Thursday, May 10, 2012

Things I Find Fascinating: Pseudonyms, Pen Names, And Noms De Plume

1)  Ellery Queen:  Used as both a pseudonym and a fictional character, Ellery Queen has to be one of the most well-known fake names in literature. Very popular in their heyday, the Ellery Queen mysteries were the brainchild of two cousins from Brooklyn, New York. Now, stick with me on this one. The two cousins' names were Frederick Dannay (which was actually a pseudonym for Daniel Nathan) and Manfred Bennington Lee (which was a pseudonym for Emanuel Lepofsky). Yep, that's right: their "real" names were pseudonyms for their "real real" names. The two also wrote a few books under the collective pseudonym Barnaby Ross, but those books weren't nearly as popular. Nobody had ever heard of that guy!

Ellery Queen

2)  The Many Names Of Dean Koontz:  I've long been a fan of Koontz's writing, although some of his more recent novels severely pale in comparison to the ones he was churning out in the '80s and '90s. Early on in his career, Dean Koontz was quite the prolific writer, publishing books in almost every genre imaginable. Because he was an unknown writer at the time, publishers encouraged him to use a different pseudonym for each genre of book he wrote so that readers wouldn't be confused. (I'm confused just writing this!) Consequently, prior to achieving fame primarily as a horror/thriller novelist, Koontz's works were attributed to a variety of different made-up "people", including David Axton, Leonard Chris, Brian Coffey, Deanna Dwyer, John Hill (no imaginary relation!), Leigh Nichols, Anthony North, Richard Paige, Owen West, and Aaron Wolfe. You've gotta hand it to him, all those names sound very different and none even remotely resemble Koontz's own name. Anyway, these days he just goes by Dean Koontz. Although maybe for some of his lesser works, he should consider going back to one of those pseudonyms. Just a thought, Dean...

Dean Koontz

3)  Lemony Snicket:  This interminably catchy name is the pseudonym of Daniel Handler, author of the popular children's book series, A Series Of Unfortunate Events. Lemony Snicket also serves as the first-person narrator of the stories and occasionally appears as an actual character in the books. Presumably, Handler assumed the pseudonym to write these books to distinguish them from his adult-oriented fiction, which he may not necessarily want younger kids to read.

Daniel Handler aka Lemony Snicket

4)  Richard Bachman:  Much like Koontz, early on in Stephen King's career, he was writing more books than his publishers felt comfortable releasing in such a short time. The thinking then was that if an author publishes more than one book per year that the market will be saturated with his or her work and that would not be a good thing. (Doesn't seem to be the thinking these days – just ask novelist James Patterson, who doesn't actually "write" all the books he gets credited with). So King came up with the idea to write books under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. King was also curious to find out if his books were as wildly popular as they then were simply because of name recognition or due to the actual merit of the books themselves. King thought that if the Bachman books sold well on their own, then maybe there was actually something to his success after all. Unfortunately for King, fans caught on rather quickly, noticing little hints sprinkled within the text of the books and recognizing a writing style suspiciously similar to King's. King was soon "outed" as the author of the Richard Bachman books, and subsequently issued a press release announcing Bachman's death due to "cancer of the pseudonym."

Stephen King aka Richard Bachman

5)  Edward Gorey:  Author and artist Edward Gorey was famous for his often-macabre illustrations in his own books and books by other authors. But he was also well-known for his love of wordplay (I can definitely relate!), and wrote many of his books under pseudonyms which were actually anagrams of his own name, including: Ogdred Weary, (Mrs.) Regera Dowdy, Raddory Gewe, Dogear Wryde, E. G. Deadworry, D. Awdrey-Gore, Wardore Edgy, (Madame) Groeda Weyrd, and Dewda Yorger. Which, of course, made me curious to find out what kind of pseudonyms I could make using the letters from my own name (Jason P. Hill). These are some of the better ones I came up with: J. L. Siphonal, Jin Shallop, Josh Pallin, John Aspill, Phill Jonas, and Jalin H. Slop. If I ever wanted to use a female pseudonym for some reason, I could use Jan L. Polish, Lila J. Ponsh, Jill Shapon, or Liloh J. Snap. Cool!

