Pen Name Scavenger Hunt

In the literary world it is called a pen name, pseudonym, or nom de plume.  Like superheroes that are mild-mannered by day but rebels at night, some authors have secret – even multiple – identities. But what makes an author choose to publish under a pen name (or several)? More importantly, how many of these do YOU already know?

Click on the names below to discover their alternate (more famous) identity! Look for something that says “See Also”. This will give you the author’s a.k.a. (Also Known As) or what I call their b.k.a. (Better Known As).

They Are Too Good

Some authors, like Richard Bachman, need pseudonyms because they write so prolifically that their publisher worries the public won’t be willing to purchasing multiple books by the same author in a single year. A good problem to have!

Genre Considerations

Sometimes authors or publishers feel a pseudonym would better suit a specific genre, as for a Western author named Pearl Grey. Other times, the goal is to avoid a genre-related double entendre, as was the case for a romance author named Julie Woodcock. Sometimes authors write in multiple genres and want to keep works separate, such a famous essayist-turned-author whose real name was Eric Blair, and the multi-genre, multi-pseudonymous Eleanor Aufdem-Brinke who writes both mystery and romance.

Gender Considerations

Perhaps the most frequently cited reason for an author to assume a pen name is gender. Since the 19th century, when women began to make headway as authors, it has been common for female authors to adopt male or gender-neutral pen names as an attempt to avoid gender bias on the part of publishers, reviewers, and readers. Real names of famous examples include Mary Anne Evans, Aurore Dupin, Currer Bell, and Karen Blixen.

Not to Name Any Names

More recently, the use of initials have become a common way for female writers to lessen possible gender bias, without taking full-on pseudonyms. Female writers who write under initials include J. K. Rowling, J.D. Robb, S. E. Hinton. J.R. Ward, and E.L. James.

So how much does gender bias still affect female authors? According to a Huffington Post article, in 2011 as few as one third to one half of books published by major companies were written by women, and as little as one quarter of books reviewed by major publications were by female authors. This despite the fact that women have recently often dominated the bestseller lists.

Scavenger Hunt

Now that we’ve covered some of the reasons why, it is time to test your pen name knowledge. How many of the names below do you recognize? You may have read their books without even knowing it. I have given below the lesser known names. Some are alternate pen names and some are the real names of authors more famous under their pseudonyms.

Do you know…                                

Samuel Langhorne Clemens

Ellis Bell

Mary Westmacott

Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum

Barbara Vine 


Cecil Smith

Theodor Geisel 

Józef Korzeniowski

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson

James Oliver Rigney, Jr.

Howard Rice

So… how did you do?

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