- Drama, intrigue, false identities, whole new personas.
Sounds like the plot of a real pop boiler suspense novel or I don't know an episode of WandaVision, no spoilers please.
But those are just some of the reasons why real authors take on the hollowed nom de plume also known as, the pen name.
To some people the idea of a pen name seems kind of weird.
If I, a writer person, I'm going to put countless hours of hard work and thought into my modern masterpiece, Hype House, Blood Bath, and I managed to catch the eye of an agent or publisher who likes it.
Why wouldn't I, want to put my, own name am under the title.
Why wouldn't I want the world know that it was me.
Jimmy Squibbs, who toiled long and hard on 80,000 word epic, about the pain and suffering of being a pocky influencer.
I have nothing to hide.
But from Stephen King, to Ben Franklin, to Jane Rally who had their own secret aliases, to Mark Twain and Dr. Seuss whose aliases became so famous, that they are remembered by their pen names and not their actual names.
The nom de plum, has a long and proud history in the literary world.
Think of them like, the original YouTubers, some wanna go by their real name and some wanna create an online identity that connotes less of a person and more of a brand?
(upbeat music) While works written under anonymity or published under a pseudonym, might feel like an anomaly, much of the history of literature owes itself to works without attachment to real names.
In his book, "Anonymity" a secret history of English literature, author and professor John Mullan uses that, "A good proportion of what is now English literature consists of works first published without their author's names.
These works are not collected in bookshops or libraries, under the names of those who wrote them, but the processes by which they were attributed to their authors are largely forgotten.
It is strange to think of Pride and Prejudice or Frankenstein, being read without knowing the identities of their creators.
But so, they once were..." Mullan goes on to explain, that this fascination with pen names reached as zenith, in the mid 19th century with scholars going so far as to compile every piece of anonymously published writing they could get their hands on.
With Scottish librarian Samuel Halkett compiling anonymous material for sort of dictionary called "The Dictionary of Anonymous and Pseudonymous Literature of Great Britain."
It clocked at a massive nine volumes, all of which were exclusively originally, anonymous works.
And says Mullan, since its first publication, every well known English author, has been tied to an entry within its pages.
So why would someone take a pen name then since it seems to have been a trend as ubiquitous as, YA book titled "Noun of Noun and Noun."
Well, there are lots of reasons.
So let's examine some notable examples of nom de plumes and why the real people they were attached to were drawn to using them.
Sometimes you have easy examples.
Joseph Conrad, who wrote "Heart of Darkness" terrible book, was originally named Jozef Konrad Korzeniowski, and when he began publishing his works which were written in English, also coincided with him becoming a British subject.
He anglicized his name, to reflect that.
Much of the chagrin of other Polish thinkers, who felt it disrespectful to his country of birth.
Some authors take names to hide past dramas that actually happen to them in real life.
Like author O. Henry, whose short stories often concern the minor tribulations of everyday people living in New York city.
Behind the small romanticized misunderstandings of his fictional worlds, was a man named William Sidney Porter.
Porter already had an established writing career as a humorist, but, after being arrested and jailed for embezzlement, he picked up the pen again, while he was in the pen, as O. Henry in a bid to conceal that he was publishing stories while incarcerated, real OG things.
Then you have writers like Theodor Geisel, who while he had several pen names he worked under is most universally adored as children's author, Dr. Seuss.
Geisel took the name from his mother born Henrietta Seuss, while he was an undergraduate at Dartmouth college.
And despite how we pronounce it now originally it was pronounced "Soice."
He changed it to "Soos" when he realized in his own words that the pronunciation, "Evoked a figure advantageous for an author of children's books to be associated with - Mother Goose."
And then just for funsies added the doctor to his name as a joke, dad had wanted him to become a doctor, sorry dad just gotta be rich instead.
Some of the largest figures in popular modern literature took pen names to differentiate new works that didn't fit the tone of what they were most famous for.
Among these authors are mystery writer, Agatha Christie, who published romance novels as Mary Westmacott.
JK Rowling who published her mystery thriller "Cormoran Strike" novels under the name, Robert Galbraith.
And perhaps, most amusingly, Stephen King, our boy, who published several works as Richard Bachman.
At the beginning of King's career it had been something of a truism amongst publishers that an author publishing more than one novel per year would be distasteful to an audience.
King who like a shark that will die if it stops swimming, will die even if he stops writing, even if he's in the hospital convalescing from a near fatal car accident, Jesus, the dedication to the craft.
King convinced his publishers to let him publish several titles as Richard Bachman.
And when the rules was found out, King announced that Bachman had died from cancer of the pseudonym and wrote a book around him, also dedicated to him called "The Dark Half."
Then there are those who take pen names for meta textual reasons, like, Daniel Handler, who was best known to readers around the world as Lemony Snicket.
The author of the "A Series of Unfortunate Events" series.
But the goofy name wasn't chosen just for purposes of whimsy, Lemony Snicket is himself a character in part of the narrative of his own stories.
- [Narrator] My name is Lemony Snicket, and it is my sad duty to document this tale.
- And his elaborate false identity is woven in and out of the books, just as much as the actual protagonist.
