Pseudonyms: The What, Why, and How of Pen Names



Pseudonyms…pen names.

I guess before I jump in, an explanation is in order. I’ve been toying with the idea of creating a pseudonym under which I’d like to publish a series of romance novels. No joke. So I figured I’d explore the idea of pseudonyms and take you along for the ride.


The What

Pseudonym is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a name that someone (such as a writer) uses instead of his or her real name,” “a fictitious name.” Easy-peasy.

And they’re more common than you may know. In fact, many notable authors have had pen names (or are only known under their pen name). Here’s just a sampling:

  • Mark Twain, who is actually Samuel Langhorne Clemens
  • Richard Bachman, actually the incredibly well-known Stephen King
  • J.K. Rowling wrote under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith
  • Joyce Carol Oates released one novel under the pen name Rosamond Smith
  • Benjamin Franklin wrote a series of letters to a newspaper under the moniker “Mrs. Silence Dogood”
  • Bestseller Michael Crichton has a slew of pseudonyms he’s been known to use: Jeffrey Hudson, John Lange, and Michael Douglas (not sure why he decided to go through with the last one, but that’s his prerogative)
  • George Eliot is actually Mary Anne Evans

The Why

There are many reasons for creating and using a pen name, including:

  • To create a brand that differs from your current publications
  • If you’re writing about something très controversial and want to protect yourself
  • To assume a gender that you believe will be taken more seriously in a particular genre
  • You screwed up and need a clean slate (i.e., you have a less-than-stellar reputation for whatever reason and don’t want that to affect your publication’s success)

The authors listed above had their own whys for writing under a name differing from the one on their birth certificate. Rowling created a pen name to escape Harry Potter fans and get real feedback on her writing, with no preconceived notions or expectations. Although her alter-ego didn’t stay a secret for long, obviously.

Evans had quite the valid reason for creating George Eliot: She was a woman, and it was the early 19th century. Her writing simply wouldn’t have been taken seriously if she had submitted it under her birth name; women were viewed as flighty creatures and, with regards to literature, were associated strictly with romance novels…not what Evans wanted to write. So she assumed a male identity, and her brilliance was (thankfully) exposed to the world.

It’s said that Oates, that sneaky and talented nymph, created Rosamond Smith because she can throw out a manuscript every two weeks. Every. Two. Weeks. And she, like Rowling, wanted to “escape her identity.” Stephen King shares Oates’s reasons for creating a pen name: to increase his amount of publications without “over-saturating the King brand.”

Must be nice to sit down at your laptop and spew out an entire novel in two minutes. Just sayin’. (But then again, that’s why Joyce Carol Oates is Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King is Stephen King.)


The How

If at this point you’re nodding your head emphatically and saying, “Yes, yes, oh wise one, I do need a pseudonym!” – then you may be wondering how the hell you’re supposed to come up with a brilliant pen name that both reflects what you write and helps address your reasons for creating a pseudonym in the first place.

There are many different places you can look for inspiration. Alternating between funny and helpful, the following are great resources for tips on creating your perfect pseudonym:



Guest post contributed by Katrina Robinson. Katrina is an editor, writer, and business owner. Check out more of her articles on her website.

18 thoughts on “Pseudonyms: The What, Why, and How of Pen Names

  1. Actually, George Eliot had a variety of reasons for creating her pseudonym. She was already an established literary critic and editor, under Mary Anne Evans, and that name was also surrounded with a fair degree of controversy due to her “marriage” to George Henry Lewes. So the “being taken seriously” was only part of the equation (and honestly, I think she was overreacting to certain female novelists; many of her contemporaries and predecessors were well received and wrote serious pieces–Maria Edgeworth, Fanny Burney, and Elizabeth Gaskell, for example–that fell under the “romance” category but were interested in social issues as well).

    Thank you for sharing this, though. You nicely explored the topic, and I hope your own search for a pseudonym is successful. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. An interesting article. I toyed with a pseudonym for a while, then realized I didn’t really want one. In yours and Rowling’s place though, it can be helpful to make one when branching out into a different genre.

    Good luck!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I created a pen name to publish romantic and erotic stories, and I’m glad I did so. It helps separate the tamer stories I’ve published under my real name.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think this may have appeared in one of the comments, but I’ve heard that in today’s society, there’s another great reason for a penname: Your own name might be easily misspelled, or simply the web domain may already be taken. A penname gives you control over how people find you.

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I had considered using a pen name for the erotic romance I’m writing because it’s not the brand I normally write. Then I thought I’ll need a second FB page, twitter, etc. That would be too much! @v@ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I enjoyed reading this post. Something entertaining in how it was written. Pen names are interesting and can come in useful for writer’s for various reasons. I guess, a writer can choose wether or not it suits them to use one, depending on their needs/wants. Good read though!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I chose a pseudonym because my name is spelled a little oddly and my surname is difficult to spell and pronounce. Even my own family pronounces it wrong (mostly because it’s easier that way). I also like the way my penname looks on the page better than my real name does. I’m sure someone out there would judge me for what I write, but it’s not high up on the list why I use a psuedonym.

    It was also a decision I made years ago when I was first getting into the writing side of social media so, even though I’m not quite as concerned about the spelling issue these days, I’m sticking with what I started.


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