GUEST POST: WHAT'S IN A (PEN) NAME?
GUEST POST BY EMMA WALSH
Have you ever stopped to think about whether your favorite author uses a pen name? Since the early 19th century, authors of all different genres used pen names for various reasons. While some, like George Eliot and Dr. Seuss, are more well-known, there are dozens of authors that have rather subtle pen names. You most likely wouldn’t even recognize their real names if you heard them!
Centuries back, authors adopted pen names, not for fun, but more out of necessity. Pseudonyms were used for various reasons. The most common reason was for female authors. Many iconic female authors wrote under male pen names to give their work a chance to thrive in a rather male-dominated industry. Such was the case for The Brontë sisters and George Eliot, whose real name is Mary Ann Evans. We still see this in contemporary cases, where Joanne Rowling often writes under Robert Galbraith or more famously uses her initials “J.K.” Aside from sexism, there are countless other reasons as to why authors adopted nom de plumes.
Some simply wanted to remain anonymous, others wanted the ability and ease to switch between genres without being pigeonholed, many wanted to distinguish themselves separate from their family surnames, and some, like O. Henry, were hiding from the law.
The infographic to the left shows some of the most influential authors of our times and their accompanying pen names. You might be surprised to see who made the list! I wasn’t aware a couple of these authors even wrote under pen names. Did you know George Orwell’s real name was Eric Blair? He adopted his pen name to avoid embarrassing his family during times of poverty. How about Clive Hamilton? He adopted various pen names to better distinguish characters and to be able to hop between poems and genres of books without confusion. Check it out and see if you’re surprised by any on the list.
While adopting a pen name might have been a necessity in the past, in present times, it’s become more of a lighthearted decision for authors. Many don’t use pseudonyms, but others choose to in order to keep their writing and everyday life separate. If you’re a writer, or you’ve been thinking about adopting a pen name for any other industry, it’s difficult to figure out where to start! Some of us don’t have names that lend way to using initials well.
Invaluable created this fun pen name generator to help! It populates unique names based on genre and gender. You can also choose to type in your first or last name and it will create a pen name around them. Gather inspiration from the infographic, and give the pen name generator a try! I’d love to hear which names you decided upon, so let me know in the comments.