The 'flash' name appeal in writing

George Elliot
George Elliot
Jane and Emily Bronte
Jane and Emily Bronte
Mark Twain
Mark Twain

Just why do people use pen-names whey they write a novel or even an article? Well, there is really no simple answer to that. There was in the good old days a certain mysteriousness about using an assumed name.

It seemed to have been a fad in the 19th century, although many writers and authors may have been moved to write under an assumed name for a variety of reasons to do with the social surroundings of the time.

Take George Elliot for instance, a now great writer, but back in the 19th century she took on the assumed name of a man to protect her feminine identity. Her real name was Mary Ann Evans, and she loved to write, but she believed being a woman would hamper her.

So George Elliot was born, very male, very crisp gentleman, and a cloak of literary aura under which Evans hid under in puritanical Victorian England.

But Evans may have taken it to extremes for the Bronte sisters ( Charlotte and Emily) had kept their original names, writing novels that become great literary pieces. The same goes for Catherine Mansfield, fame of Pride and Prejudice and many others as well many others, and had no fear of being discriminated against.

However across the Atlantic something else was turning. Samuel Langhorne Clemens came to write some of the finest literary pieces but many literary buffs would look aghast and say who is this man. This is because he wrote under the pseudonym of Mark Twain, who arguably wrote some of the greatest novels in English/American literature.

Right from the start he probably guessed that then publishers wouldn’t have even looked at his novels with a long name like that and moved on to simplify and give it a certain degree of business-like familiarity.

The readers might not have liked such a name either, although I suspect the reading public, though small at the time, may not have had an inclination to look at a writer with such a long name.

He may have had fortitude to change his name giving it what we can call the modern “tick” and which everybody today know him by, forgetting that he was called by Samuel Langhorne Clemens, which if you think about it is quite a mouthful.

From a marketing point of view Mark Twin would definitely be a better seller, although, I don't think he was thinking that far ahead because back then still have been locked in the methods of the 19th century.

But the idea of the pen-name continues to be appealing for people who prefer to give it mystery, although how far this is generalized I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess. What I do know is in today’s world of fast communications and online, the by-line has assumed new importance.

Today many people like to see their names, proper names, up, shining on the page, rather than having an assumed name, regardless whether there is a “tick” to it or not, but of course I might be wrong.

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Comments 8 comments

BeyondMax profile image

BeyondMax 4 years ago from Sydney, Australia

All of the certain reasons... =) Well, you hit it right. You don't have to go far to see that most of the Hubville population does not write under their real names. And the list of the reasons is endless as ever, yeah? =)


Angela Blair profile image

Angela Blair 4 years ago from Central Texas

Perhaps a lot of folks write under pen names today in the interest of safety and security -- one is hanging it all out there on the internet. I received some hate mail about an article I wrote and the writer said "I know where you live!" And you know what...he probably does! Best/Sis


Gypsy Rose Lee profile image

Gypsy Rose Lee 4 years ago from Riga, Latvia

Voted up and interesting. This was great and informative. I agree with BeyondMax here we are all writing under pen names. Passing this on.


editorsupremo profile image

editorsupremo 4 years ago from London, England

Interesting hub. Although in modern society people want recognition for their real name many use a pen name because their real name is not marketable. I have done that with variations on my real name to something that sounds more interesting.

Voted up.


Cyndi10 profile image

Cyndi10 4 years ago from Georgia

Very interesting topic. I never would have thought to write about it. There are some very popular writers who apparently write under many names so that they can move between publishing houses or move to different genres. One of my favorite romance writers has at least 3 names. Ann Rice uses at least two. Enjoyed reading this. Cudos to you for thinking of turning the topic into an article.


marwan asmar profile image

marwan asmar 4 years ago from Amman, Jordan Author

Thank you all for interesting comments


vespawoolf profile image

vespawoolf 4 years ago from Peru, South America

This is a fascinating topic, and I enjoyed reading about George Elliott and Mark Twain's rationale behind pen names. Thank you for sharing!


Imogen French profile image

Imogen French 3 years ago from Southwest England

Further to your point about George Eliot and the Brontes - the Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne wrote under the masculine assumed names Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, for the same reason as Mary-Ann Evans chose to be George Eliot. I think it was not so much about protecting their feminine identity, but was more to do with being taken seriously as writers, they knew that the literary world would not have given them a chance as women writers.

Jane Austen, who wrote Pride and Prejudice, was brave enough to publish under her own name, but she had the security and support of a wealthy family.

A thought provoking theme!

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