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An author may use a pen name if his or her real name is likely to be confused with that of another author or notable individual. For instance Winston Churchill wrote under the name Winston S. Churchill to distinguish his writings from those of the American novelist of the same name, who was at the time much better known.
Some authors who regularly write in more than one genre use different pen names for each. Romance writer Nora Roberts writes erotic thrillers under the pen name J.D. Robb, and Samuel Langhorne Clemens used the aliases "Mark Twain" and "Sieur Louis de Conte" for different works. Similarly, an author who writes both fiction and non-fiction (such as the mathematician and fantasy writer Charles Dodgson, who wrote as Lewis Carroll) may use a pseudonym for fiction writing. Science fiction author Harry Turtledove has used the name H.N. Turtletaub for a number of historical novels he has written because he and his publisher felt that the presumed lower sales of those novels might hurt book store orders for the novels he writes under his own name.
Occasionally a pen name is employed to avoid overexposure. Prolific authors for pulp magazines often had two and sometimes three short stories appearing in one issue of a magazine; the editor would create several fictitious author names to hide this from readers. Robert A. Heinlein wrote stories under pseudonyms of Anson MacDonald and Caleb Strong so that more of his works could be published in a single magazine. Stephen King published four novels under the name Richard Bachman because publishers didn't feel the public would buy more than one novel per year from a single author. Eventually, after critics found a large number of style similarities, publishers revealed Bachman's true identity.
Sometimes a pen name is used because an author believes that his name does not suit the genre he is writing in. Western novelist Pearl Gray dropped his first name and changed the spelling of his last name to become Zane Grey, because he believed that his real name did not suit the Western genre. Romance novelist Angela Knight writes under that name instead of her actual name (Julie Woodcock) because of the double entendre of her surname in the context of that genre.
A pen name may be shared by different writers in order to suggest continuity of authorship. Thus the Bessie Bunter series of English boarding-school stories, initially written by the prolific Charles Hamilton under the name Hilda Richards, was taken on by other authors who continued to use the same pen-name.
C. S. Lewis used two different pseudonyms for different reasons. He published a collection of poems (Spirits in Bondage) and a narrative poem (Dymer) under the pen name "Clive Hamilton", to avoid harming his reputation as a don at Oxford University. His book entitled A Grief Observed, which describes his experience of bereavement, was originally released under the pseudonym "N. W. Clerk"
Essayist and poet Eric Blair adopted the pseudonym George Orwell for most of his books, including Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty Four. This was done because he felt himself to be insufficiently established in his writing career to publish under his real name.
In some forms of fiction, the pen name adopted is the name of the lead character, to suggest to the reader that the book is a (fictional) autobiography. Daniel Handler used the pseudonym Lemony Snicket to present his A Series of Unfortunate Events books as memoirs by an acquaintance of the main characters. Also, "The Author" of The Automation uses two pen names (B.L.A. and G.B. Gabbler, the "Narrator" and "Editor" of the novel) to break the fourth wall.
Legendary comic book writer Stan Lee was born Stanley Martin Lieber. He adopted the pen name Stan Lee because he intended to save his real name for more literary products other than comic books. However, Lee's hopes for a novelistic career never materialized; although he became arguably the most important comic book creator in history. He legally changed his name to Stan Lee because he had become better known under his pen name.
Some female authors have used pen names to ensure that their works were accepted by publishers and/or the public. Such is the case of Peru's famous Clarinda, whose work was published in the early 17th century. More often, women have adopted masculine pen names. This was common in the 19th century, when women were beginning to make inroads into literature but, it was felt, would not be taken as seriously by readers as male authors. For example, Mary Ann Evans wrote under the pen name George Eliot; and Amandine Aurore Lucile Dupin, Baronne Dudevant, used the pseudonym George Sand. Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë published under the names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell respectively. French-Savoyard writer and poet Amélie Gex chose to publish as Dian de Jeânna ("John, son of Jane") during the first half of her career. Karen Blixen's very successful Out of Africa (1937) was originally published under the pen name Isak Dinesen. Victoria Benedictsson, one of the most famous Swedish authors of the 19th century, wrote under the name Ernst Ahlgren.
More recently, women who write in genres normally written by men sometimes choose to use initials, such as K. A. Applegate, P. N. Elrod, D. C. Fontana, S. E. Hinton, G. A. Riplinger, J. D. Robb, and J. K. Rowling. Alternatively, they may use a unisex pen name, such as Robin Hobb (the second pen name of novelist Margaret Astrid Lindholm Ogden).
A collective name, also known as a house name, is sometimes used with series fiction published under one pen name even though more than one author may have contributed to the series. In some cases the first books in the series were written by one writer, but subsequent books were written by ghost writers. For instance, many of the later books in The Saint adventure series were not written by Leslie Charteris, the series' originator. Similarly, Nancy Drew mystery books are published as though they were written by Carolyn Keene, The Hardy Boys books are published as the work of Franklin W. Dixon, and The Bobbsey Twins series are credited to Laura Lee Hope, although several authors have been involved in each series.
