Writing Strategy: Pen Names and Pseudonyms

Today's guest post is by freelance writer Elaine Hirsch.

Using pseudonyms for the purpose of identity concealment while writing provocative and engaging literature is a time-honored practice. The Founding Fathers wrote the seminal Federalist Papers under the collective pseudonym Publius. There were even opposing views to the Federalist Papers written under different pseudonyms such as Cato and Brutus.

Pseudonyms have been a mainstay of literature, sometimes as collective pen names (Ellery Queen), or as aliases. Stephen King used the name Richard Bachman ostensibly to test whether his success as an author had anything to do with his own persona. While it may not do to write one's master's degree dissertation under a pen name, outspoken academics have long disguised their writings when necessary, and still do so today.

Online privacy and the possibility of anonymity are two transcending issues of internet communications. Pseudonyms abound in the blogosphere, and they are utilized for different reasons.

For example, Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, whose real name is Richard Starkey, adopted the name because of the abundance of rings he wore. Despite having little to do with his actual name, Ringo Starr stuck and Starkey has since been known as Ringo Starr for his contributions as a drummer for the Beatles.

Keeping one's employment is also a logical reason for using an online nom de plume. Notorious blogger Belle de Jour turned out to be Dr. Brooke Magnanti, a research scientist who blogged about her life as a London call girl while finishing her forensic science doctoral studies at the University of Sheffield.

Others may want to start out with pseudonyms until they find their voice, or until they feel comfortable their writings aren't going to get them fired immediately. Such is the advice of Dr. Allen Roberts, an American emergency room physician for whom blogging became an emotional outlet.

Keeping oneself out of jail is another sound reason for writing pseudonymously. Fake blogger JT LeRoy may have been a literary hoax perpetrated by author Laura Albert, but the character's online musings could have attracted the attention of law enforcement.

Pseudonymous writing does not translate well to all situations or topics. Whistleblower blogs may necessitate pseudonymous authorship, but academia generally shuns pseudonyms use since it doesn't conform to the responsibility and credit principles of attribution. In any case, writers, readers, and critics should keep in mind that whatever a pen name's ups and downs, there are certainly situations where pseudonymity is justified and even necessary.

Elaine Hirsch is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and videogames. This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites and writing about all these things instead.

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Mari Stroud said...

Great post! I write erotica under a pen name because it might put my day job at risk if these activities were known. I'm certainly not ashamed of what I do or think that it makes me a worse person, but my employers might not see it the same way.

Robb714 said...

I write under my real name most of the time, I don't know why. I suppose in a world of anonymous post and handles, a dose of reality is occasionally refreshing.

Karen Cioffi said...

Mari, I would think a number of erotica writers do the same thing for the same reasons. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Karen Cioffi said...

Robb714, I write under my own name also. Although, I'm anonymous when ghostwriting. :) Thanks for stopping by and commenting.