Why I Have a Pen Name

I don’t think I’ve talked about this yet, but it’s bound to come up, because using a pen name apparently is less common than I’d thought. So, yes, Tara Wilson Redd is a pen name. I was really nervous about this choice because even though I’ve always wanted a pen name, many people tried to talk me out of this. But when I saw it on the front of my book, it looked absolutely right, so I’m really happy with where it ended up.1

I’ve always wanted a pen name for lots of reasons. I’ve been interested in the whole idea that names have power, and that knowing someone’s name is powerful, at least since I read Island of the Blue Dolphins, and probably before because it’s a common theme in a lot of myths. I actually really like my first name. I like writing it in capital letters on all my stuff. But I also am incredibly anxious and shy, and I have always felt like a better version of my potential self behind many, many masks. When I was a tour guide2 I wore a special red bandana, very specific red lipstick, and a black dress–a little costume I made for myself–because I simply could not handle being myself and speaking in public. That was my battle armor. The irony is that I wasn’t bad at it at all…so long as I was playing some other version of Tara who was capable of giving ghost tours in the middle of the night in downtown Portland.3

I knew this was going to be a problem for me when it came to book stuff, especially when it came to, for example, using instagram or having a blog or, gasp, talking to live people. Having severe anxiety makes everyday social situations feel like life or death situations. That slightly uncertain line where you’re not sure if someone is waiting to pick up a coffee or order but they didn’t hear you when you asked if they were waiting the first time? That’s a mastodon. My paleolithic heart thinks so, anyway. So, for me, a pen name really is battle armor. It’s well-designed battle armor that will let me, I hope, do things like read from a book I wrote in public. Armor that will protect the version of Tara who, out of pathological shyness, would not order delivery pizza herself because she was too afraid to use the phone. Who would, when ordering food over the phone was unavoidable, draw out extensive flowcharts mapping out what to say when panic set in. Who has benefitted immensely from the rise in online ordering, but avoids restaurants like Cava and &pizza that she loves because she’s too anxious to talk to the people behind the counter.4

What difference does it make? Probably none. In reality I just thought it would be cool for a variety of reasons that will never be entirely clear. But on some level, I do think that it’s a good reminder that there’s a version of myself that is perfectly capable of doing all the things one might encounter in a day as an author, including…you know…write books. Maybe that doesn’t make sense broadly, but it does make sense to me. I mean, there’s a reason people wear crosses and get inspirational tattoos and put up motivational posters. It does help to be reminded, sometimes, that we are in the act of creating ourselves, and that each choice matters. I try to take life seriously, but apathy and nihilism is just so easy. Wow this has gotten off track. Anyway, I do realize that many people have pen names to protect a family name, or because they’re afraid of not being taken seriously. But not me. No one will ever take me seriously. I accept that.5

But, anyway, why that pen name? It’s actually kind of a neat reason. Wilson is the middle name that the men on my dad’s side have. So, my brother, father, grandfather, etc. have the middle name Wilson. And Redd is my mother’s maiden name. So it seemed like a nice way to have a name that was mine, but still get away with having a pen name.6

In any case, what it boils down to is: pen names are cool. Now I have one. Yay.

  1. I actually didn’t even want to use my first name, but feminism won that argument.
  2. Yep, I was a walking ghost tour guide when I lived in Portland.
  3. This is my favorite technique for overcoming anxiety. The, “all the world’s a stage” method.
  4. I’m not excusing this behavior, and I usually rise to the challenge…but sometimes the challenge bests me.
  5. Joking.
  6. I’m pretty sure I just managed to destabilize all of my little brother’s passwords, so you’re welcome, Steven.