Or…The Dragon explores the use of pen names for the month of June
The amazing Bronte sisters wrote with pen names, striving to keep their literary identities secret from the community. Mary Ann Evans wrote as George Elliot. Theodore Geisel wrote as Dr. Seuss. Samuel Langhorne Clemens wrote as Mark Twain, Sieur Louis de Conte and Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass. Even Nathaniel Hathorne added a "w" to his name when he got out of school and picked up the pen. In recent years, Ann Rice of vampiric fame used her erotica nom de plume of A.N. Roquelaure to break new ground with her novel Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.
On a personal level, I write under the name Abigail Farrier for the silly flights of fancy that I don't want my own name on and under the name Nigel Taiman for the marketing materials usually meant to poke fun at me.
Typically, when an author takes on a pseudonym, it's for a reason. Maybe his real name is such a conglomeration of consonants that no one could hope to pronounce it. Maybe a celebrity already sports the author's real name. Maybe she wishes to give an air of romance for the specific genre in which she's writing—it's all about marketing, you know.
Back in the Brontes' day, women authors still had to overcome their share of built-in prejudice. The three sisters, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte and Anne Bronte, not only knew authoresses were looked upon with prejudice, but knew the established convention, for both men and women, of using pseudonyms that was common in the first half of the 19th century. As children, the girls read voraciously. And, as children, they wrote stories and plays that they signed with pen names. Charlotte's early names included the names of characters she'd created: Captain Andrew Tree, Arthur Wellesley (The Marquis of Douro), Lord Charles Albert Florian Wellesley, Charles Townshend. Even their brother, Branwell Bronte, published in periodicals under his favored pen name of Northangerland.
It was when the girls grew up and published their poems that they took on their famous pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. (Note that Charlotte first refused and then eventually married the curate named Arthur Bell Nichols who may or may not have influenced that name choice.) Charlotte once wrote to her publisher explaining that she would be "intolerably" fettered in her writing if she knew that her common acquaintances would read and know her writing. Because "Acton" and "Ellis" had a less-than-scrupulous publisher, the ladies needed to prove they were, indeed, separate individuals, so Charlotte and Anne traveled to visit Charlotte's publisher, but the ladies continued to strive for secrecy. They signed their correspondence with their male pseudonyms and Anne and Emily maintained the ruse until their untimely deaths.
In the case of Mary Ann Evans, she wrote her novels under the name of George Elliot, reportedly because her adulterous affair with George Henry Lewes could have prejudiced peoples' opinions of her work. Theodore Seuss Geisel began contributing to the Dartmouth humor magazine Jack-O-Lantern under the pseudonym "Seuss" after being "removed" as editor. The pen name stuck.
As you see, there are a variety of reasons behind the use of a pseudonym. I have elected to make my name a force in the fantasy genre without any changes. Sandy Lender is the name I've had throughout my magazine editing and publishing career, and it's the name so many of my writing and publishing contacts know me by. At the end of my blessed divorce, I'll regain my maiden name for legal and daily purposes, but my "career" name will go unchanged. It's how everybody knows me. And, as King Stephan Lenora tells Chariss in my upcoming fantasy novel, Choices Meant for Kings, "Names are meaningless. Meaningless. I picked the name after I became king. But I’m betting you know far more about the meanings of names than I. Amanda Chariss Derdriu."
Throughout the month of June, we'll feature guest articles here from authors who share their pseudonyms and the stories behind them. Bookmark this site or use the Technorati widget below the archives (at left) to make it easy to find again. And leave a comment during the pen name discussions to be entered in a drawing for an eBook of my first fantasy novel Choices Meant for Gods. Details below…
"Some days, I just want the dragon to win."
Tags: pen name, pseudonym, Bronte sisters, Mary Anne Evans, George Elliot, Theodore Geisel, Dr. Seuss, Samuel Clemens, Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hathorne, Ann Rice, A.N. Roquelaure, Christ the Lord, Out of Egypt, Nigel Taiman, Charlotte Bronte, Emily Bronte, Anne Bronte, Branwell Bronte, Sandy Lender, fantasy novel, Choices Meant for Kings, Technorati widget, eBook, Choices Meant for Gods, dragon