It’s All in the Name…

Who’s behind all of those words?

Pen names, Nom de Plumes, or Pseudonyms. They all basically mean the same thing–writing under a name that is not your own! For centuries writers and authors (and no doubt a few playwrights and poets too) have hidden their real names from public view for a multitude of different reasons–and it is still happening today! Read on to find out who has been keeping their name a secret and why…


As a child, while perusing a book on famous faces, I would always pause on the profile of George Eliot. A famous author from the mid 1800s, it always struck me as strange that a raven-haired woman should have the misfortune of being called George. George Eliot is in fact the pen name of Mary Ann Evans. She used a pen name in order to be able to write without her work being discriminated against or being dismissed as rubbish because she was a woman. Other famous female authors of this time period also followed suit–did you know that all three of the Bronte Sisters (Charlotte, Emily and Anne) went by pen names in order to fool the publishing world and the greater population into thinking that the novels Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and Agnes Grey were published by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell respectively? Not only did they choose their pen names to make sure their works were treated equally in society (notice how the names are gender neutral, and in a time when most writers were men, they would have been instantly assumed to be male) but they also used these names to hide the fact they were writing novels from their father.

Even today some female writers still choose to use a pen name of some sort, to appeal to as many people as possible. Most, if not all Harry Potter fans out there would know about J.K Rowling being encouraged to go by her initials when first publishing Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone. This was, once again, an attempt to make the author of the book seem gender neutral, so that young girls and boys would be drawn to the story. Fun Fact: J stands for Joanne and K stands for Kathleen–although Kathleen is not actually Joanne’s middle name. She adopted the middle initial in honour of her grandmother, Kathleen. Aww.


So, we all have our favorite authors, and we like them because we can always count on them to deliver a certain type of read. We have people we turn to for romance, for crime and mystery, for fantasy and for a laugh. But what if your favorite crime author was secretly itching to write a romance novel? Would you read it? Would anyone take it seriously? These are perhaps the questions which Agatha Christie, the well known Queen of Crime considered when she decided to write and publish novels that didn’t involve detectives, mystery and crime. She wrote six novels, which centred around more general themes–love, life, loss, and family. Agatha Christie has been quoted as saying that she had a slightly guilty feeling while writing these novels, but wanted to do something completely different from her normal job as a writer. Although it was revealed in 1949 that Mary Westmacott was only a pen name, Agatha went on to publish two more novels using the Westmacott name.

If an author wants to cross genres, you can see why he or she might choose to use a pen name–can you imagine people picking up a Stephen King novel (who, incidentally, has also used a pen name), expecting a thrilling tale, and instead finding a story about a young, twenty-something female advertising executive (they’re always advertising executives) trying to find love in the big city? You would be shocked! Appalled! Very confused! Maintaining a reputation or a brand is very important in the literary world. After all, would you read a fictional novel written by a mathematician? Probably not, except chances are you already have: Charles Dodgson, mathematician and logician, is the real name of Lewis Carroll, author of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.


Another reason a writer may take up a pen name is to protect their identity–maybe they are in search of privacy or are scared of being discriminated against because of who they are. Meg Cabot, who wrote The Princess Diaries series, wrote racy romance novels under the name of Patricia Cabot, as she didn’t want her grandmother to know what she was writing! Other famous examples in this category include William Sydney Porter, who wrote under the name O. Henry, as he was an ex-con, and didn’t want people judging his writing on that! One of the first female journalists, Caroline Rémy de Guebhard wrote under the nom de plum, Severine, meaning stern in French. Caroline was a feminist, socialist and fierce defender of human rights, writing at the turn of the 20th century. Her views were not always popular, and were especially strange coming from an aristocratic woman, hence the use of a pen name. Lastly, Dr. Seuss (real name: Theo Geisel) began using the pen name Seuss during college, after he was banned from working on the student paper after being caught drinking with friends in his room. The pen name was an excellent way for him to keep contributing without the administration finding out!


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