Who Wrote it? Pen Names in Literature
Pseudonym, pen name or alias - authors have been writing under names other than their own for centuries, and their reasons for doing so differ from writer to writer.
Charles Dodgson was a mathematician and Anglican deacon who possibly wanted to distance himself from his hobby of writing nonsense literature and children’s stories. By using Lewis Carroll, he could write and keep the day job. By contrast, Samuel Langhorne Clemens (which is a bit of a mouthful) couldn’t decide on just one fake name. He thought that the Mississippi boatman’s call of Mark Twain would lend a southern air to his stories of life on the river, while Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass was just silly enough for his comic writing.
Other writers had their pen names forced upon them such as the Brontë clan (Anne, Emily and Charlotte) who feared their work would be judged differently if it were known they were female. They chose to write as Acton Bell, Ellis Bell and Currer Bell respectively. The same fate befell Amantine Aurore Lucile Dupin, who is better known as George Sand.
Gothic illustrator Edward Gorey wrote under several pseudonyms, most of which were anagrams of his own name such as Ogdred Weary, Regera Dowdy, Dogear Wryde and E. G. Deadworry.
Publishers frequently recommend pen names when prolific writers wish to churn out books in quick succession or if they wish to branch into new genres, including populist ones. Stephen King was told early in his career that if he wanted to publish more than one book a year he would have to do it under another name and so Richard Bachman was born. Romance writer Nora Roberts has published some of her 150+ books as J.D. Robb, Jill March and Sarah Hardesty. Dean Koontz has several pseudonyms.
There are many, many more – Eric Blair used George Orwell, Karen Blixen used Isak Dinesen, Georges Remi used Hergé, Daniel Handler uses Lemony Snicket, and Isaac Asimov used Paul French.
Notable Noms de Plume
A History of New York
(real name: Washington Irving)
Irving created Knickerbocker for a 19th century marketing campaign where he placed ads seeking Knickerbocker who had apparently failed to pay a hotel bill.
Double or Quits
(real name: Erle Stanley Gardner)
Like many mystery writers, Gardner tried to differentiate some of his writing by taking a variety of pen names. A.A. Fair was the one used for his Cool and Lam series
Midshipman Bolitho and the 'Avenger'
(real name: Douglas Reeman)
Reeman used Alexander Kent to honour his friend and fellow naval officer of that name who died during World War II. Reeman used Kent’s name for the entire Richard Bolitho series.
The Master of Black-tower
(real name: Barbara Mertz)
Mertz studied Egyptology and published several non-fiction works before branching into gothic and supernatural thrillers, and adopting the name of Barbara Michaels. She also penned the Amelia Peabody series as Elizabeth Peters.
The Heart of Hyacinth
(real name: Winnifred Eaton)
Canadian-born author Eaton had Chinese-British ancestry. After success publishing short stories in the Saturday Evening Post, she switched to novels using the pen name of Onoto Watanna in order to sound Japanese-American.
The Story of O
(real name: Anne Desclos)
Desclos was a French journalist and critic who introduced writers like Evelyn Waugh and F. Scott Fitzgerald to France. She did this using the pen name Dominique Aury. She used Pauline Réage for The Story of O – infamous for its graphic sexuality.
Mon Frère Yves
(real name: Julien Viaud)
Loti was the pseudonym used by French naval officer and novelist Viaud. Unlike many other authors, he only wrote under the name Loti because he thought it reflected his public persona. His friends call him “le Loti” after the lotus flower.
To Beg I Am Ashamed
(real name: Ronald Matthews & perhaps Graham Greene)
Cousins’ only book is described as “The authentic autobiography of a London prostitute” but legal threats over its content hampered its publication. Green’s involvement remains pure speculation.
(real name: Agatha Christie)
Queen of the whodunits Christie was known for mysteries but wrote romance novels under the pen name of Mary Westmacott
(real name: Edna St. Vincent Millay)
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay used the pen name of Nancy Boyd for her prose work.
(real name: James Robert Baker)
Adrenalin is the story of two gay lovers who shoot a homophobic coop after being harassed by him. Dillinger/Baker’s best known works are Boy Wonder and Fuel-Injected Dreams - both published under his real name.