Edward Gorey

6)  Two Ladies Named George:  In the early 1800s, it wasn't all that easy for female authors to get their works published, even if they were exceptionally good writers. In some cases, if a book written by a woman was deemed worthy but the publisher was hesitant to publish it, the author (often at the behest of the publisher) would assume a male name so that the public would more readily accept the novel as "legitimate." Such was the case with French author George Sand (born Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin) and English novelist George Eliot (born Mary Anne Evans). Both women achieved notoriety and success as authors despite the sentiment of the time that women couldn't write as well as men. Eliot, in particular, contributed several significant works which have since become classics, including Silas Marner, Middlemarch, Adam Bede, and The Mill On The Floss.

George Sand

George Eliot

7)  Collective Pseudonyms:  Throughout the history of publishing, numerous series of books (especially children's books) have been written not by one author, but by many different writers, often working in teams. Some of the most popular series of all-time fall under this category. Victor Appleton is credited with authoring both the Tom Swift and Don Sturdy series of books for young boys. In reality, "Victor Appleton" was a number of people, all working for the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which churned out hundreds of books per year in the early part of the 20th century by employing this very method of authorship. That same syndicate gave us Laura Lee Hope, a collective pseudonym for the author of the Bobbsey Twins books, the Moving Picture Girls books (Appleton "wrote" the Moving Picture Boys books), and the Make Believe Stories, among others. Perhaps the most famous collective pseudonyms are Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon. Ever read a Nancy Drew (Keene) or Hardy Boys (Dixon) book? I'm sure many of us have. Both series of books were (and still are) published under the collective pseudonyms of Keene and Dixon, but were actually written by many, many different authors, both men and women.


8)  Anne Rice:  This prolific novelist, probably most famous for her Vampire Chronicles series (written well before vampire novels were "trendy," I might add), took on the pseudonym "Anne Rice" for the exact opposite reason that the two ladies named George changed their names for publishing. Since she was born Howard Allen Frances O'Brien – half of her four given names being traditionally male – Rice thought it might make more since to write under a female name to avoid confusion when folks saw her author photo on the book of the book. Probably a wise move on her part.  She doesn't really look like a "Howard" to me. What do you think?

Anne Rice

9)  Mark Twain:  One of America's most popular novelists and humorists was not born with the name that made him famous. The author we know as Mark Twain was actually born Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Initially, Clemens used the pseudonym "Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass" for humorous pieces that he had published. But when that wasn't working for him anymore, Clemens sought a new name to use for his writings. Having worked for years on Mississippi riverboats, Clemens remembered often hearing the phrase "mark twain" – which meant that the boat was in deep enough water (about 12 feet) that it was safe to pass – and thought it had a nice ring to it. And so it did. And so it does.

Mark Twain aka Samuel L. Clemens

10)  Poppy Z. Brite:  Okay, so this one's going to be confusing for me to write, so just bear with me. First of all, Poppy Z. Brite has got to be one of the coolest "fake names" I've ever heard. Poppy was born Melissa Ann Brite as a woman (like I said, bear with me). When she started writing fiction – mostly gothic horror, some of which I've read – she assumed the name Poppy Z. Brite because, well, it just sounds way cooler than Melissa Ann. Anyway, she became very famous and probably made lots of money writing as Poppy Z. Brite. A couple of years ago, Poppy revealed that she had long dealt with gender dysphoria and gender identity issues, and that she actually identified herself as a gay man. She/he then began the process of gender reassignment and now goes by the name Billy Martin – which pales in comparison to Poppy Z. Brite. But I digress. (This is where it gets tricky, because now I'm "supposed" to use all male pronouns like "he" and "his.") Martin has since retired and while he still writes for pleasure (blogging and such), he does not feel the need to write for publication any longer. Oy! That was awkward. But interesting...

Poppy Z. Brite (left) / Billy Martin (right)


  1. Yeah some stage names really fascinate me and try to look for real story behind their names. But I don’t understand why these people use their fake names, why not real names?

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