What’s In A Name?


I recently changed the name on the cover of my books.

No, I didn’t start using a graffiti signature … and didn’t create a pen name … I began using initials, instead of my whole name.


I actually wanted to do it when I first started to write, but due to a misunderstanding with the support people at my publisher (something about the way in which my name was registered) I wasn’t able to.

(I didn’t understand it, either).

It took a while, but they’re finally convinced any royalties sent using only my initials and surname will arrive correctly … and the IRS will still know where to find me … which I know is what they were really worried about.

The confusion wasn’t a total a waste of time. It led me to discover more things on the web of nets … like six famous authors who actually did use pseudonyms.


1. Mark Twain
This was the easy one. Most American readers are aware Mark Twain is not the real name of the brilliant author and satirist who grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, and best known for “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”.

He was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens.

Clemens was very familiar with the steamboat trade, having spent some time as a boat pilot, and he knew “Mark…twain!” was a well-known term shouted by boat crewmen when taking depth measurements on the river.

It meant they were in water deep enough to safely navigate (two fathoms, or 12 feet). A brilliant self-marketer, Clemens used the well-known term as his pen name.

The ‘celebrity in the white suit’ lectured frequently and was fastidious about sustaining his image as America’s most beloved writer. He was charming, popular, witty, and jovial … and a raconteur without peer.

2. O. Henry
In the first decade of the Twentieth Century, it’s safe to say O. Henry was one of the most popular short-story writers in America. His stories were known for their warm characterizations and clever twist endings.

We still celebrate one of his most famous stories: the holiday classic “The Gift of the Magi.”

Born William Sydney Porter, his pen name (which he assumed as his own) hid the truth about the years he’d spent in prison for bank fraud. Porter created the pseudonym as a cover, thinking no one would buy his books if they knew the truth about his history.

He was able to carry the secret of his true identity to his grave. It wasn’t until his biography was published … almost six years after his death … that the truth was exposed.

3. George Eliot
In high school (about thirteen bazillion years ago), I had to read “Silas Marner” for an English class. Actually, the whole class had to read it. We studied it for days.

An outwardly simple tale of a linen weaver, it was notable in its day for its strong realism and sophisticated treatment of issues ranging from religion to industrialization.

I remember it because of all the time we spent with it … and because the teacher told us it was actually written by a woman named Mary Anne Evans. Writing in the 1860s, she used the pen name George Eliot on all her work, so her writing would be taken seriously.

4. Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand was the pen name of Russian-born Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum … a novelist closely associated with beliefs opposed to government policies directing effort toward a collective goal … such as most social programs geared toward reducing poverty.

Her novels, “Atlas Shrugged” and “The Fountainhead” are considered terribly written by many, even though they’ve had significant influence among American conservatives.

The plot of “Atlas Shrugged” involves a dystopian United States in which industrialists and scientists go on strike to stop the “motor of the world” by withholding the efforts of those they think contribute most to the nation’s wealth and achievement. Themselves.

Here’s what critics had to say when “Atlas Shrugged” was published:

  • Robert R. Kirsch, Los Angeles Times:
    Probably the worst piece of fiction written since “The Fountainhead.” Rand writes in the breathless hyperbole of soap opera. Her situations are incredible and illogical. It would be hard to find such a display of grotesque eccentricity outside an asylum.
  • Granville Hicks, New York Times:
    Not in any literary sense a serious novel, it is belligerent and unremitting. It howls in the reader’s ear and beats him about the head in order to secure his attention, and then, when it has him subdued, harangues him for page upon page.

The Objectivist Movement Rand founded … and expounded in her fiction … has as its central tenet that the proper moral purpose of life is the pursuit of one’s own self-interest, rejecting any form of belief that man is a victim of forces beyond his control … such as God.

In other words, this essentially atheistic philosophy says it’s perfectly all right to be selfish and ignore any faith-based initiatives, like helping your fellow man.

Yes, I read her books.

Not my cup of tea.

5. George Orwell
This is one I didn’t know. George Orwell was the pen name of Eric Arthur Blair, the son of a British civil servant. As a teenager, he attended Eton on scholarship, but didn’t achieve the grades that would let him continue to university.

At 19, he joined the Imperial Police and took a posting in Burma. Five years later, while on leave in England, he decided against returning and resigned, intent on becoming a writer.

He spent a couple of years “tramping around” Paris and London, exploring the lives of the lowest levels of society. He once even went so far as deliberately trying to get himself arrested … so he could experience Christmas in prison.

His first major work, “Down & Out in Paris and London” (1933) explored his time eking out a living in those cities, and provided a brutal look at the lives of the working poor.

Not wishing to embarrass his family, he published the book under the pseudonym George Orwell.

Orwell next explored his overseas experiences in “Burmese Days.” The novel offered a dark look at British colonialism in Burma. His interest in political matters grew rapidly, and his lucid prose is marked by awareness of social injustices and opposition to totalitarianism.

He wrote six novels, which include the now famous “Animal Farm” (1945) and “1984” (1949). Both brought him huge success, but he had little time to enjoy it. Orwell was in the late stages of a battle with tuberculosis, and he died in 1950 at the age of 47.

His work continues to influence popular culture, and the term Orwellian … to describe totalitarian or authoritarian social practices … has entered the language together with other of his neologisms, including Cold War, Big Brother and Thought Police.

6. Lewis Carroll
I didn’t know this one, either. The author of the 1865 masterpiece, “Alice in Wonderland,” was a half-deaf mathematician named Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, who taught mathematics at Oxford, in the Christ Church Mathematical Lectureship, for twenty-six years.

When he started writing, to keep his writing life separate from his teaching, he invented the pen name we know so well by taking the first two parts of his name and translating them into Latin: Carolus Ludovicus. He then reversed their order and loosely translated them back into English: Lewis Carroll.

Dodgson suffered from a noticeable stammer when he was young. However, it never stopped him from speaking in public, and he found himself vocally fluent when speaking with children.

He was rumored to have been a laudanum addict, and it was often said that “Alice in Wonderland” was written during one of his “trips.” However, there is absolutely no evidence linking him with laudanum or any other mind-altering drug.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes – and ships – and sealing-wax –
Of cabbages – and kings –
And why the sea is boiling hot –
And whether pigs have wings.”

Me, Myself and I
Whether or not changing from my given name to my initials has any effect on my books, or on me, may be something I never discover. But I wanted to do it … and now it’s done … my rant is over, and I’m going back to writing my Reichold Street sequel.


Question. Do you use a pen name? Talk about it in the comments.


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5 Responses to “What’s In A Name?”

  1. Michelle Proulx Says:

    Just from an artistic perspective, I think your shortened name looks much better on the cover 🙂 Now you’ve got me reconsidering how I want my name to appear on my cover. Hmmmm …


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