I have had a lifelong passion for reading and writing and graduated with a bachelor's in English literature.
For centuries, many authors have written under pen names. Even on HubPages and other online freelance writing websites, the majority of writers have chosen names that are usually not even close to their own. I personally have decided to go with my own name but the choice for every writer is always completely up to them. They may do so for privacy, protection, or even the desire to keep their life completely separated from their work, amongst the numerous other reasons for that decision.
You may or may not be familiar with all of the authors out there that are known by their pen names rather than their real names. The list may or may not surprise you. Here are some well known authors that would not be recognizable if introduced under their real names. Please comment below with any additional authors with pen names that are not already listed.
The infamous Ayn Rand was born Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum but took up her pen name when she was 19 years old. She is well known both for her philosophical views and her writings, which include Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead. The reasons behind Rand's chosen name are somewhat complicated. In a letter to a fan in 1937, she writes:
"[...]‘Ayn’ is both a real name and an invention. The original of it is a Finnish feminine name. . . . Its pronunciation, spelled phonetically, would be: ‘I-na.’ I do not know what its correct spelling should be in English, but I chose to make it ‘Ayn,’ eliminating the final ‘a.’ I pronounce it as the letter ‘I’ with an ‘n’ added to it.”
Although it is clear where she got her first name from, the origin of her last name is still a mystery. Theories include the possibility that it comes from her Remington-Rand typewriter or that it is an abbreviated version of her Russian surname.
There are many out there who may be surprised to learn that George Eliot was in fact a female writer and not male, as her pen name suggests. Mary Anne Evans decided on a male name so that her works would be taken more seriously, even though other female writers during the nineteenth century used their own names. Eliot wrote both novels and poetry. One of her best known works is Silas Marner.
Born Eric Arthur Blair, George Orwell is best known for such classics as 1984 and Animal Farm. He chose his pen name based on his love for England. "George" comes from the patron saint of England, Saint George, while "Orwell" comes from the River Orwell in Suffolk, one of his favorite places.
J.K. Rowling's pen name is a little less anonymous than her predecessors. Joanne Rowling chose to abbreviate her name when publishers determined that younger boys would not want to buy and read Harry Potter if they knew it was written by a woman. Her second initial comes from her grandmother's name, Katherine.
More recently, Rowling has written under the pseudonym "Robert Galbraith" for her novel, Cuckoo's Calling, She claims she did it for the freedom to write without any hype or expectation associated with her name and her previous works. The best part, was that the novel received great reviews, even though it wasn't initially very popular. Once her secret was out, however, Cuckoo's Calling shot up in sales.
Why do Authors Use Pen Names?
It may also be surprising to learn that Lewis Carroll's real name is Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. His choice in pen name actually has its somewhat complicated origins in his real name. His chosen surname comes from the Anglican version of the Latin version of Lutwidge. The Latin version is "Ludovicus" and its Anglican version is "Lewis." The first name in his pen name has the same origin. "Charles" comes from the Latin "Carolus" while "Carroll" is similar to an Irish surname.
Samuel Langhorne Clemens chose the pen name Mark Twain because of his love for the paddlewheel steamboats he rode along the river. "Mark Twain" was a call made by the leadsman when the leadline, used to determine the depth of the water, was two fathoms (12 feet) deep in the water, which meant it was safe.
Anne Rice's Pseudonyms
Anne Rice also writes under the names Anne Rampling and A.N. Roquelaure.
The most surprising real name for an author belongs to Anne Rice, whose real name is Howard Allen Frances O'Brian. Yes, I said Howard. Named after her father, Rice actually called herself Anne even before she began writing when she started school and told the nuns that that was her name. Her last name was not something she chose but was actually the name she took when she married her husband, Stan Rice.
© 2012 Lisa
Aj on June 18, 2019:
Thank u for this information
Mohan Kumar from UK on November 04, 2012:
Great list- - there are also authors who use a 'second pen name' to write stories that differ from their usual genre: Ruth Rendell wrote under the pen name Barbara Vine and Agatha Christie also wrote as Mary Westmacott .. there are so many alter-egos! Thanks for bringing the pen names and the reasons behind...
Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on October 07, 2012:
Further to my comment above about Alf Wight/James Herriot: the profession should read 'veterinary surgeon', not 'vetinary' (slip of the vernacular).
Shining Irish Eyes from Upstate, New York on October 05, 2012:
Lisa - Absolutely fantastic, original and interesting hub! Never would I have guessed some of my favorite authors names were not what I thought they were! Especially Ms. Rice!
Girish puri from NCR , INDIA on October 03, 2012:
very interesting article, some times i think what is the need to keep a pen name, when you have your own identity, but, human nature is very typical and you never know, some how a very interesting hub,. thanks.
Suzette Walker from Taos, NM on October 02, 2012:
Very interesting article. Some of these I knew, but some I did not. I enjoyed reading this and the reasons behind the pseudonyms. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us!
Alan R Lancaster from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire) on October 01, 2012:
A well-known British writer was obliged to use a pen-name because his profession forbade its members from profiting by any other means than being a veterinary surgeon, i.e., advertising, sponsoring animal products etc. His real name was Alf Wight, his pen name James Herriot, author of a series of books titled 'All Creatures Great and Small' and 'It Shouldn't Happen to a Vet'. Alf Wight the vet's last practice was at Thirsk, in the North Riding of Yorkshire. The premises is currently a Museum (across the road from the birthplace of the founder of Lord's Cricket Ground in London NW8) just a short walk away from the Market Square. His son has a practice in Sowerby, just to the south of town on the way to the A19 York road. Thirsk also underwent an identity change in his books, referred to as 'Darrowby'.
Rachel Koski Nielsen from Pennsylvania to Minnesota on October 01, 2012:
Interesting hub! I knew about Mark Twain and Lewis Carrol, but Anne Rice was a real shocker!
Jimmy the jock from Scotland on October 01, 2012:
Anon was always a favorite of mine lol, a very diverse writer with a plethora of titles, I wonder who Anon was!.....jimmy
jmartin1344 from Royal Oak, Michigan on September 30, 2012:
Very cool, I was not aware of all of these. I think one of the most interesting instances is when famous authors who've had great success for a long period of time, write some novels under a new pen name to try to justify their talent and prove that they haven't just been getting praised for all of their work because of their name. A great example being Stephen King writing under the name Richard Bachman.