Why do authors use pen names?

Even further back than modern literature, authors have adopted pen names. Back in the day, they were a necessity for some trying to make it in the publishing industry. Women, for instance, often had to conceal their identities by adopting a masculine “nom de plume” in order to even be considered for publication — and this trend has not entirely disappeared with times gone by. As recently as the 1990s, Joanne Rowling was urged by publishers to publish the Harry Potter series under the name JK Rowling (the “K’ was fabricated, Rowling does not actually have a middle name) out of concern that young boys — a large demographic of the books’ target market — would not be inclined to read something written by a woman.

While it’s less common for authors to publish under pseudonyms, it’s still often done for marketability purposes — and sometimes simply for the author’s own comfort in anonymity. Finally, authors will often adopt a pseudonym in order to write in various genres without confusing their fans.

How to pick a pen name

If you’ve created a shortlist of your favorite names from our fake name generator but are struggling to figure out what the perfect nom de plume for your publishing career is, here are a few tips that will help you:

Consider your genre. For instance, readers might be more likely to pick up a crime novel by “Ali Knight” than by “Allison Potter” because the former simply fits in more with the expectations of a crime novelist.

Consider the demographic of your target readers. How old is your intended reader? Are they from a particular region? For instance, when author Judith Reumlet published the first book of her YA urban fantasy series, The Mortal Instruments, she knew her name might not resonate with young readers because it sounds a bit “dated.” So she decided to publish under the pen name Cassandra Clare.

Consider whether your pseudonym rings any bells. In other words, maybe don’t go with the name “Steve N. King.”

Consider the availability of your name for social media and website purposes. Creating an author website and social media profiles are key parts of book marketing. So before you decide on a pseudonym, you might want to check the availability of your name.

Examples of famous pen names

Theodore Seuss Geisel — AKA Dr. Seuss

  • Reason: After being fired from a magazine for drinking during the Prohibition, Geisel adopted the pseudonym “Seuss.” He added the “Dr.” as a poke at his father, who’d always encouraged his son to get a PhD.

  • Famous works: The Cat In The Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Mary Ann Evans — AKA George Eliot

  • Reason: So that her publications would be taken seriously.

  • Famous works: Middlemarch, Silas Marner, The Mill on the Floss

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson — AKA Lewis Carroll

  • Reason: To maintain privacy by separating his public and private lives.

  • Famous works: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, The Hunting of the Snark

Eric Blair — AKA George Orwell

  • Reason: According to the biography, Orwell: The Life, Blair chose his name “...because it's a good round English name." Others have speculated he chose a pseudonym in order to avoid embarrassing his family while he lived as a poor writer.

  • Famous works: Nineteen Eighty-Four, Animal Farm, Homage to Catalonia

Agatha Christie — AKA Mary Westmacott

  • Reason: Christie had already achieved notoriety for her mystery novels. So she adopted the name Mary Westmacott to publish romance novels without confusing her existing fans.

  • Famous works: Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None, Death on the Nile

Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell — AKA Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë

  • Reason: In order to avoid the prejudice critics displayed towards women writers in 19th century England.

  • Famous works: Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

Stephen King — AKA Richard Bachman

  • Reason: King explains that “back in the early days of my career there was a feeling in the publishing business that one book a year was all the public would accept.” So he adopted Richard Bachman to be able to publish several novels a year without judgment — until, of course, “Richard Bachman” was uncovered.

  • Famous works: It, The Stand, The Shining

Reedsy | Default — Concrete Book | 2023-10

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