Some of the greatest writers in history released their books under false names. If you want to follow in their footsteps when write in your book, you may want to know how authors choose their pseudonyms? Hayim Oshky looks at five of the greatest writer pseudonyms of all time to give you some ideas on how to choose your own pen name.
The Bronte Sisters
The women behind legendary novels like Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre didn’t originally release these books under their own names. They had to adopt male pseudonyms as they lived in an era where the public looked down on successful women. The sisters chose the names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, each using their own initials. Acton and Currer were rebellious choices for the era, as they were also the last names of a female poet and a female scholar who were acquainted with the sisters!
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was actually written by Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, but the author is listed as Lewis Carol. Cliff Notes writes that Dodgson dreamed up this nom de plume while publishing comic literature and parodies for a humorous newspaper during his teaching days at Christchurch, Oxford. The editor told him to create a pseudonym and after several failed attempts, Dodgson rearranged some of the letters of his real name to create the moniker ‘Lewis Carol.’
Samuel Langhorne Clemens chose to release seminal texts such as Huckleberry Finn under the name Mark Twain, a moniker which he took from his past. America’s Library notes that before writing, Clemens worked on Steamboats on the mighty Mississippi River. Crewman used to shout ‘Mark Twain’ to test the depth of water and see whether it was two fathoms deep, the minimum depth needed for these boats to navigate rivers safely. You can imagine the rest!
It may surprise you to find out that, the name of the man who wrote political masterpieces 1984 and Animal Farm was not George Orwell. His real name was Eric Arthur Blair, according to Britannica, but he chose to write under the pseudonym George Orwell. George was a common Christian name of the time and the surname came from the River Orwell in East Anglia, with which Blair was familiar. His pen name became so famous that only his relatives knew Eric Arthur Blair’s real name.
Celebrated auto-biographer Maya Angelou, whose most famous work I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a seminal text, ironically didn’t use her own name. She was born Marguerite Annie Johnson. Bustle reveals that Marguerite was nicknamed Maya as a little girl. Later, while working as a Calypso dancer, she briefly married a Greek sailor called Tosh Angelos. Apparently she went with Maya Angelou over Marguerite Annie Johnson, which is hardly a dull name, because it was more exciting!
Pick something personal
As many famous authors throughout history have illustrated, you may want to pick a pseudonym which is somehow connected to your life and identity. By adopting this strategy, you’ll ensure that you select a name that means something to you. This is important because if your book is successful, you’re going to have to live with the name for the rest of your life!
Thank you for reading… Hayim Oshky.