I've always found myself unexplainably intrigued by pen names and showbiz names. I trace it back to when I was in 5th grade, figured out how to go on Usenet (it was the late '80s) and found a list of pro wrestler's real names. I remember thinking things like "Jake 'The Snake' Roberts is really named Aurelian Smith, Jr.? That is a totally radical discovery!"
Apropos of that, sort of, I put together this list of famous authors who use pen names -- but pen names that we (or, more accurately, I) always figured were their real names. So this list doesn't have Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain, or Dr. Seuss/Theodor Seuss Geisel, or Dear Abby and Ann Landers/15 random yentas.
Anne Rice. (Real Name: Howard Allen O'Brien) Yes, Anne Rice's real name is Howard. No, this wasn't a case of a guy trying to write vampire stories under a woman's name to give them that extra dose of sensuality -- Anne Rice's mom really named her Howard. Not sure why she ditched the O'Brien; that probably was related to having some credibility in the sensuality department.
George Orwell. (Real Name: Eric Arthur Blair) In a crazy twist, "Eric Blair" sounds like the name of a character who could've been someone's Big Brother in a teen movie made in 1984.
Lewis Carroll. (Real Name: Charles Lutwidge Dodgson) No, I didn't know Lewis Carroll was a pen name. Sure, cackle in delight with superiority. Lewis Carroll sounds like a perfectly viable British name (at least to me as an American).
According to The Internet, he picked this because Lewis was adapted as the Anglicized version of the Latin version of Lutwidge and Carroll was adapted as the Irish version of the Latin version of Charles. See, back in the 1800s, instead of trying to take their middle name and street name and find their porn pseudonym, kids converted and unconverted their names from Latin to figure out their pen names. Thanks a lot, mind numbing effects of television.
Voltaire. (Real Name: Francois-Marie Arouet) So if you're at an all-night breakfast place and order pancakes in the Age of Enlightenment, you'll fully understand if the waitress tells you "Hold on, Francois-Marie Arouet."
Pablo Neruda. (Real Name: Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto) I am familiar with the works of Pablo Neruda. (Just not his real name.)
Ayn Rand. (Real Name: Alisa Zinovyevna Rosenbaum)Probably would've realized this was a pen name if I'd thought about it. Or, at least, if the government had told me I was allowed to think about it.
Stan Lee. (Real Name: Stanley Martin Lieber) I'm happy I live in an era where we now think our super-Jewy last names will actually HELP us get credibility. You blazed this trail, Seinfeld/Stern/Sandler/Bill Goldberg/Jonathan Lipnicki.
George Eliot, going for the Princess Leia.
George Eliot. (Real Name: Mary Ann Evans) I feel like once upon a time I was in an English class and we were doing "Silas Marner" and the teacher told us that a woman used the pen name "George Eliot" so she'd be taken seriously. Although, gun to my head, after well over a decade of letting that trivia knowledge atrophy, I probably couldn't have told you whether George Eliot or Silas Marner was the pen name, the book or the real name. It's the Gordon Lightfood/Edmund Fitzgerald paradox all over again.
Joseph Conrad. (Real Name: Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski) Question: How many Polish authors does it take to make a heart of darkness? Answer: One to write the book and 10 to unscrew the lightbulb.
Agatha Christie. (Real Name: Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller) If twisting her own name wasn't enough, to keep her mysterion credibility, she also wrote romance novels using the pen name Mary Westmacott. Have you ever read "Murder on the Orient Ass-press"? That book's like all anal.
J.K. Rowling. (Real Name: Joanne Rowling)The "K" doesn't stand for anything; she doesn't have a middle name. J.K. Rowling adding something extraneous -- who would've thunk it?
This post was originally published on Monday, December 20, 2010 at 11:00:00 AM under the category Books.