What’s In A Name?: Famous Authors Who Wrote/Write Under Pen Names

It’s safe to assume that we’re all familiar with the concept of the pen name. The pen name is a fake name – whether something that sounds like an actual name, or something that sounds more like a cool code name – used by authors to disguise the fact that they are who they are. Why authors would want to hide under a made-up persona is personal, of course. It may be that a person does not want other people to know that they’re writing genre fiction, and so would use a pen name when publishing their works. It may be that an author who usually publishes in one genre wants to write in a totally different genre, and so to avoid possible negative reactions, or just outright shock readers might experience, would write instead under another name. Reasons vary, and they can all be equally valid. They may eventually reveal who they really are, anyway, when they see that what they’re writing under a pen name is well-received and considerably successful.

Which authors, really, wrote under pen names? Let’s look at a few authors and their reasons why.

  • Famous horror writer Stephen King wrote several novels under the name Richard Bachman. It was his attempt to go around being restricted from writing more than one book a year, and also a test to see if he really was successful because he was talented, or if he just got lucky.
  • Another horror/speculative fiction writer, I Am Legend writer Richard Matheson, wanted to be known under the name “Logan Swanson” when I Am Legend was adapted into film in the early 1960s. It was done because he wasn’t happy with changes made on his screenplay. He did the trick again when his work on Twilight Zone and Combat! were edited to the point that he didn’t like them.
  • An example of an author wanting to write in a different genre this time. Famous mystery author Agatha Christie wanted to write romance stories, but understandably, her readers would have been shocked if she’d suddenly start writing them. So she chose to write under the name “Mary Westmacott,” and managed to write around six romance novels before being found out.
  • The Bronte Sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, all published their first works under pen names, taking on the male aliases Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. The choice of male pseudonyms made sense as, Charlotte herself reasons, ‘we did not like to declare ourselves women, because – without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called ‘feminine’ – we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.’
  • Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov wrote under the name Paul French when he started writing a YA sci-fi book – that was also picked up for a TV show. He felt embarrassed about the YA sci-fi series he wrote, but eventually admitted to writing them.

So those are just some examples of authors who chose to write under pen names. And there are a lot of different reasons – from trying to avoid prejudice because they were women writers, to trying to avoid being associated to works that they’re not particularly attached to, to trying to find out if people really thought they were talented writers. What is important to point out is that each of the writers in the list – and the many others who are not in the list – wrote under pen names for reasons that may or may not be good, but reasons that meant a lot to them personally.

What do we pick up from this, though? Are we encouraging you to write under a pen name? Not necessarily. It’s fun to know which authors wrote under which names, and why, but taking on the decision of writing under a pen name yourself is an entirely different thing. There are many reasons why you should – and shouldn’t – but that will be a discussion for another day.

Other Interesting Links

Do you know other reasons why writers choose to write under pen names? Would you write under a pen name? Let us know in the comments, or tweet us @creativwriters!

Jillian

Jillian is an English Literature graduate who loves reading science fiction and fantasy, and is a big fan of J.G. Ballard. She is obsessed with coffee, video games, and rottweilers, and keeps herself busy by writing and walking around a lot. She’s currently reading Jeanette Winterson and a lot of YA literature.

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