Cultural Appropriation with Pen Names?


This is one of those topics that’s going to get heated no matter how you slice it. Everyone’s opinion is welcome but keep it respectful if we can’t be kind to eachother, what hope is there for us? You can disagree without turning to slandering, name calling and general rude behavior.

Now, I wanted to hear people’s thoughts and feelings on pen names, and if you think that how they’re used can ever be considered Cultural Appropriation. For further explanation, I’ll point to myself.

I’m a female white brunette in her late twenties who married an immigrant and took on his last name. I have no cultural ties to my last name other than marrying into it. I don’t use my real name because I think it’s just too off to really sell a book. My first name is a literal Mary-Sue Name and coupled with my last name, I sound like a Red-Neck that a whirlwind dropped three countries over. On top of that, I’m also interested in several genres and styles, I think I’d be well served to adopt a few pen names for different genres. I am proud of my name still, even if I don’t use it, and my current pen names honours it and my mother.

In brainstorming up possible pen names based on my own, I feel I run into a problem of one: my current last name not reflecting my actual experience and history. Any last name contrived from it, if I’m not very careful, i think might come off as disingenuous or even deceitful. My second dilemma, finding variations of my first name and borrowing from another culture. For example, was considering the name “Amita” because it’s similar to my own, but it’s of hindu origin as well as Hebrew and Italian. Would you consider it rude to use? Does it depend on name?

I’d just love people’s overall thoughts on the matter. Can a pen name be insulting or used deceitfully? I mean, it’s one thing to hide gender, but is there a line too far?


There was a topic awhile back about this that you may find interesting: Pseudonyms and cultural appropration?


Thank you! Maybe I should have put this in thre cafe.


I think that you should keep to your name, even if it sounds " like a Red-Neck that a whirlwind dropped three countries over". I mean, that YOU, right? You in reality and you legally. You don’t have to have a cultural first name to have a cultural last name. I’ve heard of people the other way around actually- “Nessma Simmons” for example, or like you, “Jane Poplovskya” (fake names I made up by the way lol). If you want to have a pen name without worrying too much, maybe try something like “J R R Tolkien” or “J K Rowling”?


I don’t even think theres such a thing? I’m legit the only person other then my 3rd aunt and my little brother to be born in the US unlike the rest of my family, My first and last name very obviously points out where i’m from and i hate the idea that its “cultural appropriation” to have a pen-name thats untrue to your own heritage. I mean if i want a european sounding pen-name i should be able to, as should EVERYBODY else.
It’s not deceitful to have a name that sounds diverse or of another culture. UNLESS you put yourself under a name like Mateo Rodriguez (just an example name) and then keep misleading your fans/readers into believing your latino.
also you could use your first and last name as initials and then pick a last name or name you like as the rest of your pen name.


I, personally, don’t like it when it’s inappropriately used. BUT it does depend, for me, on the context in which it’s used.

Like, I’ve found too many people that “respect and love my culture” but then they bash me for speaking my native language, wearing my native clothing, and for having a different attitude because of my culture. If someone who constantly disrespects my culture used a name from it and mislead people with it, I’d be angry.

Now, you’ve mentioned that you took your husbands last name right? Well, if you took another last name from his culture in your own name to honour him and were honest about your own heritage when asked then I see no problem with it.

Basically, the gist is that if someone constantly bashed people of the culture that they claim to praise, then I get very angry when they do things like wear my cultural clothing out of context or use a pen name that allows them to trick people into thinking they’re of a different culture.

If the name you pick has a significance to you, you’re respectful to the culture, and you’re honest about your own roots, then I see no problem with it :woman_shrugging:


“Amita” sounds ambiguous enough, but if you picked a name that’s blatantly Indian (like Mohini or something), and you’re not Indian, it might come across as you trying to get diversity points or something.

I think it’s a case by case scenario. In my opinion everything depends on the individual’s intentions and circumstances, so my only real opinion on this is, question yourself before you pick a pen name, and be prepared to admit that even if you have good intentions, people may not believe you or agree with you.

I’ve had similar issues with wondering what message I’d send by each pen name. I’ve considered using my husband’s name (which I didn’t legally take on) for a pen name to avoid prospective employers Googling me and finding my writing, but in the end I just didn’t like the messsge it might seem like I was trying to send. Both the message of “I’m white but I’m pretending to be Mexican (my husband is Mexican and my first name SOUNDS Spanish)” and also the idea of taking my husband’s name at all just didn’t feel right. So I just used my real name.


I’m going to be honest and say that whilst I’m proud of my name, and love my name, I don’t think I can sell books with it. I know that’s a horrible attitude in many ways, but it is what it is. We shouldn’t judge, but we do. It’s just not very romantic or flows off the tongue, visually it’s jarring. It’s also super long, even graphically it’s hard to put on a cover: it’s also not a name that I think is easy to remember. Although, people have given me more ideas, like just using the first letters, that might work better. My maiden name I just refuse, not because I hate it, but because it was so common there’s just way too much competition to stand out.

