Behind the Name: Noms de Plume and Novelists Behind Them
Pen names, or noms de plume, are names adopted by writers who don’t use their birth/legal names in publication. Writers use pen names for a variety of reasons: to hide their true identity, to escape persecution and/or criticism, to keep their personal affairs private, or simply because they want to.
Over the years, many writers have become famous more by their pen names than their real names. See if you knew about the alter egos of the writers mentioned below.
- AM Barnard
AKA Louisa May Alcott. Although the author is better-known for her real name, Alcott started her career using a gender-neutral name. At the beginning of her career, women were not taken as seriously as male writers. She used the pen name to write short stories for the Atlantic Monthly and then reverted to her real name when she started fighting for women’s rights.
- JK Rowling
This Oct. 16, 2012 photo shows author J.K. Rowling at an appearance to promote her latest book “The Casual Vacancy,” at The David H. Koch Theater in New York. Rowling, the popular author of the “Harry Potter” series, spoke for just over an hour before a capacity crowd in her sole U.S. public appearance to promote her first novel for grownups. (Photo by Dan Hallman/Invision/AP)
AKA Joanne Rowling. The Harry Potter author was asked by her publisher to use initials rather than her real full name, with the assumption that a female name printed on the cover would turn potential readers away from the male-centered fantasy series. The “K” from her name is a nod to her grandmother, named Kathleen. Rowling also writes mystery fiction under the name Robert Galbraith. This was supposed to be kept secret; unfortunately, a trusted companion of Rowling leaked the information.
- Lewis Carroll
AKA Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Dodgson was a very private person and adopted the pen name to keep his life private. Dodgson is adept at many skills, including photography, sketching, and mathematics. He came up with the pen name by converting his name into the Latin Carolus Ludovicus, anglicizing it to Carroll Lewis, and reversing the order. The name was chosen by his publisher from a list he created.
AKA Theodore Geisel. A well-known and loved children’s author, Geisel holds the record for having the most books written under a single pseudonym. Geisel also wrote books under a second name, Theo LeSieg.
- Pablo Neruda
AKA Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto. Other than his name being a mouthful, Basoalto had another problem: his father disapproved of his interest in literature. He created the pseudonym when he started publishing poetry to hide from his father. He later legally changed his name to Pablo Neruda, a nod to Czech poet Jan Neruda.
- George Orwell
AKA Eric Arthur Blair. At first, Blair adopted a pen name because his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London, was a true account of his journey. He was ashamed of his time in poverty and didn’t want his family to be criticized for it as well. Soon, he started writing heavy political novels and continued using his chosen pen name to avoid persecution. He adopted George from England’s patron saint and Orwell from a river which he loved to visit.
- Mark Twain
AKA Samuel Clemens. Clemens grew up in Missouri with an experience in and love for steamboating. Upon moving west to California, he adopted a more adventurous pen name. The name, which is a jargon, reflected his love for steamboats.
- Stan Lee
AKA Stanley Martin Lieber. The comic book superstar originally adopted a pen name so that he could use his real name for more serious literary works that he had planned to write. However, he never did move on from writing comic books. Eventually, he legally changed his name to the pen name he popularized.
- Pittacus Lore
AKA James Frey. Although he started writing in 2003, Frey didn’t become famous until nearly a decade later. Frey ran into legal trouble after his first two novels, marketed as memoirs, were found to have had fabricated content. He published the first book of the Lorien Legacies series, I Am Number Four, in 2010, which gained popularity almost immediately.
- Lemony Snicket
AKA Daniel Handler. The fantasy series A Series of Unfortunate Events is told from the first-person perspective by the book’s supposed author, Lemony Snicket. However, Handler initially came up with the name as a disguise while researching and writing a book on incest.
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