5 Pen Names and the Reasons Behind Them

5 Pen Names and the Reasons Behind Them

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Today is the first ever Author Day, marking the importance of both independent and traditionally published authors.

Today is the first ever Author Day, marking the importance of both independent and traditionally published authors. It has been organised by the people behind Europe’s largest publishing conference, The Futurebook Conference, which is now entering its fifth year.

As the day is celebrating both established and emerging authors, we decided to delve into the past of some famous authors. The authors of the world’s most popular books are household names, however many decide to use a ‘pen name’ for their writing.

Below, we take a look at five of the most recognisable pen names, and discover the truth surrounding why their real names were changed.

J.K. Rowling – Joanne Rowling

Known to many as the author of one of the most popular franchises ever, the Harry Potter series of books, J.K. Rowling is a name known by children and adults alike the world over. The series, which has sold over 450 million copies worldwide and been turned into films that made over £4 billion, was imagined by Rowling on a 4 hour delayed train from Manchester to London. When discussing the book’s release with her publishers, Rowling was asked to use two initials when publishing, as it was believed that boys in her target age range wouldn’t like to read a book about magic by a woman. Ms. Rowling agreed, however as she didn’t have a middle name for the second initial, she opted to choose her grandmothers name of Kathleen to create the name instantly recognised around the world today.

Lewis Carroll – Charles Lutwidge Dodgson

Alongside being the author of some of the most loved children’s books, Lewis Carroll was also a famed mathematician, writing many books on topics such as geometry, algebra and logic. He gained first class honours in the subject, graduating top in his class, and held the post of Mathematical Lecturer for 26 years at Oxford College, Christ Church. Whilst he was a gifted mathematician, he had a love for writing poetry and literature, and decided to write works such as Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. When it came to publishing, he decided to keep his fictional work separate from his factual writings, so decided to use a pen name. He came up with four, three of which were rejected, and the final choice, an complicated Latin and English translation of his name became the name he would be synonymous with. However, even though his books gained immense popularity, Carroll would never answer to his pen name, even going as far as to refuse letters sent to Lewis Carroll at his place of work.

George Orwell – Eric Blair

George Orwell, a writer concerned with social injustice, was famed for novels such as Nineteen Eighty Four and Animal Farm. His novels have spawned many well-known phrases in modern day language, such as cold war, and even ideas for television programmes such as Room 101 and Big Brother. His first novel, a documentation of his time living in poverty and undertaking menial jobs, entitled Down and Out in Paris and London, created the need for a pen name. He did not wish to cause embarrassment to his family with regards to his time living as a ‘tramp’, so his agent selected George Orwell from a list provided. Orwell is said to have been inspired by the River Orwell in Suffolk, and was described by the author as a ‘good round English name’.

Dr. Seuss – Theodore Geisel

Many of us remember reading the poems and stories by Dr. Seuss as a child, including works such as ‘The Cat in the Hat’ and ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’.  He published over 60 books, which have sold over 600 million copies worldwide, and adapted into films, television programmes and plays. However Dr. Seuss, the author behind the poems, is not really a doctor, and neither is his surname Seuss! Theodore Geisel, a student attending Dartmouth College was an active contributor to the university’s humorous magazine, ‘Jack-O-Lantern’. However, he faced trouble at the college when he was found to be drinking gin with his friends, during the prohibition in America, a time when alcohol was banned. He was banned from extracurricular activities, including his burgeoning journalism career, so began writing under various pen names to continue his hobby whilst avoiding detection by the dean. He later added the ‘Dr.’ to one of his pen names, T. Seuss, to pay tribute to his father, and his wish that his son would gain his PhD. Ironically, due to his notoriety as a well-respected children’s author, Dr. Seuss would later receive multiple honorary doctorates from various establishments, making his father’s wish come true!

Mark Twain – Samuel Langhorne Clemens

The 19th century author of novels such as ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ and ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ started out his career as an apprentice to a printer, before moving away from lettering and decided to work on the water, acting as a riverboat pilot along the Mississippi. At the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861, boats were no longer allowed to travel on the river, so Twain found himself without a job. He eventually found his way back to where he began his career, in writing, however his new pen name was a reminder of the career he could have had. The word ‘Twain’ is another way of saying ‘two’, and ‘mark twain’ was a phrase used in boating to refer to the depth of the water. For a steamboat to be safe to pass, water had to be two fathoms deep, therefore the saying ‘mark twain’ meant that the waters ahead were safe to travel on. According to Twain himself, he was not the first to adopt this pen name, as a Captain who wrote news stories about the rivers was using the name. After his death, Twain decided to use the name for himself, stating, “He could no longer need that signature, I laid violent hands upon it without asking permission of the proprietor’s remains.”

If you are interested in becoming an author and creating your own pen name, why not take a look at our popular Fiction Writing course?

Nick Cooper
Nick is NCC's resident blog author and covers a range of subjects, including teaching and health & social care. NCC is an international learning provider with over 20 years’ experience offering learning solutions. To date, NCC has engaged with over 20,000 employers, and delivered quality training to over half a million learners.
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