If the real name is not an option, we are often left with no choice but to hide behind a smokescreen of pseudonymity. We reveal the motives for entering into a dispute of authorship with yourself.
Charlotte Brontë had one and Voltaire used as many as 150 different ones: pen names or aliases are much more than pseudonyms in poetry and literature; they also strive to give a name to imagination itself. In terms of etymology, the word “pseudonym” is derived from Ancient Greek and essentially means “bearing a false name”. In most cases, the author is not mistaken for someone else but quite literally called by a different name than the one stated in his or her documents. Why is it that a writer, of all people, would ever consider such a verbal deception? Isn’t it in the very nature of an author to seek recognition from the literary world?
Pen names. Loss or formation of identity?
“Not always!” must be the answer, if we delve into the world of creative name giving, aliases, noms de plume, and literary doubles. After all, the reasons behind falsifying a name are just as diverse as the falsifiers themselves. Contrary to what some might believe, this substantive loss of identity is not exclusively based on artistic freedom and the creative mind’s all-encompassing poetic licence.
We from novum publishing got to the bottom of the science behind name facsimiles and discovered five theories on everything from first names to surnames:
- Aesthetics: Art does not always have to be appealing; sometimes it still wants to be, though. Considering its stylised language, the art of writing is not a discipline that is entirely free of vanity either. This was probably the reason for many writers to deny their proper name in favour of a feudal form of perfection. Joseph Conrad, for example, author of the widely cited “Heart of Darkness”, gave up his Polish name Józef Teodor Nałęcz Konrad Korzeniowski, much to the dismay of his fellow Poles, to make it easier for his readers to pronounce his name.
- Business: Economic benefits played a vital role in many writer’s choice of name. The phenomenon of women publishing under male pen names has been tried and tested throughout literary history and has remained a valid practice even in contemporary writing. Joanne Kathleen Rowling did not change her name by accident. She was afraid that a fantasy epic, such as Harry Potter, would rather appeal to a male audience and decided to go with her initials as J. K. Rowling. And George Orwell supposedly changed his name Eric Arthur Blair just because there were much fewer authors starting with an “O” than with the letter “B” on the shelves in bookshops.
- Image and individuality: Some authors place great importance in a clear distinction from others not only in terms of language and style but also with regard to their name. Mark Twain’s name, for example, is derived from a nautical term for a measured “water depth of two fathoms”. The American Samuel Langhorne Clemens used this nom de plume to pay tribute to his past as a steamboat pilot along the Mississippi River.
- Avoiding drawbacks and harm: Authors occasionally reinvented their names due to political reasons. Political upheavals and movements, such as National Socialism, resulted in publication bans for numerous writers and forced them to use pseudonyms to continue their work at least covertly. Nevertheless, personal conflict was certainly fundamental in the creation of pen names as well. The Nobel Laureate in Literature, Pablo Neruda, for example, did not want to break with his father, who was against his son’s career in literature, and disguised his real name Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto behind this invented pseudonym.
- Challenge: Many writers wish to measure their success as an author based on their actual work instead of their already established publication name. Among them is Stephen King who released seven of his books under the pen name Richard Bachman to assess their true quality. The experiment did not deliver the desired outcome, however, after a newspaper had made fun of the pseudonym Bachman, disclosed the true identity of the author, and thereby increased the editions of individual books tenfold.
Needless to say, there are many other reasons why an author might decide to write under a pseudonym aside from the ones mentioned above. In some cases, writers seek to follow in the footsteps of their idols or ancestors. Sometimes it is much simpler and they just like a good old game of confusion, resulting in such a dispute of authorship with themselves. As long as the content of a book is good, though, the name on the cover can be even as strange and twisted as our imagination allows – we will read it anyway and devour every single letter to the last page.
Keep writing, keep typing!