Why I Use a Pen Name
Will Winter isn’t my real name. It’s an online pseudonym/alias that I've adopted.
Until recently, I've released all of my games and projects using my real name, so you might be wondering, why change it now?
It’s hard to explain, but at some point, I realized that my real name didn’t match my creative identity, and that became another source of resistance to confidently promoting my projects.
There’s never a perfect time to make a change, but there’s also no time like the present. And is time even real, anyway?
I know it’ll be confusing my
legions dozens of fans, but if Prince can change his name (twice!), so can I.
There’s nothing really wrong with my real name (Joe Lesko). It’s short, unique, rhymey, and people tend to remember it.
However, I'm not really a “Joe”.
Joe is a name for a solid, strong, down-to-earth guy. In contrast, I can barely benchpress 30 pounds and I'm usually daydreaming about stuff like how many Hit Points a zombie orc should have.
I'm also certainly not an Average Joe. I flatter myself to think I'm at least a Slightly-Above-Average Joe!
Lastly, the phonetics of the name have always kind of irked me, especially with my Midwest accent (Joooe Leskooo).
Like so many of my other decisions, I spent way too much time searching for the right answer.
My first thought was to go for a cool username, like “notch” (creator of Minecraft) or “ConcernedApe” (creator of Stardew Valley). It could be totally unique, and there would be no confusion that it was not my real name.
But then I looked at the long history of authors taking on pen names, like Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) or Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel), and thought it would be fun to come up with a name that sounded real instead.
Granted, a pen name could be confused as my real name, but on the plus side, it could carry more personal meaning.
William is my middle name, which I inherited from my grandfather, who was the closest thing I had to a father figure while growing up.
He worked as a carpenter by trade and, in retirement, he crafted beautiful pictures from wood veneer using a technique called marquetry.
When I was young, we spent weekends together as he taught me how to do this, too. I made a handful of pictures this way, but at that age, it was hard for anything to compete with computer games and (as I got older) playing the drums, so I eventually lost interest.
However, I can look back now and see how that experience was a big influence on me. It gave me an eye for detail at an early age, and an appreciation for the value of having a creative outlet.
Finally, I just like the phonetics of “Will” better. And Wills tend to be nice guys. (Okay, except for Will Shatner.)
I have a thing for alliteration, as you might have noticed from my game titles (e.g. Pee-Wee Pirates, Martian Meltdown). So naturally, my last name had to start with “W.”
“Winter” stood out for me, being the season when I feel most creative. Maybe it’s in my Nordic blood to embrace the dark winter nights and retreat into my imagination. (Iceland, for example, has the most writers per capita in the world.)
Finally, “winter” brings up all kinds of imagery and wordplay that I can use in my personal branding.
Even after I “found” Will Winter, it took me a long time to settle on it. (Maybe my middle name should be Wishy Washy?)
I even conducted an online survey that polled gamers to rate different names for qualities like “creativity” and “expertise”.
When the results came back, “Joe Lesko” beat “Will Winter” by almost every measure. Damn!
Eventually I had to admit that there was no perfect answer — this was a personal decision, and I should choose whatever I wanted.
If you’re thinking of using a pseudonym or even changing your real name, I think it’s worth noting that this will probably be more commonplace in the future.
- In today’s digital age, we’re all accustomed to interacting with others using usernames anyway, making it less of a big deal.
- The LGBTQ+ community, especially the Trans community, has shown us that we all have the right to redefine our own identity.
- Most of our names are from an era long past. Just because one of your ancestors from a thousand years ago was a blacksmith doesn’t mean you need to be named “Smith” in the 21st century.
And lots of people are doing it!
I really like this HuffPost article about the reasons people have for changing their name.
Will Winter's Weekly Whatever