara,

    You've given me something to think about.

    I look at the spine, the author, the title, the blurb on the back and then I read the first page. So I am annoyed when I pick up a novel and it doesn't have a blurb or other information on the cover.

    I also like to read new authors. If I don't recognise the name of the author, I immediately go to the blurb and first page and if I'm hooked you've won a fan.

    So I don't mind what name you write under, so long as your first page is great then you have me hooked.

    Thanks for making me think. :)


  3. Best wishes for your marriage, Kara. When I married, many years ago, I changed my name without giving it a thought, then suffered a huge identity crisis -- felt like the real me had disappeared. Good for you for thinking it through.
    As to author names, I admit I'm drawn to soft sounding, musical names when looking for a romance. The pretty cover goes a long way to getting me to actually lift the book off the shelf.

  4. For me, name doesn't matter. The cover draws my attention first, then the blurb. Finally, when I open the book, it's the first paragraphs that make the decision.

    Good luck with your upcoming wedding, make sure to post lots of pics!

  5. Great post, Kara. I believe names are really important too - didn't change mine when I first got married (pre-Christian days when I was a died in the wool feminist). Now I write under Marcia Lee Laycock - Lee being my maiden name.
    That said, I don't really care what the author's name is, tho' if it's easy to remember that helps when I'm telling others about it.
    I go by the cover, then the blurbs, then the first page of the book.

    Blessings on your wedding! Marcia

  6. Thanks everyone :)

    Susan I am keeping my name professionally (for my actual paid job) - partly because I've been in my industry for seven years and so people 'know' my name, but also because I work for someone high profile and so want to keep my professional and personal lives separate and keeping my maiden name for work and my married name elsewhere helps bewilder any nutters who don't like my boss googling my name hoping to find my address :)

    And yes - come February there will be plenty of wedding photos for all!!

  7. Congrats Kara on your upcoming wedding.

    First thing that attracts me on a book is the cover. Then the back page blurb.

  8. Congratulations, Kara. I agree completely that the name sets the mood for the author as well as a character. Bonnevie has a light, fun sound. Isaac has a darker more gothic sound. So it depends on what you write.

    My publisher discouraged pseudonyms when my first book came out, and I have always regretted not being "Leanna Smith Hardy" instead of plain old "LeAnne Hardy."