Top 7 Most Famous Names (that are actually Pen Names)
Pen names, or pseudonyms, have been used throughout history for various reasons. I use the pseudonym Cydro, although I can't cite a reason for source. Check out these authors that were a lot more successful than I am, and the reason they chose their pen names:
MarlonC was nice enough to point out to me that I missed two major historical figures! Well, I can't have that. Here is the list of 7 (not 5) most famous pen names...
Number 7: George Eliot
George Eliot was very unique. She was a very expressive writer born in 1819, a time when most women weren't allowed to be openly expressive. Her dad considered her to be the ugly duckling of the family, and as a result he sent her off to an expensive school. It was here she was taught anti-evangelical ideas, and thus questioned her faith throughout her life. This was during a time when women weren't allowed to question their faith. Eliot also was in love with a married man... and even lived with him. The man couldn't divorce his old wife due to a clause in the marriage dealing with adultery. They lived in an open marriage for the rest of their lives as a result. Of course, this was during a time (as any) that living with a married man who isn't your husband was looked down upon. So imagine this self expressive George Eliot, living with a married man, denying Christianity in front of the wrong people in the 1800's in the England. You might be able to guess why she made a good writer. This is why she deserves a spot on the list.
Eliot wrote about the mundane country life of Victorian-age England. Most of her work was fictional work with some serious political overtones. Surprisingly to me, it also was immensely successful while she was alive. However, she lost popularity toward the end of her life when she portrayed her husband as a saint, and society as the menace in his autobiography. This proved too controversial for the time, but by then Eliot had already etched her name in the history books.
Blackwood’s Magazine (1857)
The Sad Fortunes of the Reverend Amos Barton
Mr. Gilfil’s Love-StoryJanet’s Repentance
Scenes of Clerical Life, 2 vol. (1858)
Problems of Life and Mind (1873–79)
Actual Name: Mary Anne (Mary Ann, Marian) Evans
Reason for the Pseudonym: You might have guessed. She used it to be taken more seriously. Does it sound like a man's name to you? It did to everyone else, too.
Number 6: Lewis Carroll
Lewis Carroll had a unique, intellectual mind worthy of perhaps higher rank on this list. His physique left something to be desired as he was described as having a limp and a stutter. His parents sent him to Rugby school, where he succeeded intellectually but not physically of course. He succeeded intellectually to a great extent, too. His math tutor described him as the greatest math prodigy that he had ever seen at the school.
Many people separate the creative and the logical sides of the brain. It is often perceived that having both great creativity and great logic abilities is rare. This may be true, but Carroll did both. His immense mathematical abilities allowed him to graduate first in his class in college in the math department and thus become a math teacher and tutor. When he graduated he attempted to go into art though. This failed financially, so he became a math teacher and wrote poems in his free time. He was a hit among his students, and they often came to see him to hear his stories. Three girls in particular, and one was named Alice (some of you might know where I'm going with that). Everyday he would come up with a brand new story and draw it out for them. This was one of his favorite things to do in part because he remained unmarried throughout his life.
One of these days, he made a story about Alice falling down a rabbit hole. The children liked it so much that they asked him to write it down. So he did. It wasn't immediately published, but rather found in Alice's family's estate by another author, Henry Kingsly. Kingsly requested that Carroll publish the book because of its brilliance. The book was an instant hit, and it gave Carroll more attention than he even desired.
While publishing a few hit books, mostly designed for children, Carroll began painting. He painted children in different situations, and then he eventually photographed them. After awhile, he began photographing them nude. This is weird to Cydro, and the earliest biographer said that Carroll was a pedophile. However, now modern biographers are convinced that he was simply doing it for artistic purposes. Cydro will believe these biographers tentatively, they know a lot more than I do about the subject.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1871)
The Hunting of the Snark (1876)
The Wasp in the Wig: A “Suppressed” Episode [of the latter] (Posthumously 1977)
Phantasmagoria and Other Poems (1869)
Rhyme? and Reason? (1883)
A Syllabus of Plane Algebraical Geometry (1860)
Euclid and His Modern Rivals (1879)
Symbolic Logic, Part I (1896)
Sylvie and Bruno, 2 vol. (1889–93)
whew. He was busy. That's not even all of them.
