What's in a Name—Writing Under a Pseudonym
As writers we are constantly considering our craft. There is rarely a moment that goes by without us thinking about our work in some way or another. We perpetually consider what the best and most effective voice is for our writing, what words we use, what imagery we employ, our sentence structure, our titles, and so much more. But, for many, the name that they will publish their work under just isn't something that typically comes to mind. Interestingly, however, authors of all genres have a long history of writing under pen names or pseudonyms. Even some of our most treasured and well-known works may require a bit of a background check to learn who the true author is. So, why do authors write under pen names and what is the benefit of this?
In some cases, authors write under pen names simply because they would prefer to remain anonymous with their writing. However, in history, authors would often write under pseudonyms for somewhat more complicated reasons. Women would often publish their work under male pseudonyms, so that they could be published in actual publications and receive more widespread success. In the past, authors have used pen names and pseudonyms for more political reasons. If an author wrote something that was politically charged or that criticized the government, they would often publish their works under pen names to avoid heavy criticism. While either of these things can still happen today, the use of pen names and pseudonyms in today's society is much different. Authors working in various genres today may write under different names for each genre so as to keep consistency to their "brand". It can be damaging for a writer's reputation if they always write romance novels and then decide to publish a mystery novel under the same name. The romance readers may go to the mystery novel looking for that author's typical writing and be sourly disappointed by the change in genre.
Pen Names and the Blogosphere
Using a pseudonym in the blogosphere is also a fairly popular endeavor. While the reasons for using a pseudonym online today vary, there are some things to carefully take into consideration. Many people suggest using a pseudonym online simply because of the nature of the online world. With the influx of social media, social networking, and everything else online, online threats have become more palpable in recent years. Many bloggers will write under pen names or initials to avoid threats of identity theft or stalking. While this isn't necessarily common throughout the blogosphere, it does happen and is something to consider. Furthermore, much as it did for famous authors working in different social climates, pseudonyms can protect bloggers from direct criticism.
Some Famous Pen Names
George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans): Born in 1819, George Eliot was an extremely prolific author in the 1800s, who published under a male pseudonym. Born Mary Anne Evans, Eliot wrote about her controversial views on faith, religion, marriage, and the government. At the time, women authors were basically unheard of and were never actually taken seriously. Under her male pen name, Eliot gained much success as an intelligent and challenging writer.
Lewis Carroll (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson): As the author of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, Carroll was an extremely successful author during his time and remained one of the most renowned authors in our history. It is believed that Carroll, born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, wrote under a pseudonym both because he was unattracted to the spotlight and fame and because he desired a more neutral name that would be widely appreciated at the time.
J.K. Rowling (Joanne Rowling): As a more current example, J.K. Rowling author of the Harry Potter series used a pseudonym for her hugely successful work. While this pseudonym is not completely masking her identity, it does serve a purpose. Rowling believed the wizard series would see more success with her target audience if it was published under a gender neutral name. Because the primary target originally for the series was adolescent boys, she worried that an overly feminine name would turn them off the books. By using initials, Rowling made the books easily marketable to young boys and young girls.
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