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On the Issue of Pen Names/Business Names

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I've been chasing my tail on this topic for a few days now and have worked myself up into a frenzy of confusion, so I'm coming to you O Wise Ones.

Here's the deal: For three years now, I've been writing under my real name.  Fiction (and some related things, like the column I have at a horror webzine) under T.L. Bodine, nonfiction (and any by-lined business type work) under Tiana Bodine.  I like it because it's oh-so-Google-able.  As near as I can tell, I am the only Tiana AND the only Bodine selling what I'm selling, so I'm easy to find.

Problem: I got married a couple of months ago and took my husband's name.  I did this for the inverse of the reason above -- I'd rather the "real me" be kept separate from "work me" for security reasons, keeping my brand professional, etc. etc.

So I want to continue working under my old name, and I'm not 100% sure what's necessary to do that.  For example: If I publish a book, it's my understanding that a legal name has to go on the copyright page.   If I'm signing a contract or receiving a payment, the name there has to match up to the tax ID#.  Is that right?

So my assumption is that the best way to do this would be to register my maiden name as a DBA and obtain an EIN for it, and then use that name for all client relations (like, that's how I'd introduce myself on the phone to a client).  Does that sound about right?  Has anybody else done this and have anything to add/things you wish you'd known before/etc.?

2 thoughts on “On the Issue of Pen Names/Business Names”

  1. Easy — I work under my old name. Have for over a decade. It takes a bank account with your old name on it. I was lucky — I walked into my bank, opened an account under my maiden name, and didn’t look back. At the time (and currently), my name is still legally my first husband’s name. I’ve had no troubles whatsoever with payments.

    Have you filed for a name change legally? In PA, I know my daughter had to (she was married a few months ago, as well). You’re considered still under your maiden name unless you request a change.

    I think in a world of pseudonyms and women not wanting to lose their names, it’s fairly common practice to have a few aliases.

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  2. You can’t generally register a personal name as a DBA. I know you definitely can’t in PA, where Lori and I are located. But check with your state to be sure. DBAs are for brand names, and pseudonyms don’t count.

    I got around this by keeping my maiden name and adding my husband’s last name to it. I didn’t hyphenate them. I simply have two last names. I went with this after consulting with the business manager at my bank. I was told that with two last names they could process checks made out with both, or even with one or the other. Now I have a DBA name as well, so I usually just have clients use that. But when they make it out to me personally, only knowing my maiden name, depositing those checks has never been a problem.

    The only problem I did have was that my bank’s computer system couldn’t put both of my last names on the account. The system couldn’t handle a space. It was the most ridiculous thing. They wanted to put one in as a middle name. And I told them fat chance. My legal name has two last names, and they needed to find a way to make that work. Then they wanted to hyphenate them. I told them “no,” because my legal last name is not a single, hypenated name. I pitched a crazy fit about it. I couldn’t believe a big bank couldn’t handle a customer’s legal name. I think I had to go back 3 or 4 times before someone there finally figured out a way to fix it.

    (FYI, I know Wells Fargo’s system can handle the double last names because a teller at my current bank used to work for them, and she felt bad about the situation and pointed me in their direction. LOL They’ve been good to me and my hubby in other matters. He just switched his accounts all over to them. And whenever I feel like getting around to it, or when my current bank pisses me off again, I’ll likely do the same.)

    I had another issue with my Paypal account, where they couldn’t fit both on my debit card. But they let you get a second card tied to the account. So their rep suggested simply getting one with each last name. So I have two debit cards tied to my account with two different names. It’s weird. But hey. It works! And most people know me socially by just one name or the other anyway (most of my family doesn’t even realize I kept the maiden name). So I’m used to seeing it both ways as it is. 🙂

    I’ve heard that you can use either if you hyphenate too, but I’m not sure about that. It’s worth chatting with a lawyer briefly about it before making a big decision like that.

    My situation gets even more complicated because I’m a dual-citizen. Even though I legally changed my name in the U.S., if I go to Germany (my other citizenship), I’m still legally Jennifer Mattern. And I’m allowed to keep it that way (which I will for now — I might change it when I have kids because I’ll register their births with the consulate, and it makes sense for us to have the same last names in that case; it’s just not a priority for me right now).

    The key is being as consistent as possible. And I’d be careful about using your full legal name for things like travel (where your license had better match your passport) and signing contracts. Otherwise you could run into problems if you’re ever sued, or if you ever need to pursue someone for breaching a contract (if they can claim you didn’t sign it legally, it might prove to be unenforceable — again, check with a lawyer if you’re worried about it).

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