Writing under a pseudonym (pen name) or a nom de plume as the French like to call it, is as old as time itself. Disguising your true self may come with some good reasons. You may choose to write under a pseudonym simply to change things up or to give yourself a fresh view of things. African writers may opt for a more simple-sounding name to fit in with popular writers/genres. However, great authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (Nigeria), Ghanain Ayi Kwei Armah and Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o have done well with their original names.

5 more reasons to use a pen name

  • You want to step away from the genre you’re known for. You’ve been writing romance novels for five years and now want to try your hand at sci-fi or detective stories.  Mary Westmacott may be better known to you as Agatha Christie,  taking the softer Mary nom de plume when she wrote romance novels to venture into a new genre without disappointing the fans of her legion mystery novels.
  • Your name is not unique to you. For example in America there are 4 000 people named James Patterson and there’s already one who is a famous author. In instances like this, you definitely won’t stand out from the crowd so it’s a good idea to change your name to something a little less common, if not fantastically memorable.
  • Reversal of fortune is another reason you might want  to slip under the radar. The best-seller your were supposed to write, well it didn’t quite work out that way. Its epic fail is something rather hard to swallow. Best you put out your next book under a different name. Similarly, you may want to disassociate yourself from a political career when you take up writing novels.
  • You can’t publish under your real name for legal reasons. This was the case for women dating back to the 19th century and prior. Women were not allowed to publish under their own names. Left with no other choice really, the took the pseudonym route.
  • Let’s  face it, when you write a book, you’re really putting yourself out there and if you’d rather be someone else to save yourself mountains of anxiety around criticism from family members and the general public, then a nom de plume is the way to go. If you simply want to keep your private life private, then choose this option.

well-known Authors writing under a pseudonym

Lewis Caroll

Who hasn’t read Alice in Wonderland? If you haven’t, it’s your literary loss, I’m afraid. But if you have read about the wonderful adventures of Alice you may be interested to know that the well-known Lewis Carroll is actually one Charles Ludwidge Dodgson. You can see why this mouthful translated well to a name other than the man’s own. Through the Looking Glass was also his.

Stephen King

Stephen King, best known for some dark and scary literature – many of them crossing over into film – The Shining- for example – had a stint of writing under an assumed named. In the 1970s and 80s he published five novels under the name Richard Bachman. This was to get around the idea that authors should not publish more than one book a year. Slow down there, Mr. King.

NoViolet Bulawayo

Zimbabwe-born writer NoViolet Bulawayo was born Elizabeth Zandile Tshele.  ‘Violet’ is named for her mother who she lost at a very young age, and ‘No’ meaning ‘with’ in the southern African Language- Ndebele, combine as her first name. She took on Bulawayo as the name of the city where she grew up. We Need New Names was her debut novel in 2013 and she has gone on to win several awards.

JK Rowling

A Google search for Robert Galbraith within seconds will deliver you to the JK Rowling page. Don’t be surprised that Joanne Kathleen Rowling, best known for her work on the Harry Potter series (also films) chose to adopt a pseudonym  for the novel The Silkworm which apparently was released to rave reviews when it was discovered Robert was in fact JK. What the point there was, I am not entirely sure.  

‘Franklin W.Dixon’

Authorship of teen favourite The Hardy Boys was never a one-man show. An assortment of ghostwriters came to be known as Franklin W. Dixon, according to Wikipedia. Some of the most popular writers were Lesley McFarlane and Carolyn Keene. Commentators believe this is the secret to the title’s success – creating sustainability by having no single writer responsible for the story.

Whatever your reason, try a non de plume on for size. Perhaps try it out on a few poems or a short story, or ask your friends what they think. Once you’ve got a feel for the new name, check it against these reasons just to be sure you won’t do better with the name you were given at birth.

Thanks to Iza Grek for the words! 📝