Monday, August 26, 2013

The Nom de Plume

Pen names!  Exactly why does a person have a "nom de plume" or pen name instead of using their real name?  The answers are interesting, to say the least.

1) Hidden identity is the most popular reason.  Yes, keeping the true identity of the author a secret is the perfect reason for a pen name. There are many reasons for keeping an author's name hidden.  The most typical, and first to mind, is the obvious. The writer pens erotica and would prefer to not have the family, church and/or community know it. Of course, it could be another reason completely.  S/he\ is a branch manager of a firm who prefers that their employees do not 'moonlight' for other income.  Or, perhaps the company thinks it is a conflict of interest.  The author is a programmer and has just written a book about how to write programs in XXX language or how to do this or that with YYY operating system. There is even the possibility that a writer could feel his/her credibility would be questioned if the public knew they wrote a certain genre. For instance, a family counselor who writes about broken homes or the Harvard professor who writes children's nursery rhymes.

2) Specific identity is another reason.  If an author is writing horror and decides to write romance, it might be better to use an alias - that nom de plume -- for the conflicting genre.  Some authors are proud of the fact they can work in multiple genres while others prefer to keep that particular talent hidden.  My co-author uses an alias for our horror series - Ancient Blood.  He writes action/thrillers under his real name and uses an alias for horror.  A friend of mine writes science fiction under one name - not his real name - and writes romance using a woman's name.  His true name is used in a completely different genre.  As he says -- would you read a trashy romance written by Max Whitman (not his real name) or Samantha Murray (not his fake name) when picking a book?

3) Publication.  How's that for sounding obscure?  One of my oldest writing friends uses an alias.  She writes in her real name and she also writes using her maiden name. Many authors use pseudonyms, pen names, to be able to have more books available.  As one person so aptly noted -- libraries can only purchase so many books by a certain author unless you are very lucky to be one of the top 10 authors. So, if you use a 2nd or 3rd or even a 4th name, you can have more books available to purchase and/or read.  That doesn't mean to write a book using your real name, and then another book with a 2nd name.  Publish 4, 5 or even 10 books in a name, then start using a new one.

4) Public vs Private.  Some authors prefer to keep their personal lives just that - personal and private.  The popular authors, like Stephen King, are in the limelight.  Writers like him have problems going into the public and not be noticed.  Some readers believe that what they read by the author is based on the author's life. Sometimes it is, usually it is not or at least, not completely.  Authors would prefer to keep the two lives separate, if not for themselves directly, but perhaps for their immediate family.

5) Miscellaneous.  This will be a collection of reasons.  One of the most unusual is pride or humility. An author may publish under a pseudonym just to make sure that their writing skill is truly valid.  A well-known write questioned if he was being published because the book was good or because his name was on it.  He sent the story to publisher under a fake name.  The story was accepted, published under the fake name and well received by the reading audience.  The author was humbled.

Soooo... Who has had or is using a pen name?  Try to match the Pen Name(s) to the Real Name.

Pen NameReal Name
1. Anne Rice, Anne Rampling, A. N. RoquelaureA. Howard Allen Frances O'Brien
2. George OrwellB. Eric Arthur Blair
3. George EliotC. Mary Anne Evans
4. VoltaireD. Francois-Marie Arouet
5. Lewis CarrollE. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson
6. Richard Bachman, John SwithenF. Stephen King
7. Anson MacDonald, Lyle Monroe, John Riverside, Caleb Saunders, Simon YorkG. Robert A. Heinlein
8. Nora Roberts, J.D. Robb, Jill March, Sarah HardestyH. Eleanor Marie Robertson
9. John Lange, Jeffery Hudson, Michael DouglasI. John Michael Crichton
10. Robert Jordan, Reagan O'Neal, Jackson O'Reilly, Chang LungJ. James Oliver Rigney, Jr.
11. Patrick Mac Conaire, Steve Costigan, Patrick Ervin, Patrick Howard, Sam WalserK. Robert E. Howard
12. James Tiptree, Jr., Raccoona SheldonL. Alice Hastings Bradley

Would you believe? The pen name(s) is/are on the same line as the real name!

Years ago I read an article about an author - I believe he resides in the South - who had over 100 books (and it might have been even much higher) published.  He had something like 30-40 pen names, some male names, some female names.  The names were driven by series, genres, and chance. I do wish I could remember his name. It was a wake up call to me.  I wanted to just get one book published but after reading that article, I wanted to be published many times over and with different names.

Yes, I do have at least one pen name I'll admit to - Sydney Dunne - but don't go looking for the name since it hasn't been used too often as yet.  Uh, there are other "Sydney Dunne" entities out there on the internet and they aren't me..

Until next time I decide to ramble on...


  1. Wow Bob! Interesting! I never knew that so many of those authors used pen names.. and I certainly didn't know Anne Rice was really a man! Disappointing actually... but great post!

  2. Whoa!!! Anne Rice is a woman, married with children. Well, actually, her husband passed in 2002. Call it funky parent naming. I served with a man in the Navy whose first name was Doris. His middle name was Allyce. Tell me he didn't have a rough childhood. But, nonetheless, Ms. Rice is a woman. Maybe that's the reason for the non de plume? Glad you enjoyed the blog.

  3. It never crossed my mind to use a pen name. The biggest reason for my decision is because I did not think I'd ever sell enough books for it to matter, but mostly it's because I can't keep a secret to save my life.

  4. This is a really interesting post Bob. I really didn;t know that those authors used pen names.. I only knew about Stephen King!
    Again, great and interesting post!!