Friday, 4 June 2010

Arose by Other names!

The title of this post is a twist of the Shakespearean quote "A rose by any other name..". If the name, as the lines suggest, is not important, then why do people whether from the days of yore or today's blogging blokes and twittering twits, choose to use names other than their own?

I came to terms with the term "Pseudonym" when I first heard that the tamil author "Sujatha", unlike what the name suggested, was in fact a gentleman whose real name was "Rangarajan". If one has actually read Sujatha (especially exploits of the Ganesh, Vasanth detective duo), the doubts of whether the writer was a woman would naturally clear up, but since I was pretty young at that time, I was amazed that someone would write in a name other than their own!

Over the years, I have learnt that some of the Literary greats whom I intensely admire, be it O.Henry (William Sydney Porter), Saki (Hector Hugh Munro) or others I mention below have all written under nom de plumes rather than their real names!

Here are some true and other fictional reasons of why some authors have/must've chosen their pseudonyms! See if you can identify which of these are true!

1. When "Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto" went to his Publisher with a first draft, they decided that the Author's name better be shorter than the work he published! Hence Pablo Neruda!

2. When the American statesman Benjamin Franklin was still a teenager, he took on the persona of a middle aged widow to publish a series of letters in the newspaper. In this case, the choice of "Silence Dogood", was strange but elicited some marriage proposals!

3. Francois Marie Arouet wrote under a number of pen names because he feared he would be imprisoned for his views. Voltaire did become much better known than his real name but did not stop his being exiled in the Bastille!

4. George Eliot was in fact a woman called Mary Ann Evans, who chose a nom de plume since a man had a better chance of being taken seriously than a woman!

5. Mark Twain is slang for the river being deep enough (twelve feet/two fathoms) and a phrase Samuel Longhorn Clemens picked up as a boatsman.

6. Michael Crichton the author of Jurassic Park has also written books using pseudonyms including "Michael Douglas", John Lange (to imply long) and Jeffrey Hudson (to imply short after a 17th century dwarf!)

7. The book called "Burden" written by Agatha Christie was so boring that she decided to use the pseudonym "Mary Westamacott" to get it published. The first draft was rejected by the publishers.

8. The famous author "Richard Bach" who has written cult fiction such as "Jonathan Livingston's seagull" and "One", is in fact a pseudonym used by Horror fiction writer "Stephen King"

9. Acton Bell, Ellis Bell and Currer Bell were the collective cloaks used by members of the same family of writers!

10. Daniel Handler used the pseudonym Lemony Snicket to present his "A Series of Unfortunate Events" books as memoirs so that it would seem autobiographical.

I shall sign off with these famous words by one of my favorite authors, who was a mathematician who assumed a pen name so he could write rhyme without reason!

"Must a name mean something?" Alice asked doubtfully.
"Of course it must," Humpty Dumpty said, with a short laugh. "My name means the shape I am and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape." - Lewis Carroll

PS: The ones that were fiction that I coined along as I wrote the post were 1, 7 and 8 (Stephen King chose Richard Bachman not Richard Bach). All the rest are true, which as you already know, is stranger than fiction!


  1. hey wow..this is so interesting...I had no clue that stephen king wrote under the name 'Richard Bach'...this is fantastic. I am huge fan of his books...
    Such different methods of wonder he chose a pseudonym.

  2. @LP - He wrote as Richard Bachman. Scroll down to see the Post Script;)

    I love Richard Bach's writing too. Great to know you are a fan as well!

  3. Interesting. Well what can I say but I agree. Like you say even new bloggers are happily opting for nome de plume primarily because I think it gives them the obscurity to scream their views standing in a shadowy corner without worry of recognition. But more importantly, for me, my name has become a sweet alterego that does not have to shoulder the responsibilities that my name has to. :)

  4. In India, some one who is in Government service or PSU has to taken permission from their bosses for publication, which is never forthcoming.So to avoid this, many write with 'Pseudo name'.

  5. oh this is absolutely fantastic and I so agree with this, I being one of them, not that I can boast of their level of literary genius...but yes, it widens my purview of thoughts and expressions.

    Very informative and great narrative!