A pseudonym \u2013 or a pen name \u2013 is a false name used by an author to publish work. But why do authors use pseudonyms? And what exactly makes a name a pseudonym? Let\u2019s take a look at how they work.\r\nWhat Are Pseudonyms?\r\nA \u201cpseudonym\u201d is a false name. More specifically, a pseudonym is:\r\n\r\n \tNot the name someone uses on a day-to-day basis\r\n \tOnly used for a specific purpose\r\n\r\nIf someone changes their name legally or adopts a nickname, it isn\u2019t a pseudonym. These are just names people use to identify themselves in their daily lives or to certain friends. But if someone uses one name in their daily life and another to publish writing under, they are writing pseudonymously. And the second name is a pseudonym or a \u201cpen name.\u201d\r\n\r\nOther examples of \u201cpseudonyms\u201d include the aliases used by criminals, stage names used by performers, superhero secret identities, or even online usernames. The key is that, in all cases, the \u201cfalse\u201d name serves a specific purpose or is associated with a specific activity. For now, though, let\u2019s focus on literary pseudonyms. So, why do authors use pen names?\r\nWhy Do Authors Use Pen Names?\r\nThere are several reasons an author may choose to use a pen name:\r\n\r\n \tTo maintain anonymity when writing about something controversial, especially if it could also affect their personal or professional lives.\r\n \tTo establish a strong brand or identity among readers. For instance, if you are a horror writer, you may want to use a name that reflects your genre.\r\n \tTo avoid stereotyping based on gender or ethnicity. It also allows writers to cover topics they wouldn\u2019t otherwise for fear of prejudice.\r\n \tTo distinguish their writing under one name from work under another name. For instance, a crime writer may decide to publish a romantic novel and choose a pen name to use in this new genre.\r\n \tTo distinguish their writing from that of another author or public figure. For instance, a new writer called Stephen King would need a pseudonym unless he wanted to compete with the famed horror novelist.\r\n \tTo write together under a single name. Sometimes, if more than one person is working on a writing project, the group of authors will adopt a single pseudonym rather than using all their names.\r\n \tTo get a second chance with publishers. Yup, some authors use a pen name because their previous book failed and publishers have ignored them since. By adopting a pen name, they have a chance at a fresh start!\r\n\r\nIn most cases, though, writers use pseudonyms because they feel they\u2019ll stand a better chance of success than writing under their own names. One alternative would be to publish something anonymously, but pseudonyms at least allow the authors to take credit for their work!\r\n7 Famous Writers Who Have Used a Pseudonym\r\nTo finish this post, let\u2019s look at a few authors who have used a pen name.\r\n1. Mary Ann Evans \/ George Eliot\r\nAt the time Mary Ann Evans was writing, women\u2019s fiction was associated with light-hearted romance. But because Mary had ambitions beyond this \u2013 and to avoid unwanted scrutiny of her personal life \u2013 she adopted the male pen name George Eliot. Now, Middlemarch is regarded as one of the greatest English novels of all time, so it seems to have worked out okay.\r\n\r\n\r\n[caption id="attachment_31743" align="aligncenter" width="231"] Maybe that is why Mary\/George looks so pleased with herself in this portrait.[\/caption]\r\n\r\nMany female authors have taken this route at some point (e.g., the Bront\u00eb sisters all used male pen names at one point). But the Bront\u00ebs are known by their own names today, while George Eliot is still known by her pen name!\r\n2. Agatha Christie \/ Mary Westmacott\r\nWhat does someone whose name is synonymous with crime writing do when she wants to publish a romance instead? Use the name Mary Westmacott, of course! This gave Agatha Christie a chance to write love stories \u201cfreed from the expectations of her mystery fans.\u201d\r\n3. Joanne Rowling \/ J. K. Rowling \/ Robert Galbraith\r\nWhen the Harry Potter author decided to branch out into crime fiction, she wanted people to judge her writing on its own merits. To ensure this, she adopted the name Robert Galbraith. The ruse was soon discovered, but she has kept the name since for her crime writing.\r\n\r\nOddly, though, even J. K. Rowling is a pen name! This is because her publishers, worried that young boys would be less eager to read a book by a woman, urged Joanne Rowling \u2013 her real name \u2013 to use her initials instead of her first name. And since Rowling does not have a middle name, she picked the middle initial \u201cK\u201d in honor of her grandmother, Kathleen.\r\n4. Theodor Seuss Geisel \/ Dr. Seuss\r\n[caption id="attachment_12761" align="alignright" width="246"] Ted Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss).[\/caption]\r\n\r\nWould it surprise you to find out that the man who wrote The Cat in the Hat was not a qualified doctor? Probably not. But \u201cDr. Seuss\u201d is definitely a great pseudonym for a kid\u2019s author, immediately conjuring up a character that \u201cTed Geisel\u201d may not quite evoke.\r\n\r\nSeuss himself noted that his pen name \u201cevoked a figure advantageous for an author of children\u2019s books to be associated with\u2014Mother Goose.\u201d He added the \u201cDr.\u201d to his pen name, on the other hand, because his father had always wanted him to practice medicine.\r\n5. Patricia and Traci Lambrecht \/ P. J. Tracy\r\nA mother\u2013daughter team, P. J. and Traci Lambrecht wrote seven mystery novels together between 2004 and 2016, sharing the pseudonym P. J. Tracy. Sadly, P. J. Lambrecht passed away in 2016, but Traci has continued writing under the pen name, so P. J. Tracy lives on.\r\n6. Stephen King \/ Richard Bachman\r\nStephen King is a prolific writer. So prolific, in fact, that he once had to adopt a pseudonym just so he could publish everything he wrote.\r\n\r\nThis was based on the idea that the public wouldn\u2019t want more than one book a year by Stephen King, but they might want one by King and one by Richard Bachman. The fact they were the same person? Don\u2019t worry about it.\r\n7. The Secret Barrister \/ ???\r\nFor all the pseudonyms above, we know the real writer behind the pen name. But some writers use a pseudonym so they can stay anonymous. We see this in the case of the Secret Barrister, whose book Stories of the Law and How It\u2019s Broken looks at the UK justice system. The author has used a pseudonym so they can write openly about the problems they\u2019ve encountered without worrying about it damaging their career. Many writers have done this over the years, including now-famous names like Mary Shelley and Thomas Paine.\r\n\r\nThis is just a sample of the many authors who have used pseudonyms. But what about you? If you were to use a pen name, what would you call yourself? Let us know in the comments! And if you\u2019d like an expert to check anything you\u2019ve written, we have editors who can help.