Monday, May 21, 2018

Mental Can Openers & Writer's Hash ~ Let's Give That Smelly Rose Another Name

Welcome back, Brad Leach...err, or maybe....

“A rose by any other name...” is a line oft quoted from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  While Juliet was a Capulet, a name deemed hateful by Romeo Montague’s family, Romeo found her enchanting.  Why, he reasons, should a name matter so much?  That’s a question many authors ask today.  

Pen names – the assumed appellation of our key-stroke commandos, present, and past.  Many famous authors have them.  Voltaire was actually Francois-Marie Arouet. George Eliot was actually Mary Ann Evans.  Lewis Carroll was known to his mother more properly as Charles Lutwidge Dodgson.

Authors sometimes have more than one.  Joanne Rowling not only used her initials J.K. when she wrote Harry Potter (fearing Joanne would discourage boys), she’s also published under Robert Galbraith, Newt Scamander & Kennilworthy Whisp.  Benjamin Franklin?  Think Richard Saunders of Poor Richard’s Almanac, Anthony Afterwit and Silence Dogood; Dogood even featured in the movie, National Treasure. Samuel Langhorn Clemmens, otherwise known as Mark Twain, used many monikers, including Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass.  Clemmens used so many names in fact, historians today aren’t sure we have identified all his works.

So why use a literary sobriquet?  After all, don’t we want everyone to associate our written works with who we are?  Isn’t it simpler to avoid false names?  Shouldn’t we stand behind what we write – even if it’s way behind? 

There are several reasons to use a pen name.  Security concerns, and marketing top the list.  When John le Carre wrote the Spy Who Came in Out of the Cold, he was actually working for MI-6.  It wouldn’t do to have his real name, David John Moore Cornwell, splashed about.  One writer, whom I know personally, had her house broken into on the assumption that all writers are fabulously rich.  It was too easy to track down an address with a real name. 

Others may need to avoid association with materials unacceptable to their culture, such as Salmon Rushdie.  Many Jewish European writers during the 1920's, 30's and 40's used pen names to protect themselves and family members. And for some, they simply might not wish to embarrass family, such as P.L. Travers, aka Helen Goff, who wrote Mary Poppins based on her own father’s harsh practices.

More often, the use of a nom de plume, as the French say, comes down to marketing.  Readers come to associate a name with a certain reading experience.  Lester del Rey, aka Leonard Knapp, is associated with Science Fiction.  He even started the Del Rey imprint, under Ballantine books.  Del Rey publishes Science Fiction.  So if Lester were to write a romance set in Amish Pennsylvania, readers who buy it, based on his name, would be greatly disappointed.  And romance readers who’ve been around a bit would hardly look up Lester for an Amish romantic love-tussle.  A possible answer, had Lester wished to write romance?  Become “Marietta Greenplows” and watch interest jump. 

Name association is not the only reason.  Association with divisive issues can also be helped with a pen name.  If you’re a spokesperson making statements regarding gay rights, abortion alternatives or some political candidate, why choose to alienate a large segment of the public?  It’s not a case of being ashamed of what you write or what stand you take on social issues, it’s simply economics - separate names lessens the loss of audience?

Of course, another reason is a name that just doesn’t work either on the shelf placement an author might receive or a name that doesn’t fit the genre.  Frederick Schiller Faust sounds like some gothic mystery writer or even a German philosopher.  But change that name to Max Brand, and western cowboys spring to life.  Anne Rice, whose real name is Howard Allen Frances O’Brien, might have felt such an Irish name wouldn’t help her Vampire mystic.  Pearl Grey sounds like a tea, but change it to Zane Grey and it smacks of sage and saddles.  Who wants advice from Pauline Phillips?  But change it to Abigail Van Buren – well, of course, a Boston sophisticate would know what is proper to do or say in any situation!

My reason for a pen name?  Romanticism.  To be someone a little larger than ordinary life.  It’s hard to imagine an audience getting excited over some fantasy written by a leech – horror maybe. But Roulf Burrell and his magic candles?  Ask yourself, who doesn’t want to see Lemony Snicket rather than Daniel Handler or Dr. Suess instead of Theodore Geisel?  Seigfried Q. Hornblatt crouching below a balcony does not inspire.  But change the name to Romeo Montague and now that rose sweetens.🌹

~Brad, now known as Roulf


  1. Roulf, this is a great post! Happy Pen Name Reveal Day!!
    Hugs, Leslie Ann w/a L.A. 😀

  2. Thanks LA. As always, great job with the graphics! You've had some great posts lately!

  3. Really informative, Roulf, thanks. Happy ever pen-name after. Cheers

  4. Roulf or Brad -- It doesn't matter what name you use. Your posts are always excellent. Thanks for sharing some fascinating facts about pseudonyms!

  5. Roulf/Brad: You are a writer and a teacher! Interesting and informative post! I didn't know there were so many famous pen name authors.

    1. Quite a few. The difficulty was selecting only those few to use for this article.

  6. Thought provoking! I hadn't thought about the security and marketing issues. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Lois for the feedback. For a single woman writing romances, security can especially be an issue to consider.

  7. Good thoughts, Brad. Actually, with the GDPR, I've given the whole security and marketing issues a great deal of thought. I'm seriously thinking that with a different series or stand alone novel, I will develop a pen name. Much more savvy anyway, I think! Hats off and best of everything, Roulf Burrell!!!