Tuesday, 23 July 2013

What's in a pseudonym?

 By Gillian Hamer

After the recent headlines about JK Rowling publishing her first crime novel under the name of Robert Galbraith, we wondered what makes authors publish under a different name.

JK Rowling clearly had huge, personal reasons for choosing a pen name. She says: ‘I had hoped to keep this secret a little longer because being Robert Galbraith has been such a liberating experience. It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback under a different name.’

Whilst this is a position most readers would envy, I’m sure most of us can also sympathise.

But what other reasons take writers down this route? We researched a selection of authors – famous, debut, unpublished – to find out what drove them under the cover of a pseudonym.

It’s something our very own JJ Marsh has chosen to do, and she’s in good company, from the Bronte sisters to Agatha Christie to Stephen King, for decades writers have chosen to work outside the constraints a famous name creates. But for those less famous, what is the pull of anonymity?


I chose a pseudonym for my erotica to differentiate it from my more serious work, and also, initially, to keep my real identity secret. The secret is now out but I will still continue to use Barbie Scott for my two collections of erotic short stories - The Stiletto Heel & Other Stories and Dinner with Daniela & Other Stories, and a novella which will be out soon.

All novels and erotica can be found at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Barbara-Scott-Emmett/e/B0034OP504


Both my grandfather and great-grandfather were called James Bain Elstob so I chose Jimmy Bain because I wanted to honour my Glasgow ancestors. Also, I thought it suited the genre and the style of my gritty humourous Glasgow crime novels better than my real name does. It's short, sharp and suggests there'll be no messing about.

The Bumble's End by Jimmy Bain - A tale of greed, death and toffees - is available now at https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B004RK0T9G and all good online booksellers. The Long Drop Goodbye, the next in the series, will be ready shortly.


I write children’s novels (the first will be published in the USA in March 2014) and didn’t want a situation where a child picked up one of my crime novels and said: “Oh, look, Mummy, a new book by Lorraine Mace. I like her books.” I had visions of the poor mother trying to explain the contents of a hard-boiled crime thriller to a traumatised child. It seemed safer to write crime as Frances di Plino (the feminine version of my Italian great-grandfather’s name) and keep my own name for the children’s novels.

As Frances di Plino, my latest novel, Someday Never Comes, will be released by Crooked Cat Publishing on the 16th August.

Blog: http://francesdiplinoreviews.blogspot.com


There are two reasons I use a pseudonym for writing. Firstly, because I have built a good reputation in my day job under my real name. I want to keep that identity distinct and separate. Secondly, my real name sounds like I write about rabbits – the fluffy, cuddly sort, not boiled by a deranged Glenn Close. JJ Marsh came about when I was writing a collaborative project with my sister, whose name also starts with J. I borrowed Marsh from my step-dad, with a nod to Ngaio.

You can find out more about my crime series here:


In 1850, Charlotte Bronte put a stop to the speculation about the sex of the Bells.

‘Averse to personal publicity, we veiled our names under those of Currer, Ellis & Acton Bell, the ambiguous choice being dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple of assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because – without at the time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not that is called ‘feminine’ – we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.’


Christie published six romance novels under the name of Westmacott. Rosalina Hicks, Christie’s only daughter believes the pseudonym gave her mother the pleasure and opportunity to fulfil her wish to write something different.

She said: ‘Although Mary Westmacott never enjoyed the same critical acclaim, the books received recognition in a minor way and my mother was pleased people enjoyed them.’ And Christie certainly enjoyed writing them. In her autobiography, she said of her novel, Absent in the Spring, published in 1944: ‘This was the one book that satisfied me completely. I didn’t want to change a word. It was written with integrity, with sincerity, it was written as I was meant to write it, and that is the proudest joy a writer can have.’


As the great man himself explains: ‘Because in the early days of my career there was a feeling in the publishing business that one book a year was all the public would accept, but I think a number of writers have disproved that by now.’


Born Salvatore Albert Lombino, he legally adopted the name Evan Hunter in 1952. A prolific literary writer, Evan was advised by his publisher that publishing too much fiction, or indeed any crime fiction, may weaken his literary reputation. As a consequence, he wrote under many different names: Curt Cannon, Hunt Collins and Richard Marston for much of his early crime fiction work before settling on Ed McBain in 1956 with the publication of Cop Hater, the first novel in his acclaimed 87th Precinct Series.


Some reasons are purely personal and some come down to cold, hard business, but for Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, it was a mixture of both.

He says: ‘The name Jonathan Freedland just doesn’t sound like a thriller writer’s name, whereas Sam Bourne does. Publishing experts said my surname has too many syllables. It’s too long. It’s better to be higher up the alphabet. All these commercial considerations. But for me, personally, it’s the idea of separation from the day job, just to keep the two distinct, in reader’s minds and my own.'

So, while there are varying reasons for the decisions to write under a pen name, many seem to have sexual connotations. Have times changed since the Bronte sisters decided to keep their gender ambiguous?

Back to JK Rowling.

Her publisher changed her name on the first Harry Potter book from Joanne to JK because they believed that girls do not care who had written a book, whereas boys would be unlikely to buy a book by a woman. Now, with her move into crime fiction, she has chosen Robert as a pen name, adding weight behind experts’ advice that as more women read crime, they prefer to read novels written by men.

Is this true?

I’m not sure Agatha Christie would agree!

1 comment:

  1. Recently I have heard Tom cruise is also his stage name. His real name is Thomas Cruise Mapother. I think most of people don’t even know his real name. I was very surprised to know this.