Actual Name: Charles Lutwidge Dodgson
Reason for Pseudonym: From what I can gather it was because he was modest. He didn't exactly enjoy the attention he received from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and he didn't publish anything but poetry until he was asked to by Kingsly. He arrived at the pseudonym by translating his name into Latin and then back into English.
Number 5: Voltaire
Voltaire was a famous witty aristocratic writer born in 1650. From a young age he had a problem with authority, disobeying his father to secretly become a writer. When his father found out, he was sent off to a legal school in Caen. Despite this, he still freely expressed himself through his writing and wrote plays as well.
When I say "freely expressed himself," I mean all aspects of the word free. Voltaire looked for things like hypocrisy and injustice, and was not afraid to criticize anyone through satire. During the time of Louis XV in France this freedom was not very tolerated, and he found himself imprisoned in the Bastille without any questions asked. He talked his way into being exiled to Britain, and there he served three years time. In this time period he became inspired by the Constitutional Monarchy in Britain.
His ideas became very progressive, and he was very talented at expressing them. Here are a couple of major ones:
- Voltaire criticized the church for "blind faith." He claimed he believed in God out of reason, not faith.
- He also sometimes criticized atheists' work, and some Muslim and Jewish traditions
- He harshly criticized slavery
- He promoted the idea of freedom of religion. He said no matter what someone looks like, he or she is still a product of God's creation
- He denounced the gap between the elites and the common man, and the tax system that supported that gap. The elites included the clergy and the aristocrats
- Zadig (1747)
- Micromégas (1752)
- Candide (1759)
- Dictionnaire philosophique (1764)
- L'Ingénu (1767)
- Letters on the English (1778)
- Œdipe (1718)
- Zaïre (1732)
- Many Historical Works
Actual Name: François-Marie Arouet
Reason for the Pseudonym: He didn't want to be confused with the poet Adenes le Roi. Voltaire got his pen name from the anagram of the Latinized version of his surname, Arouet. In Latin it is spelled AROVET LI.
Number 4: Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss is a very famous author that I will assume that you've heard of before. He was known as a children's author, however he made a living at first by writing cartoons and satires for major newspapers. During the Great Depression he found income by writing and drawing ads for commercial giants such as G.E., NBC, and standard oil. By this time he had made a name for himself and was very active during WWII making political cartoons.
He made his political views known with many anti-communist, anti-fascist, and anti-isolationist messages. He has also later received some criticism for his anti-Japanese racial messages. However, later in life he admitted his mistakes and made writings for the rebuilding of Japan. He also wrote Horton Hears a Who as an allegory to the Hiroshima bombing, and dedicated the book to his Japanese friend.
His biggest legacy, however, was his children's books that he wrote later on in life. He wrote the book Green Eggs and Ham in response to a challenge (by challenge I mean bet) by a friend that said he could not write a complete story in less than 50 unique words. Dr. Seuss accepted that challenge and produced one of the best selling children's books of all time.
He was also challenged to respond to a major study done that said many of America's children were illiterate. One of his friends asked him to use 250 words that were determined to be good words to practice phonics with in one of his children's books. After almost turning the offer down, he saw the first two words on the list were cat and hat. At that moment he had the inspiration to create another children's classic, the Cat and the Hat that used 236 of those words.
- Green Eggs and Ham
- The Cat and the Hat
- One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas
- Horton Hears a Who
- Horton Hatches the Egg
Actual Name: Theodore Seuss Geisel. Seuss is actually German and pronounced in a way that rhymes with voice. (Soice, you might say)
The Reason for the Pseudonym: Everyone in America seemed to pronounce it that way. Seuss didn't mind the mispronunciation, he said that it was advantageous for a children's author because it sounded like Mother Goose.
