Thursday, August 22, 2013

Noms de Plume

This week's author, Pittacus Lore, is a pseudonym, which is a fancy word for a fake name. Another fancy phrase is 'nom de plume,' which is French for pen name, or the name an author publishes under instead of their real name.

Historically, soldiers and terrorists will adopt noms de guerre (war names) to disassociate their actions from their real names. Taggers and hackers adopt pseudonyms to protect their real identities, considering their actions are illegal. Actors and musicians adopt stage names for various reasons. And writers choose pen names for many different reasons.

Hide a Personal Trait
Hey, guess what? Women haven't been treated equally for a large portion of history! So when women began publishing books, many of them had to adopt male-sounding names in order to be successful authors, despite their female-ness.

George Eliot at 30 by Fran├žois D'Albert Durade.jpgGeorge Sand by Nadar, 1864.jpg

From left to right, those are George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans), George Sand (Amantine Lucille Aurore Dupin) and S. E. Hinton, who initialized her name to mask her gender.

There are several other things a celebrity might want to hide by changing their name. For example, Freddie Mercury's real name is Farrokh Bulsara; he wanted to tone down the "ethnic" sound. John Bongiovi (say it out loud, you'll get it) did the same thing.

Writing Controversial Works
Much like how taggers and hackers use a pseudonym while performing illicit activities to protect their real identities, authors of salacious, controversial, or borderline illegal works can hide their identities by publishing under false names.

Proving Themselves... When They're Already Famous
Sometimes a famous author will want to publish under a pseudonym to show that their work is still good. They want to show that it's not just their name selling the books, but the merit of their writing.

Stephen King wrote as Richard Bachman for books like The Long Walk, The Running Man, Thinner, and The Regulators, which you may recognize from my favorite murder story. On the right, Romain Gary set out to test his writing skill by seeing if his new books, published under the name Emile Ajar, would still sell without his prestigious name on them. (They did.)

Avoiding Confusion
There are only so many combinations of names in the world. With billions of us roaming around at any given time, there are bound to be duplicates, or near-duplicates, who become famous. Some celebrities change their names to avoid confusion (though they're not always successful). Winston Churchill added a middle initial "S" when he wrote, to avoid confusion with an already-published American author with the same name as him.

Collaborative Pseudonyms
This week's author, Pittacus Lore, is one name shared by two authors (as you know if you read Monday's post). This serves two main purposes. First, you don't have to worry about whose name goes first. Also, authors who wouldn't normally work together or normally wouldn't write something like the collaborative project can keep their professional distance from the project if they want.

Fictional Characters as Pseudonyms
Pittacus Lore also fits this category, because he is a character in the Lorien Legacies.


On the left are the two authors (Frederic Dannay and Manfred Bennington Lee, which are aliases for Daniel Nathan and Manford Lepofsky, respectively) who make up Ellery Queen, the fictional narrator and detective of The Adventures of Ellery Queen. The middle photo is the author photo for Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), of Series of Unfortunate Events fame, who narrates the series first-person, and participates very lightly in the events that are so unfortunate. The right photo is the author photo for Pittacus Lore.

If you wrote under a pen name, what would it be, and why?


  1. I must know more information about these two men responsible for Ellery Queen. I might be related to one of them. Where can I find information please?

    1. Librarian to the rescue! :)

      There's a little bit here:
      And a little bit here:
      And some more here from Encyclopaedia Brittanica:

      Let us know what you find out! That would be pretty cool. And if you're related to one of them, you'll be related to the other because they're cousins! Neat.

  2. It appears that we are not related. Bummer.