Pen Names

I never planned on using my legal name for my writing or artwork, or even on any sort of website. I started using the internet when I was 10-11, and like everyone else at that age and time period, I was explicitly told to not give out my personal information, such as my name, age, where I lived, etc. That definitely stuck with me. I don’t use my legal name on any kind of social media.

Despite that, I never even thought of coming up with pen name until 2013. That was the year that I (along with some others in the writing group I was part of at the time) decided to participate in the Day Zero Project, where you try to accomplish 101 things in 1001 days. One of my goals was to create a pen name. The only real limitation I had in mind was that the name had to be androgynous.

“Jay” is an actual name I’ve been using since I was about thirteen, so it made sense as the first name of my pen name. I don’t remember how I chose “Argall”, but it’s apparently a Cornish placename that means “quiet place”.

I’ve been wondering whether or not I want to continue using Jay Argall as a pen name. I came up with it long enough ago that it genuinely feels like my name, but it’s also pretty generic-looking. If I want to actually start trying to publish my work and not just post things on my website, I might want to use a name that’s more recognizable.

There is another name, Li Zhilong (李紙龍), that I’ve been using for longer than my pen name. The hanzi in Zhilong mean “paper dragon” (and it’s also a rough Sinification of my actual last name, while Li is my actual middle name, just spelled slightly differently), which is why this blog is named “Thoughts of a Paper Dragon”. Using Li Zhilong as a pen name would make plenty of sense. And I’m already using Zhilong or some variant of it for various art things online.

However…there is something else that has started to bother me recently about Li Zhilong. It’s the Mandarin pronunciation/pinyin spelling, and I come from a family that speaks Minnan – Taiwanese Hokkien, specifically. Then I’d have to choose whether I want to use the POJ romanization or the Tâi-lô romanization (Li Choaleng vs Li Tsualing). So I’m not sure I want to use that name for my writing.

If you’re using a pen name, I have two questions:

  • How did you choose your name?
  • Why did you decide to use a pen name?