What’s In A Name?


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

No, I didn’t create a pen name … I just started using my initials, instead of my whole name.

It’s actually something I wanted to do when I started to publish but, due to a misunderstanding with the support people at CreateSpace, my print publisher, I wasn’t able to do it. Something to do with the way I’d registered my name with them.


It took me a while, but I finally convinced them my bank would honor checks I sent them signed with just my first and middle initials and last name. Likewise, any royalties sent to my account using only the initials would actually arrive … like Joanne Rowling actually gets (considerably larger) payments made out to J.K. Rowling.

And, through it all, the IRS would still know where to find me.

That whole incident led me to discover more things on the web of nets … things like six authors who actually did use a pseudonym:


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

He was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens.

It was on a humorous travel story that he decided to sign his name Mark Twain. “Mark…twain!” was a well-known term shouted by crewmen on steamboats when taking depth measurements on the river. The term meant they were in two fathoms (12 feet) of water … deep enough to safely navigate.

The Mark Twain celebrity in the white suit that we all know was charming, popular, witty, and jovial, and a raconteur without peer. A brilliant self-marketer, Clemens kept using the pen name to fastidiously sustain his image as America’s most beloved writer.

He earned a great deal of money from his writing and lectures … but he also invested in ventures that lost a great deal of money and he eventually filed for bankruptcy.

2. O. Henry
In the first decade of the Twentieth Century, O. Henry was considered one of the most popular short-story writers in America. His stories were known for their wit, warm characterizations and clever twist endings. One of his most famous stories we still celebrate: “The Gift of the Magi.”

But O. Henry was really William Sydney Porter, and the pen name (which he assumed as his own) hid the truth about the time he’d spent in prison for bank fraud. He created the pseudonym as a cover, thinking no one would buy his books if they knew the truth about his history, and he was able to carry the secret of his true identity to his grave.

It wasn’t until his biography was published … six years after his death … that the truth was exposed.

3. George Eliot
In high school (about a bazillion years ago), I had to read “Silas Marner” in English class. You may remember the story; I believe they still study it today. Released in 1861, it was the third novel published by George Eliot.

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 as notable because the teacher told us it was actually written by a woman named Mary Anne Evans.

She wrote eight books, including “Silas Marner” and “The Mill on the Floss” and, at a time women were “supposed” to write romance stories, used the pen name George Eliot so her writing would be taken seriously.

4. Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand was the pen name for Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum.

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

The Objectivist movement she 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 at the expense of everyone else’s.

In other words, it’s all right to be selfish and ignore any faith-based initiatives, and it has always been considered an atheist philosophy.

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

  • Robert R. Kirsch, Los Angeles Times:
    This is probably the worst piece of large fiction written since Miss Rand’s equally weighty “The Fountainhead.” Miss Rand writes in the breathless hyperbole of soap opera. Her characters are billboard size; her situations incredible and illogical; her story is feverishly imaginative. 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.

5. George Orwell
Coming from a well-to-do family, Eric Arthur Blair attended Eton, and his posh pedigree was undeniable. “I was forbidden to play with the plumbers children,” he is quoted a saying. “They were ‘common’ and I was told to keep away from them.”

Wanting to become a writer was embarrassing enough for his family. The fact he wanted to explore the lives of the lowest levels of society was even worse.

To write about the injustices of poverty and to prevent being perceived as ‘slumming’ to write his books, he needed to keep such unwanted attention from his genteel family while maintaining credibility.

Blair settled on the pseudonym “George Orwell.”

In 1933, he told the publisher of his first book, “Down and Out in Paris and London,” that he could always use the same pseudonym again “if the book has any kind of success.”

His work is all marked by lucid prose, awareness of social injustice, opposition to totalitarianism and commitment to democratic socialism. He wrote six novels, including the now famous “Animal Farm” (1945) and “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (1949).

Orwell’s work continues to influence popular and political culture, and the term Orwellian, descriptive of totalitarian or authoritarian social practices, has entered the language together with several of his neologisms, including Cold War, Big Brother and Thought Police.

6. Lewis Carroll
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, 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. His publisher was the one who actually selected the name from a list Dodgson supplied.

Dodgson suffered from a noticeable stammer when he was young. However, it never stopped him from speaking or performing in public, and he found himself vocally fluent when speaking with children. The relationships he had with young people undoubtedly inspired his best-known writings.

He was rumored to have been an opium or laudanum addict, with Alice in Wonderland 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.”

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