Then there are authors who take pen names to try and reconcile with their own identities from birth.
The Bronte Sisters for example, all wrote their novels under matching gender ambiguous pseudonyms with Charlotte publishing "Jane Eyre" as Currer Bell, Emily with "Wuthering Heights" as Ellis Bell and sweet forgotten Anne with "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" as Acton Bell.
What is that?
Said Charlotte on why the Brontes decided to make pen names a family affair, "The ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine - we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice."
And maybe some pride.
No, 'cause you didn't like Jane Austen.
I forgot, yeah.
On the opposite side of this is poet and writer Sapphire author of "Push."
Unlike the Bronte, Sapphire born Ramona Lofton, picked a name that not only embraced her identity as a black woman, but also pushed back on stereotypes of black women, saying, "I took the name Sapphire at the height of the New Age movement, when everybody was a gemstone.
At one time in African-American culture, the name also had very negative connotations.
Sapphire was, like, the evil, razor-toting type of belligerent Black woman, which was somehow attractive to me, especially because my mother was just the opposite.
And I could pick picture the name on books.
I couldn't see "Push, by Ramona."
And then there are pen names that come from a melange of ideas, like writer and activist Bell Hooks, born Gloria Jean Watkins, who said that her nom de plumes, "When the feminist movement was added zenith in the late 60's and early 70's, there was a lot of moving away from the idea of the person.
It was: let's talk about the ideas behind the work, and the people matter less.
It was kind of a gimmicky thing, but lots of feminist women were doing it.
Many of us took the name of our female ancestors- Bell hooks is my maternal great-grandmother- to honor them and debunk the notion that we were these unique, exceptional women.
We wanted to say, actually, we were the products of the women who'd gone before us."
And sometimes, just sometimes, pen names are straight politics.
The Federalist Papers published between 1787 and 1788 and written to urge the ratification of the United States constitution, were all published under the name, Publius.
And if you remember your 10th grade history or more importantly, if you've seen Hamilton, you probably know that Publius, is the pen name of Alexander Hamilton, and those other guys, James Madison and John Jay.
The authors chose to do this, not just for the sake of anonymity itself, but in the tradition, of at the time, many defenses for, and arguments against ratification were published under pseudonyms, often taken from Roman antiquity because those founding fathers couldn't help but, Sim the Romans, and Hamilton himself, very pointedly chose Publius as a nod to one of the four aristocrats who led the overthrowing of the Roman monarchy.
What a nerd.
In her book examining the subject of pen names, bluntly titled, "Nom De Plume," writer, Camilla Ciuraru muses, "To a certain extent, all writing involves impersonation- the act of summoning an authorial 'I' to create the speaker of a poem or the characters in a novel.
But some writers are unable to engage in such alchemy, or don't want to, without relying on an alter ego."
There's a lot of theoretical discussion on how an author's private life and choices are intrinsically tied to the work they produce and how the two play off each other in the minds of readers, publishers and those wish to biographize them.
And so goes the pen name, which as we have seen, even with this incredibly limited survey of authors, often springs from deeply personal and unique reasons respective to the author's life.
There are authors for whom a pen name felt necessary, and then went on to regret them like Toni Morrison, born Chloe Wofford.
Though she took the name while studying at Howard, Morrison had this to say later in her life, "People who call me Chloe are the people who know me best.
Chloe writes the books.
Myself is a kind of split.
My name is Chloe.
And the rest is...that other person.
Who is able to feel, or pretends to feel, or maybe really feels, or at least reacts to celebrityhood."
And then there are those like George Sand born, you know I'm bad at pronouncing things, Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin who became one of the most popular writers in French romanticism under a male sounding name, who also dressed in male attire and who eventually began to sign personal letters as, George Sand.
Said her contemporary Victor Hugo, shout out to him, "George Sand was an idea.
She has a unique place in our age.
Others are great men...she was a great woman."
And then sometimes, there are just, no explaining a pen name entirely.
It's taken as fact that one of the most famous American authors and employer of a pseudonym Mark Twain, had lifted his moniker from the Riverboat terminology for a measurement of two fathoms.
I didn't read Moby Dick, I don't know what that means.
And while the author has said, as such, in his autobiography, scholarships doubt that claim on the basis of, well, Twain himself.
Who also said it was literally lifted from a dead man in this case, a steamboat captain named, Isaiah Sellers.
To quote a letter written by Twain, "Captain Sellers used a signature 'Mark Twain' himself when he used to write up antiquities in the way of river reminiscences for the New Orleans Picayune.
He hated me for burlesquing them in an article in the True Delta.
So four years later, when he died, I robbed the corpse- that is, I confiscated the nom de plume.
And I have published this vital fact, 3,600 times now.
But no matter, it is good practice, it is about the only fact that I can tell the same way every time."
The line between the author as a public personality and the private person behind the pen is often blurred.
And a subject that raises many questions and sometimes, an unfair or dangerous degree of the public trying to read between the lines.
For many authors, a pen name presents a solution, an easy way to delineate between the storytellers brand, and the regular person tapping away at a keyboard trying to finish the manuscript, and hoping someone sees the truth in it or at least just reads it, maybe publish it.
If not fanfiction.net who knows.