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Why do authors keep pseudonyms?

books Updated: Mar 12, 2012 05:48 IST

Sonakshi Babbar, Hindustan Times
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In 1951, American author Issac Asimov's literary agents requested him to write a juvenile science fiction novel that would serve as the basis of a television series. Worried that a bad TV adaptation will ruin his prestige as a writer, he decided to write under a pseudonym, Paul French. While the novel never really made it to the TV screens, Asimov wrote six more novels in what came to be known as the Lucky Starr series.

Pseudonyms or pen names have always been an author’s best-friend. From Mark Twain to Stephen King, writers around the world have resorted to an adopted name for varied reasons. It is a well-known fact that female authors such as Charlotte Bronte and Mary Ann Evans wrote under male pseudonyms to mask their female identity in a highly patriarchal world.

While gender was one of the primary reasons for adopting pen names, male authors too had their own reasons. Stephen King used a pen name when he decided to switch genres and write non-horror fiction. As the books gained popularity, King ‘killed’ the pseudonym by issuing a press release announcing his pen name Richard Bachman’s death from ‘cancer of the pseudonym.’

Ashwin Sanghi, author of The Rozabal Line and Chanakya's Chant, is a businessman during the day and writer by night. He wasn't sure how his desire to write “thrillers liberally spiced with conspiracy, gore and erotica” would affect his reputation as a businessman. The decision to adopt a pseudonym, Shawn Haigins, (anagram of his name) was taken “to compartmentalize my life so that my business face would remain distinct and separate from my literary one", he said.

In a world where nothing beats the high of seeing your name in print, pen names might have lost their charm, but they still serve their purpose. Recently, the New York Times reported that Patricia O'Brien, author of five successful novels, had to resort to a pen name, Kate Alcott, after she her sixth novel, a work of historical fiction called "The Dressmaker faced multiple rejections.

Pen names have done wonders in the world of literature and most of the times have become more popular than the author. Check out some of the famous authors who wrote under a pseudonym.

Stephen King has written under the names Richard Bachman and Eleanor Druse

Daniel Handler has written the many books for children as Lemony Snicket

Mystery writer Meg Cabot has written as  Jenny Carroll and Patricia Cabot

Isaac Asimov has written under the pseudonym Paul French and George E. Dale.

Charlotte Bronte used to write as Currer Bell.

Wondering who is Alisa Zinov'yevna Rosenbaum? It is none other than Ayn Rand.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was the real name of Lewis Carroll

Samuel Langhorne Clemens wrote under the pen name Mark Twain.

George Orwell's real name was Eric Arthur Blair