“What’s in a name…” William Shakespeare asked the question and now I’m asking myself the same one, well sort of. Have you heard the term pen name? What does it mean? And why would an author use one? Do any of your favorite authors write under a different name? The answers to these questions might surprise you. Let’s start by defining the term. PEN NAME: a name used by a writer instead of the writer’s real name. Authors use pen names for variety of reasons.
J.K. Rowling says “A pen name is a writer’s best friend…” “It has been pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name,”. “It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation.” The writer of Harry Potter fame has recently written under the name Robert Galbraith. Amid the FAQs on the official Robert Galbraith author website, Rowling declared “I successfully channeled my inner bloke!” when editor David Shelley, who first read the novel without knowing who its true author was, said, “I never would have thought a woman wrote that.”
Joyce Carol Oates who also writes as Rosamond Smith has said ”I wanted to escape from my own identity.” The pseudonym Rosamond Smith is a feminization of the name of Miss Oates’s husband, Raymond Smith “I suggest to my students that they write under a pseudonym for a week. That allows young men to write as women, and women as men. It allows them a lot of freedom they don’t have ordinarily.”
Dean Koontz who has more than ten pen names has written “When a young and unknown writer routinely completes more than one book per year, publishers urge him to use a pen name–or names–for what they view as excess production. They believe that critics will dismiss the work of a prolific writer without even reading it, assuming it is piffle. Many critics do, indeed, respond this way, even though writers from Shakespeare to Dickens to Joyce Carol Oates have proved that one can produce quantity with quality.”
One of the most well-known pen names of all time is Mr Ellis Bell. Emily Bronte‘ wrote Wuthering Heights (published in 1847 by Thomas Cautley Newby) using this name because during the 1840s, women authors were not perceived to have the credibility that male authors had. In fact, women were thought to be frivolous, frilly, and dainty creatures who had no perception of “the real world.”
It is said that when Eric Blair wrote his first book ‘Down And Out In Paris And London’, where he described his experience as a tramp and dishwasher, he adopted a pen name so that his parents and middle–class friends wouldn’t find out about his life on the street. The pen name he chose was George Orwell. He chose the name George Orwell to reflect his love of English tradition and landscape. George is the patron saint of England and the River Orwell was a place he loved to visit.
Click here for a list of authors and their pen names.