Calliope Writing


Pseudonyms: The What, Why, and How of Pen Names
May 30, 2015, 1:58 pm
Filed under: Literature, Writing Tips | Tags: , ,

Pseudonyms…pen names.

I guess before I jump in, an explanation is in order. I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a pseudonym under which I’d like to publish a series of romance novels. No joke. So I figured I’d explore the idea of pseudonyms and take you along for the ride.

The What

Pseudonym is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a name that someone (such as a writer) uses instead of his or her real name,” “a fictitious name.” Easy-peasy.mark-twain

And they’re more common than you may know. In fact, many notable authors have had pen names (or are only known under their pen name). Here’s just a sampling:

  • Mark Twain, who is actually Samuel Langhorne Clemens
  • Richard Bachman, actually the incredibly well-known Stephen King
  • J.K. Rowling wrote under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith
  • Joyce Carol Oates released one novel under the pen name Rosamond Smith
  • Benjamin Franklin wrote a series of letters to a newspaper under the moniker “Mrs. Silence Dogood”
  • Bestseller Michael Crichton has a slew of pseudonyms he’s been known to use: Jeffrey Hudson, John Lange, and Michael Douglas (not sure why he decided to go through with the last one, but that’s his prerogative)
  • George Eliot is actually Mary Anne Evans

The Why

There are many reasons for creating and using a pen name, including:

  • To create a brand that differs from your current publications
  • If you’re writing about something très controversial and want to protect yourself
  • To assume a gender that you believe will be taken more seriously in a particular genre
  • You screwed up and need a clean slate (i.e., you have a less-than-stellar reputation for whatever reason and don’t want that to affect your publication’s success)

pen in hand

The authors listed above had their own whys for writing under a name differing from the one on their birth certificate. Rowling created a pen name to escape Harry Potter fans and get real feedback on her writing, with no preconceived notions or expectations. Although her alter-ego didn’t stay a secret for long, obviously.

Evans had quite the valid reason for creating George Eliot: She was a woman, and it was the early 19th century. Her writing simply wouldn’t have been taken seriously if she had submitted it under her birth name; women were viewed as flighty creatures and, with regards to literature, were associated strictly with romance novels…not what Evans wanted to write. So she assumed a male identity, and her brilliance was (thankfully) exposed to the world.

It’s said that Oates, that sneaky and talented nymph, created Rosamond Smith because she can throw out a manuscript every two weeks. Every. Two. Weeks. And she, like Rowling, wanted to “escape her identity.” Stephen King shares Oates’s reasons for creating a pen name: to increase his amount of publications without “over-saturating the King brand.”

Must be nice to sit down at your laptop and spew out an entire novel in two minutes. Just sayin’. (But then again, that’s why Joyce Carol Oates is Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King is Stephen King.)

The How

If at this point you’re nodding your head emphatically and saying, “Yes, yes, oh wise one, I do need a pseudonym!” – then you may be wondering how the hell you’re supposed to come up with a brilliant pen name that both reflects what you write and helps address your reasons for creating a pseudonym in the first place.

hello my name is

I’d advise against using “Douchebag” as your pen name. But “Poop-head” has a certain ring to it.

There are many different places you can look for inspiration. Alternating between funny and helpful, the following are great resources for tips on creating your perfect pseudonym:

Now that we’ve explored to my heart’s content, fill me in on your thoughts. Would you consider using a pseudonym? And how would you come up with an earth-shattering pen name?

Sources: Mother Nature Network, HuffPost Books, BBC

3 Comments so far
Leave a comment

These names are really important, because they determine how others see us. Their first mental image of a reader is based on the name. It’s basically that simple. Great entry! 🙂

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Comment by GirlScoutInDistress

Hello! Per your earlier permission, I scheduled this article as a guest post for March 2nd.

Liked by 1 person

Comment by theryanlanz

Looking forward to it! Thanks for the heads up.

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Comment by Katrina




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