PEN NAMES AND THE FAMOUS AUTHORS WHO USE THEM
If you have ever read a book and found yourself thinking
that the style and way of writing seemed very familiar, it is possible that the
book you are reading was actually written by your favorite author —only under a
A pen name, also known as a nom de plume or a pseudonym, is an assumed name used by an author, in place of their own name.
write exclusively under their pen name, while others write under both their
actual name and their pen name (or multiple pen names, in some cases).
But, why do
authors use pen names? And how do they come up with the pen names they use?
While the answer
for that varies from author to author, we have come up with a list of 8 famous
authors who have used pen names, and the reasons behind their decision to forgo
their real names on their books.
Mark Twain (real name Samuel Clemens):
It is a well-known fact that Mark Twain’s real name was
Samuel Langhorne Clemens. It is said that Clemens got the name “Mark Twain” from
his former job as a riverboat captain. The term, “Mark Twain”, is a river term
that means “two fathoms,” or 12 feet. The sounding of “Mark Twain” on a
riverboat meant that it was safe to navigate the water.
What is not so well known is the fact that Clemens also
wrote under the names Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, Sergeant Fathom, and W.
Epaminondas Adrastus Blab.
It is said that Samuel Clemens chose to write under pen
names as a way to have literary freedom, and protect his family from
repercussions due to the content and opinions of the characters in his books.
Dr. Seuss (real name Theodor Seuss Geisel):
Theodor Seuss Geisel is famous worldwide for his children’s
books, penned under the name “Dr. Seuss.” Geisel first started using this pen
name in college, after he was caught drinking by the Dean of the school,
stripped of his position as editor of the Dartmouth college’s humor magazine,
“Jack-o-Lantern,” and banned from writing for the magazine. In order to trick
the administration and continue writing for the magazine, Geisel adopted the
name Dr. Theophrastus Seuss, which he later shortened to Dr. Seuss. Geisel was
not actually a doctor of any sort, having dropped out of the PhD program at
Oxford. The “Dr.” in his pen name was in honor of his father, who had hoped
that Geisel would someday get his PhD. The “Seuss” came from Geisel’s middle
name, which was also his mother’s maiden name.
While not nearly as famous as his “Dr. Seuss” pen name,
Geisel also famously wrote under the names Theo LeSieg (Geisel spelled
backwards) and Rosetta Stone.
George Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair):
When author Eric Arthur Blair was ready to publish his first
book, Down and Out in Paris and London,
he was concerned that his family would be embarrassed by the stories of their
time in poverty. In order to protect them, he decided to adopt a pen name. He
chose the name George Orwell to reflect his deep love of England. George is the
patron saint of England, and Orwell was the name of a river where he loved to
Lemony Snicket (real name Daniel Handler):
It is likely that most people cannot identify any books
written by Daniel Handler. However, one would be hard-pressed to find someone
who has never heard of Lemony Snicket and his popular children’s series’ A Series of Unfortunate Events and All the Wrong Questions.
It is said that Handler first adopted the pen name of Lemony
Snicket when he was doing research for his first novel, Basic Eight. He needed to contact various right-wing organizations,
but did not want them to have his real name. Thus, Lemony Snicket was born.
Stan Lee (real name Stanley Martin Lieber):
Debatably one of the most famous comic book writers in the world, Lieber
originally made the decision to write under the name Stan Lee because he hoped
to one day graduate to writing more serious literary work, and planned to save
his real name for that. Once it became apparent that he was destined to be
known for his comic books, Lieber made the decision to legally change his name
to Stan Lee.
Richard Bachman (real name Stephen King):
When King first started his writing career, it was a common belief
in the publishing world that an author could only successfully release one book
per year. In order to bypass this belief, King created the pseudonym “Richard Bachman,” so that he
could release multiple books per year. King ended up publishing seven novels
under the name of Bachman, before the connection between his pen name and his
real identity were discovered.
While King claims
that he created his pen name in order to get away with releasing more books per
year, it is said that he also wanted to see if “lightening could strike twice.”
He wondered if his writing talent alone could launch his Richard Bachman personality
into as much fame as he had achieved under his own name. Interestingly, though,
the books he released under the name Richard Bachman did not gain success until
it was publicly known that the books were King’s.
JK Rowling and Robert Galbraith (real name Joanne Rowling):
Now famous worldwide for her Harry Potter series, Rowling’s
publishers were at first unsure if her target audience of pre-teen boys would
accept stories about wizards that were written by a woman. For that reason,
they encouraged her to use initials on the books instead of her first name. Having
no middle name, Rowling adopted the “K” from her grandmother’s name, Kathleen,
and became known as J.K. Rowling.
What may surprise some, though, is that Rowling has been
writing crime novels under yet another pen name: Robert Galbraith. Rowling has
said that she made the decision to write her crime novels under another pseudonym, so that she could freely write
without having the pressure from being the author of the wildly successful
Harry Potter books. She liked the appeal of being able to create something
completely different, and wanted her crime novels to stand (or fall) on their
Mary Westmacott (real name Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie):
Known as the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie created 66
detective novels and 14 short story collections during her impressive writing
career. However, what is unknown to many is the fact that she also wrote six
romance novels under a pen name, Mary Westmacott, which she managed to keep
secret for 20 years.
It is said that Christie adopted her pen name, so that she
could more easily switch genres from mystery and crime to romance.