National Name Yourself Day: Author Pseudonyms
Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash
April 9 is National Name Yourself Day, which isn’t about celebrating your own name, but about taking a day to choose a new one. It may just be for a day, but it can be extremely liberating to take a new name for a while; maybe a Jane is sick of feeling plain, and wants to be Arabella for a while. Maybe a Veronica acts a little differently in the world than a Mildred. Maybe you’ve just always wanted to see how the world would react if you could choose your own moniker.
Of course, for authors, there’s no need to wait for National Name Yourself Day to choose a new name. Many authors write under a pen name, for all kinds of reasons. Some do it so that they can cover sensitive topics without offending loved ones. Some do it to avoid public scrutiny, or to try something that doesn’t fit with their usual brand. Did you know that these famous authors have all written under pen names?
Best known for her hugely popular Confessions Of A Shopaholic series, Sophie Kinsella has written a huge number of light, funny, uplifting books about women just trying to get it right (and keep it all together). Her work is relatable and sweet, but it’s not actually written under her own name. Kinsella’s real name is Madeleine Wickham, and she’s written seven novels under that name, too.
The author started out writing as herself, and published books that were a little different to her Kinsella collection; a little darker, and about ensembles, rather than individuals. When she wanted to try her hand at some lighter subject matter, she used a fake name, so as not to muddle her existing brand. Of course, the Kinsella books became so popular that now many of her earlier works have been re-branded themselves: by Sophie Kinsella writing as Madeleine Wickham.
The undisputed king (geddit?) of the horror genre, Stephen King is famous for being an incredibly prolific writer. He’s written fifty-eight novels (and counting), several non-fiction books, and literally hundreds of short stories. The world can’t get enough of his particular brand of scary story, but at one point, his publisher actually wanted him to slow down! The fear was that there would simply be too many Stephen King books coming out at once…but rather than slow down, King chose to keep writing, under a different name.
The name he chose was Richard Bachman, made up in true comedy movie fashion, by combining the names of things that happened to be nearby at the time; a Richard Stark novel and Bachman-Turner Overdrive playing in the background. King wrote several short novels under the name, until the public discovered the truth, and the publisher discovered that King can publish as many novels a year as he wants.
Just like Sophie Kinsella, Cassandra Clare found fame under a pen name, and many fans don’t realize that her name is not her own. The author of the wildly popular The Mortal Instruments series, Clare is a YA sensation who started her writing career in entertainment and tabloids. However, her real name is Judith Lewis, not Cassandra Clare (that memorable alliteration wasn’t just a lucky accident, it seems).
Her pen name was inspired (not just by the desire to have a name that sounds incredible and unique), but by one of the first things she ever wrote; an epic novel (aka, early fan fic!) titled The Beautiful Cassandra, based on the Austen novel. She liked it so much that when she wanted to publish her first novel, she kept the name.
J. K. Rowling
J. K. Rowling may be one of the most famous authors in the world, but she’s also not one who really enjoys being in the public eye, and she’s a great example of a woman who would rather write under male or gender-neutral names. Her world-famous Harry Potter series shot her to fame in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, and even that is technically written under a pen name. (She has no middle name, so the K in J. K. is a pseudonym).
However, Rowling discovered that being insanely famous has its downfalls, and that releasing anything new (like The Casual Vacancy or Very Good Lives) meant dealing with a huge amount of criticism and comparison. Wanting her work to be judged on its own merits, and wanting to write some modern whodunnit crimes, Rowling started using the name Robert Galbraith, and wrote several more books. Now, of course, her pen name is far from a secret, and she even includes that information on both her and Galbraith’s websites.
The most famous comic book writer in the world, the late great Stan Lee definitely didn’t expect to find success where he did, and at one point, he thought of comic books as "kids stuff." Born Stanley Martin Lieber, Stan Lee’s original plan was to get into serious literature, but when he got a job offer with Timely Comics. He started out as essentially an office assistant, but when he was offered a chance to write a story, he jumped at it.
However, Stanley Lieber still harbored dreams of writing the Great American Novel, and didn’t want people to connect his great literary work with the guy who penned Captain America Foils the Traitor's Revenge, so he used a pen name. Later, of course, he realized that comics were his true calling, and became so incredibly famous for his work with Marvel that he wouldn’t just keep using the pen name—he legally changed his name to Stan Lee. Excelsior!