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  • Writer's pictureTonya Jewel Blessing


A pseudonym is a name someone uses instead of his or her real name, especially in written work. (Cambridge English Dictionary) The reasons for using a pseudonym are as varied as the pen names chosen.

Authors who want to cross genres will use pseudonyms to avoid confusion among their readers. Although somewhat stereotypical, writers have been known to change their names based on the gender they assume their works will draw. Publishing houses, on occasion, may require a new author to use a pen name if he or she has been represented by a different associate. Sometimes authors will even take on an alias if they are looking for new representation.

Other reasons may include: a stain in the author’s past, protecting family members from incriminating words, legal concerns, not liking his or her real name, not wanting reprisals for exposing injustices, respect for the privacy of someone else, name similarity with another author, or the desire to keep distinct professional and personal boundaries.

According to Writer’s Digest (April 2008) one of the most common reasons authors use aliases is because their works were not successful, and they are looking for a fresh start.

There are times, however, when a pseudonym is nothing more than an author’s creative expression. In those situations, the pen name becomes an extension of the written work. Pseudonyms sometimes give an air of mystery or cleverness. They can be a reflection of the author’s humor and whit – using a childhood nickname, combining the names of famous people, using a play on words, even switching letters around in a real name to create a new persona.

Whatever the reasons, pseudonyms keep us guessing about who’s who in the literary world.

“And, as much as we all try not to judge a book by its author’s name, an intriguing name never hurts”

(Charlotte Ahlin)

“In his early twenties, Samuel Langhorne Clemens worked on steamboats…The water had to be two fathoms (or twelve feet) deep for safe steamboat travel, so it would be measured on a line – when the water hit the second mark on the line someone would yell out “Mark Twain!” Clemens later adopted the boating term as his pen name…”

(12 Author Pseudonyms by Charlotte Ahlin)

Mark Twain pictured left

“'Richard Bachman’ is a pen name for Stephen King …He wrote several books under this pen name because he was writing too many books, and his publishers thought he’d saturate the Stephen King market.”

(12 Author Pseudonyms by Charlotte Ahlin)

Richard Bachman pictured left

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