Number 3: J.K. Rowling
If you didn't recognize the name, then it is probably vaguely familiar to you. If not, then at least you've heard of Harry Potter, right? This is the author of Harry Potter. Her legacy continues to grow, although she has had many accomplishments already.
In a classic rags to riches story, J.K. Rowling moved to Edinburgh after a divorce with her husband. She moved with her daughter, Jessica, and had been working on the Harry Potter series for around five years. Once she published the first book under the title Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in Britain, her books climbed the all Best-Seller lists and she became world famous. Honestly, she's a household name in some countries.
She has had three children. Her first was in 1993 with her first husband, and her next two came from Dr. Neil Murray, her second husband. Their names are David and Mackenzie.
She has honestly earned too many awards for me to mention them all. Among the most prestigious include an Honorary Degree from Harvard University in the U.S., Order of the British Empire (OBE), and Booksellers Association's Author of the Year two consecutive years in 1998 and 1999.
J.K. Rowling is also very charitable, donating to her own charity, Amnesty International, and Gingerbread.
Harry Potter Series
Actual Name: Joanne Rowling
Reason for the Pseudonym: She wanted her book to be more appealing to the target audience, young males. She decided after publishing her first book under Joanne Rowling that boys would be less inclined to read a book by a woman. Now everyone knows her true identity.
Number 2: Mark Twain
One of the most famous authors in American history. He was especially known for his wit and satire even while he was alive. Also he was born on the day that Halley's Comet visited, and died on its return.
Most people don't realize, however, that he nearly went bankrupt. His wife, Olivia, was very wealthy and had a large inheritance. Between his writing and her status they were introduced to many important people such as Fredrick Douglass, Thomas Edison, Helen Keller, and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Twain had a major interest in science and technology as well. His investment in a mechanical arm printing press, dubbed the Paige typesetting machine, was a failure. The machine could print at amazing rates that wowed audiences but was too unreliable for practical use. He invested a large portion of his fortune into this machine. Luckily for Twain, his friend from Standard Oil, Henry Rogers, took over his finances and saved him from debt.
Twain will no doubt be remembered for his writing for some time to come. In fact, a few of his books are still required reading in American classrooms today.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)
The Prince and the Pauper (1881)
Life on the Mississippi (1883)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885)
Actual Name: Samuel L. Clemens
Reason for the Pseudonym: He stole it and allegedly used it as a name for bar tabs. "Mark twain" in riverboat lingo of the day means the water is 12 ft. deep and safe enough to pass. While working on the riverboats, his captain used to sign it as a pen name before Clemens ever did..
Number 1: George Orwell
George Orwell was a British boy born in India due to the whole imperialism thing. At a young age he worked as an imperial Policeman because his parents couldn't afford college. This began to foster a hate for imperialism that would inspire later writings.
He in fact hated imperialism so much that he resigned and returned to England in 1928. This, however, would take a heavy financial toll on him and he was forced in and out of homelessness for about three years. This was about the time that he started his writing career.
After jobs such as school teacher and bookkeeper, he joined to fight in the Spanish Civil War on the anti-fascist side (he didn't like the style of communism that Spain was leaning toward, either).
During WWII Orwell supported himself by writing book reviews. In 1944, he gave himself steady income for the rest of his life by publishing the anti-communism book Animal Farm. He then moved on to write the very famous book 1984 which is required reading in many American classrooms still today. It is important to note that during his lifetime he was primarily revered as a literary journalist, not a writer of novels.
- Animal Farm (1945)
- Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)
- Down and Out in Paris and London (1933)
Actual Name: Eric Blair
Reason for the Pseudonym: His love for England...The name George refers to the patron saint of England (and George V was King at the time), and he loved visiting River Orwell in Suffolk
Other Fun Stuff
Hub further reading about pen names:
Other famous authors that used pen names:
Ben Franklin used Silence Dogood
C.S. Lewis used Clive Hamilton
Charles Dickens used Boz
Stephen King used Richard Bachman
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