(I say this not to refuse or halt conversation, just to be honest)


What’s your first name, might I ask? Latina here! :blush:


I understand that you may not think that your name could sell books, but - as other people said - be mindful of the hate you will definitely get from some people of that community.

If you take a name from another culture that is not yours, there will definitely be some backlash. It might not be the majority, but you have to be ready for some cultural apporoprostion and racism accusations and such. That’s just the truth :woman_shrugging:


Aurora :slight_smile:


Just pick something ambiguous and roll with it. Like mine has become JT now. Let people figure it out for themselves and make up their own meaning behind it if they really care that much about petty stuff like that.


… And that’s considered Spanish sounding??

Wow. Honestly, I would never associate your name with a Hispanic culture! You learn something new every day! :blush:

Are you told it sounds Hispanic often? I’m honestly so intrigued to hear that people find your name “Spanish-sounding”!


Yeah I think that ambiguous might be the “safest” route in terms of not using your real name but not offending anyone either.


Oh, I know. That’s part of the reason I’m hesitant to use my real name or even variations of it because it implies that I’m of a culture that I’m not: I just married into it. It’s one of the reasons I use a pen name, Quirke is not my last name, but it does not come from a culture I’m not part of.

When brainstorming pen names, I was curious about people’s thoughts. When is the line where your pen name becomes wrong?


“It does not come from a culture I’m not a part of”… Is this your way of saying “Quirke” is a last name that DOES coincide with your own culture? :joy:


I, personally, think that a pennname is wrong when you are known for being disrespectful towards a group or have no connection to it/have been misleading people to think you ARE of that culture and you are not.

People who use cultural pennnames not from their culture to exploit people from certain cultures and try to GE thyme to buy the book makes me sick, honestly.

I’ve had enough of people taking my culture and using it whenever it’s convenient for them without ever being a part of it, thank you very much :joy:

I think that, if you want to choose a last name to honour your husband, that’s okay in my eyes. You might get backlash for it, but I personally think it’s okay.

If you’re using a cultural last name because you think “Redneck won’t sell” and want people to kinda sort of believe you actually are of that culture when they see your name on the book, I don’t think that’s okay.

But these are my own opinions.


I guess it’s fairly ambiguous by itself (could be a lot of languages), but I have had people ask if of assume I’m Latina before because of it (i.e., a Puerto Rican substitute teacher pronouncing it the Spanish way until she sees me… then switching to saying it the English way) and I feel like if I combined it with a Mexican last name it would definitely cause more people to make those assumptions.


Honestly, I would think it’s more the last name than the first name. Just because of the fact that “Aurora” is not - at least in my knowledge - a classic Hispanic name. It’s Latin, in the sense of the dead language, but it’s not s traditional Hispanic name.

I think it’s just the last name. Once they see my Hispanic-ass last name they mess up my first name! Like, people pronounce it wrong anyway because it’s pronounced differently in Spanish than English, but there IS an English equivalent. Once people see my last name, they come up with all sorts of crazy things for my first name!

Did this used to happen to you before you took your husband’s last name? It would be so weird to me if you did! Weird in an interesting way, of course :blush:

Also, I think that the ambiguous part would have to do with personal experience! The only Auroras I know are all white and the white Disney princess! So I, personally, would associate the name to a white person in North America since that’s where I’ve heard it most!

It’s like the name “Maya”. I thought that it was the only way to spell Maya because all of the Maya’s I knew were Hispanic. A white friend of mine is named Maya and the teachers always get it wrong. She told me that it was because Maya is usually spelled differently in English and that it was the Spanish spelling of the name and I never even knew until that point!

Crazy how things like that are, right?!


I didn’t take my husband’s last name - I just considered using it as a pen name at one point, but I didn’t end up doing so. So it’s definitely not the last name.

At another point, I went to this Mexican restaurant, and there was a new cashier there who didn’t speak Spanish and was acting super intimidated by all the Spanish words on the menu. She asked my name, I told her, she panicked and asked me to spell it, and later I overheard her asking the restaurant manager for help pronouncing my name.

It may be that it isn’t such a common name, so people are just unfamiliar with it and they can tell it sounds Latin and make assumptions? And I’ve had a whole lifetime of reactions to cherry-pick from, so it’s probably not the majority of people. But it’s definitely happened.

I’m sorry people mess up your first name because of your last name, haha. I tend to default to the English pronunciation of names that could be either English or Spanish (for example, if I see Alicia I’ll read it as “A-leash-ah” and not “a-lee-see-a”) even if I see a Spanish last name, and I end up being wrong about as often as right.