Authors occasionally adopt pen names, and they do so for a variety of reasons. It may be that they consider their real names too commonplace, cumbersome, or inappropriate for the kind of writing they produce. Sometimes they simply want to hide their identities.
English novelist Cecil Smith wanted to upgrade his rather commonplace name, so he adopted the more distinctive pseudonym C. S. Forester. Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum, born in Russia, wrote under the much simpler appellation Ayn Rand. And the French novelist Amandine Aurore Lucile Dupin Dudevant made things easier for everyone by assuming the nom de guerre George Sand.
Miss Dudevant wanted to adopt a name not only simpler than the one given her at birth, but one that also masked her gender. In this she was like other nineteenth century women novelists who commonly adopted male pen names to escape the ridicule that female novelists routinely encountered.
Samuel Johnson, on once being told of a female preacher, remarked, “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hinder legs. It is not done well; but you are surprized to find it done at all.” Women novelists could expect to endure the same sort of mockery, so many of them wrote anonymously or adopted male pen names.
Mary Ann Evans, for instance, wrote under the pen name George Eliot. French author Marie, Comtesse d’Agoult, who lived for a time with the pianist and composer Franz Listz, wrote as George Stern. And the Brontë sisters—Charlotte, Emily, and Anne—wrote under the androgynous names Currer Bell, Ellis Bell, and Acton Bell respectively.
It also became fashionable for male writers of humorous stories in mid-nineteenth century America to adopt amusing pen names, ones that often suggested rustic or provincial origins. Thus, David Ross Locke became Petroleum V. Nasby; Henry Wheeler Shaw became Josh Billings; Charles Farrar Browne became Artemus Ward; and William Wright wrote under the name Dan de Quille.
The period’s greatest humorist, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, tried out a couple of pen names before finally settling on one that soon became famous the world over. Clemens, between October 1856 and March 1857, contributed several travel letters to the Iowa Keokuk Post under the name Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass. He later contributed several more articles to the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise signed simply Josh. But these names simply would not do. Finally he hit upon the pen name Mark Twain and sailed into literary immortality.
About the time Samuel Clemens found a pen name, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson began searching for one. From 1855 through 1857, Dodgson contributed poems and humorous prose sketches to the Comic Times in London and to its successor the Train, both edited by Edmund Yates. The two men decided that Dodgson really should have a pen name to separate his whimsical writings from his more serious endeavors in photography and the books he wrote on mathematics under his real name.
Dodgson first suggested to his publisher the name “Dares,” taken from his birthplace, the town of Daresbury in Cheshire, England. Yates, however, thought the name sounded too much like a newspaper byline. Dodgson then suggested that he call himself “Edgar Cuthwellis” or “Edgar U. C. Westhill,” both anagrams of his first two names. He also suggested “Louis Carroll” and “Lewis Carroll.” Yates decided on the last.
Eric Arthur Blair arrived at his pen name by a similar process as Dodgson. In the early 1930s, Blair published several magazine pieces under his real name, perhaps the most notable being the essay “A Hanging” (1931). But he never liked the name “Eric,” so when it came time to publish his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London (1933), he wanted it to be under a new name—something more solid, more British.
Blair suggested to his publisher the names “P. S. Burton,” “Kenneth Miles,” “H. Lewis Allways,” and “George Orwell.” He told his publisher that he liked the last name best, and that is the one he finally chose. “George” had a solid sound to it and “Orwell” he took from the River Orwell that enters the sea at the port town of Harwich in Essex, England.
Erle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970) was one of the world’s most prolific authors. Best known for his Perry Mason detective fiction, Gardner wrote about 200 short stories, more than 130 mystery and crime novels, 13 nature and travel volumes, and two non-fiction law books. He was so prolific that he adopted a variety of pen names so as not to glut the market—among them “Charles M. Green,” “Carleton Kendrake,” “Charles J. Kenney,” and “A. A. Fair.”
Erle Stanley Gardner
Here are some other pen names that have been used by noted authors:
Real Name—Pen Name(s)
Jean Baptiste Poquelin—Molière
Henrik Ibsen—Brynjolf Bjarme
Anton Chekhov—Antosha Chekhonte
Hector Hugh Munro—Saki
Karen Blixen—Isaak Dinesen
C. S. Lewis—Clive Hamilton, N. W. Clerk
Agatha Christie—Mary Westmacott
Sylvia Plath—Victoria Lucas
Isaac Asimov—Paul French
Theodor Seuss Geisel—Theophrastus Seuss, Theo LeSieg, Rosetta Stone, Dr. Seuss
Vladimir Nabokov—Vladimir Sirin
John Dickson Carr—Carr Dickson, Carter Dickson
Harold Rubin—Harold Robbins
Ray Bradbury—Douglas Spaulding
Stephen King—Richard Bachman
Dean Koontz—Aaron Wolfe, Anthony North, David Axton, Deanna Dwyer, K. R. Dwyer, Owen West, Brian Coffey
J. K. Rowling—Robert Galbraith