Why Do Authors Use Pen Names?
For many, the thought of being able to anonymously express oneself through writing is liberating. Many have achieved this by using pen names. Pen names -- sometimes referred to as pseudonyms and aliases—are names used in place of an author’s real name. While some authors use pen names because they want to keep anonymity, female authors often turn to using male pen names to be taken more seriously in their work. Even the most famous authors have hidden behind pen names to experiment in their writing without any expectation. Whether it be to avoid discrimination, escape the pressure of fame, or simply to separate themselves from their work, authors use pen names to obtain freedom and seek greater opportunity.
One of the most common reasons for using pen names is to avoid gender-based discrimination. Charlotte Bronte is one of the most popular examples of this. Due to the societal expectations set on women at the time, Bronte had to write under the male pen name Currer Bell in order to be taken seriously. According to source 2, women in her era were forced into, “the stereotype of the docile and domestic Victorian feminine (National Endowment for the Humanities, paragraph 1)”. These women were heavily discouraged from pursuing any passion they may have had in literature. If Bronte had attempted to publish under her real name, her novels would have never reached the level of success that they did. It is even likely that she would have been refused publication. Not only did publishers discourage her from writing, but people in Bronte’s own personal life did too. In a letter from Robert Southey to Charlotte Bronte, Southey told her, “Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life, and it ought not to be. The more she is engaged in her proper duties, the less leisure she will have for it even as an accomplishment and a recreation (Robert Southey, paragraph 3).” The entirety of this letter deterred Bronte from writing, as Southey saw that it was not a woman’s place. Unfortunately, this is how the majority of men thought of women at the time and led to women like Bronte’s use of pen names. In addition to discrimination, fame can also lead to the use of pen names.
Pen names have been used by various famous authors as an opportunity to produce their art to a smaller audience. For example, after the Harry Potter series gained traction, JK Rowling started to write detective novels under the pen name Robert Galbraith. When asked why she chose to use a new pen name, she responded, “I was yearning to go back to the beginning of a writing career in this new genre, to work without hype or expectation and to receive totally unvarnished feedback (E. Bennet, paragraph 4).” Because of Rowlings fame, critics would have held her work in this new genre to a higher standard. On the other hand, the dedicated fan base that Rowling had gained would have given her positive feedback no matter what she wrote. Stephen King wrote under the pen name Richard Bachman for a similar reason. He believed that using a pen name gave him the opportunity to test whether his books do well because of his talent or purely because of luck (J.L. Campbell, paragraph 3). It allowed him to analyze the cause of his success without the pressure of a fan base. Not only are pen names used by authors who are already famous to separate themselves from their work, but they are also used by regular people for the same reason.
Other authors use pen names because they would prefer not to be associated with their writings. Often, this is out of fear that the people in their personal lives would make a mockery of them. This was the case for Eric Blair. Blair published under the name George Orwell so that he did not embarrass his family (E. Bennet, paragraph 1). For him, using the pen name was the only way to present his ideas to the world without having to worry about being ridiculed. This also holds true for author C.S. Lewis. In source 1, the author states, “C.S. Lewis, concerned about his status as a professor at Oxford, used the name Clive Hamlinton to publish a collection of poems (E. Bennet, paragraph 1).” Lewis likely would have been fired if he did not decide to adopt the pen name. Pen names have allowed Blair, Lewis, and numerous other authors to separate themselves from their identity as a writer.
In the world of literature, it is quite common for talented writers to hide behind pen names to keep their identity a secret. They allow authors to publish their ideas and gain freedom. Some turn to pen names to overcome discrimination or to write without the burden of fame, whereas others would merely prefer to separate their writing lives from their personal lives. In many situations, pen names are the only way that authors can receive the opportunity to publish a book, and for this reason have remained important to countless authors for several centuries.