Collaborative authors may have also their works published under a single pen name. Frederic Dannay and Manfred B. Lee published their mystery novels and stories under the pen name Ellery Queen (as well as publishing the work of ghost-writers under the same name). Cherith Baldry, Kate Cary, and Victoria Holmes wrote the Warriors series under the pseudonym of Erin Hunter to keep their readers from searching all over the library for their books. The writers of Atlanta Nights, a deliberately bad book intended to embarrass the publishing firm PublishAmerica, used the pen name Travis Tea. Sometimes multiple authors will write related books under the same pseudonym; examples include T. H. Lain in fiction.
Nicolas Bourbaki is the collective pseudonym under which a group of (mainly French) 20th-century mathematicians wrote a series of books presenting an exposition of modern advanced mathematics, beginning in 1935. With the goal of founding all of mathematics on set theory, the group strove for utmost rigour and generality, creating some new terminology and concepts along the way.
In 2007, three Slovenian artists legally changed their names to Janez Janša, the Slovenia’s economic-liberal, conservative prime minister at the time. When publicly asked whether this gesture was of an affirmative or subversive nature, they claimed they did it for "personal reasons". Most of their works, including art exhibitions, theatrical pieces, and publications, have since been signed under this name.
Concealment of identity
A pseudonym may be used to protect the writer for exposé books about espionage or crime. Former SAS soldier Andy McNab used a pseudonym for his book about a failed SAS mission titled Bravo Two Zero. The name Ibn Warraq has been used by dissident Muslim authors. Author Brian O'Nolan used the pen names Flann O'Brien and Myles na gCopaleen for his novels and journalistic writing from the 1940s to the 1960s because Irish civil servants were not allowed at that time to publish works under their own names. The identity of the enigmatic twentieth century novelist B. Traven has never been conclusively revealed, despite thorough research.
For reasons unknown, but perhaps to escape the notice of English authorities, the author Robert Noonan chose the name Robert Tressell as his pseudonym to write the novel The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.
Alice Bradley Sheldon had a multiplicity of reasons for writing under the pen names of James Tiptree, Jr. and Racoona Sheldon: she was a woman writing in the heavily male-dominated genre of science fiction; she was a bisexual woman who may have wanted to avoid the inherent biases of her readers; and she was a career intelligence officer, first in the Army Air Corps and then in the early years of the CIA, for whom concealment was a way of life.
After Stephen King's pen name Richard Bachman got released to the public, King said that Bachman had "died of cancer". After this, King began writing most of his stories under his own name. The event of King's pen name's being released helped conceive another novel, The Dark Half (1989).
In early Indian literature, we find authors shying away from using any name considering it to be egotistical. Due to this notion, even today it is hard to trace the authorship of many earlier literary works from India. Later, we find that the writers adopted the practice of using the name of their deity of worship or Guru's name as their pen name. In this case, typically the pen name would be included at the end of the prose or poetry.
Composers of Indian classical music used pen names in compositions to assert authorship, including Sadarang, Gunarang (Fayyaz Ahmed Khan), Ada Rang (court musician of Muhammad Shah), and Ramrang (Ramashreya Jha). Other compositions are apocryphally ascribed to composers with their pen names.
Japanese poets who write haiku often use a haigō (俳号). The famous haiku poet Matsuo Bashō had used two other haigō before he became fond of a banana plant (bashō) that had been given to him by a disciple and started using it as his pen name at the age of 36.
Similar to a pen name, Japanese artists usually have a gō or art-name, which might change a number of times during their career. In some cases, artists adopted different gō at different stages of their career, usually to mark significant changes in their life. One of the most extreme examples of this is Hokusai, who in the period 1798 to 1806 alone used no fewer than six. Manga artist Ogure Ito uses the pen name 'Oh! great' because his real name Ogure Ito is roughly how the Japanese pronounce "oh great".
Persian and Urdu poetry
A shâ'er (Farsi for poet) (a poet who writes she'rs in Urdu or Persian) almost always has a "takhallus", a pen name, traditionally placed at the end of the name (often marked by a peculiar graphical sign placed above it) when referring to the poet by his full name. For example Hafez is a pen-name for Shams al-Din, and thus the usual way to refer to him would be Shams al-Din Hafez or just Hafez. Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan (his official name and title) is referred to as Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, or just Mirza Ghalib.
Despite the use of French words in the phrase nom de plume, the term did not originate in France; its origin is Latin. H. W. Fowler and F. G. Fowler, in The King's English state that the term nom de plume "evolved" in Britain, where people wanting a "literary" phrase failed to understand the term nom de guerre, which already existed in French. Since guerre means "war" in French, nom de guerre did not make sense to the British, who did not understand the French metaphor. The term was later exported to France. This topic is further discussed in French-language expression, although amongst French speakers pseudonyme is much more common.
- Chinese courtesy name
- List of pen names
- List of pseudonyms
- Nom de guerre
- Ring name - the equivalent concept among professional wrestlers.
- Stage name - the equivalent concept among performers.
- Room, Adrian, ed. (2004). Dictionary of Pseudonyms: 11,000 Assumed Names and Their Origins. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-1658-0.
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