Pen Names and Their Many Uses

Authors use pseudonyms for a variety of reasons. Early Indian authors would conceal their real names in order to exercise humility, and Japanese poets who write Haiku often use an artist name known as Haigo. Pen names have been an important tool for authors, who often must hide their identities for the sake of legitimacy or safety. Some authors would just rather a healthy separation from literary and real life.

 Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll

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In order to differentiate his fiction from his mathematical papers, Charles Dodgson wrote novels under Lewis Carroll. Dodgson wrote many books centered around geometry and mathematical logic, while Carroll is famous for his literary nonsense masterpieces Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.  

 Samuel Langhorne Clemens aka Mark Twain or Sieur Louis de Conte

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It came as a shock to me that Mark Twain is actually one of two pen names often used by Samuel Langhorne Clemens, along with the more extravagant Sieur Louis de Conte, used when he wrote his last novel, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc.  

Stephen King aka Richard Bachman


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Even Stephen King released a few books under Richard Bachman at the suggestion of a publisher who believed readers wouldn’t buy more than one book by any given author in a year.

 The Bronte Sisters

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Pen names have often been used by female authors to circumvent the sexism in publishing, a famous example of such being the Bronte sisters. They published under male names in order to assure acceptance as well as spare themselves the scorn of neighbors upon figuring out the characters were based on them.

 Unknown aka Ibn Warraq



Ibn Warraq is a pen name used by a dissident Muslim in order to criticize and offer reform to Muslim practice, in response to the Rushdie affair. The author has refused to show himself in public due to threats made to the safety of their family. Although Ibn’s criticisms are certainly controversial, it’s certainly a great thing that the pen name gave sufficient confidence to usher in the conversation of reform which has been so slow to take hold in much of the Muslim world.

Unknown aka Elena Ferrante


Voted one of 2016’s most influential people, this Italian author has chosen to remain anonymous after the release of her lauded Neapolitan series.The author has be quoted saying that once a book has been written, it has no need for an author. Quite a powerful stance.  

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 Me aka E. Tom

E. Tom would definitely be my pen name. I love the electric tom used in a lot of 80’s music; it would be amazing if I could embody that in my writing. If you’re curious what an electric tom sounds like, watch out for Patrick’s small solo in the Spongebob rendition of Sweet Victory in the episode Band Geek.

Personal identity is complex, and it adds a great level of depth and context to the art associated with it. Playing around with the identity one attaches to any given work has proven useful for many artists. I’m curious to see how the use of pseudonyms develops as personal information becomes increasingly easy to access.


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