Posts Tagged ‘Pen Names’

What’s In A Name?

October 19, 2013


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.

Wait, there’s more!

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