Many great writers have used pen names, C.S. Lewis (and yours truly) included. Lewis, in fact, employed two.
There are a variety of reasons for writing under a pen name. While it may occasionally be done in order to deceive, most occurrences are utterly benign. For example, particularly in totalitarian states, the truth is dangerous to one’s health. In less authoritarian nations, reticence to use one’s own name might be motivated by fear of damage to one’s livelihood.
It’s also possible the writer simply has a personal desire to remain anonymous. This is the case with one of Lewis’ most important works. After the death of his wife, Joy Davidman, he composed one of his most moving works, A Grief Observed. For this candid reflection on grieving, Lewis attempted to maintain his privacy by ascribing the work to N.W. Clerk.
My motivation for adopting a new pen name is different from all of these. More about that in a moment.
Here is a small sampling of writers you may know, who used pseudonyms for some of their work:
President John Adams, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Anne Brontë, Emily Brontë, Pearl S. Buck, Anton Chekhov, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Michael Crichton, Agatha Christie, Cecil Day-Lewis, D.B. Wyndham Lewis, Theodor Seuss Geisel, Henrik Ibsen, Washington Irving, Søren Kierkegaard, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Joanne Rowling, Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy, just to name a few.
My personal opinion is that the best nom de plumes are not random or simply fanciful. Creating a pen name with an actual connection of some sort to the writer seems—to me—far more skillful. Case in point, Lewis’ use of the pseudonym “N.W. Clerk.” He created this name by combining the Anglo-Saxon “Nat Whilk” (meaning I know not whom) with “Clerk” meaning writer or scholar.
C.S. Lewis’ second pen name was also chosen for its specific meaning. Since boyhood, he had gone by the first name of Jack. With the pseudonym he used his actual name, Clive. For the surname, Lewis used his mother’s maiden name, Hamilton. Thus, Clive Hamilton.
His first two books were attributed in this manner. The first was Spirits in Bondage (1919), a collection of poetry. His second was begun while he was still a teenager. Dymer was a narrative poem with mythic elements. The first title is in the public domain, and available for download at Internet Archive. Both of the volumes were written, of course, while Lewis was an atheist.
My New Nom de Plume
In my own case, I recently devised a pen name for some satirical writing I am exploring. My purpose is not to mislead or confuse. In fact, it is expressly out of a desire to prevent confusion that I’ve assumed a pseudonym for my satire.
Even though I include humor in my writing, most of my work is essentially serious. This makes sense, for subjects such as faith, suffering, life, death, history, and eternity. I do not dissemble. As the Bible counsels, my yes means yes, and my no means no.*
Still, the very nature of satire means you are using language contrary to its face value. You are communicating tongue in cheek. You are frequently turning the language around upon itself so it communicates something quite different from what it literally says. Satire finds its fuel in irony, humor, hyperbole and even ridicule.
Skillful satire isn’t intentionally confusing. On the contrary, its message is almost always clear. Satire may sting the objects of its ridicule, and bring smiles to those who share your scorn for the institutions, policies, and individuals being taunted.
So, where, you may wonder, will this satirical writing be found . . . and under what pen name will you find it? I will be submitting some short pieces to The Salty Cee, a less commercialized alternative to The Babylon Bee. My pseudonym is Robert Charlesson, for reasons you can read about here.
Please check out my first news report: “Liturgical Medical Face Masks Now on Sale.”
* The actual passage I’m referencing, records Jesus criticizing making oaths to assure a person’s veracity. “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matthew 5:33-37). I think it is consistent to extend this principle to always speaking honestly, regardless of whether we are making affirmative or negative observations.
16 thoughts on “Pen Names & Pseudonyms”
As you say, pen names are carefully chosen – and the reasons are often stories in themselves.
Such a chuckle over the masks! Well done
Glad you enjoyed it.
That’s a great way of saying it… the choice of pseudonyms often is a story in itself!
My congrats to the newly published reporter on his scoop! Why let a crisis go to waste, liturgically speaking, of course!
As you suggest, if there’s an opportunity to make a buck from a crisis, someone’s sure to come up with a hook.
In truth, it’s encouraging to see how generous so many people have been in sharing from their largess during this pandemic. Does a little to restore some of my hope in humanity.
I totally understand. I did have a pen name Gavin P. Theodicy for my first set of stories, but the Lord had me use my name G.P. Avants. There are five other Gary Avants out there and two are not nice men. So, It is to not confuse us. Keep writing brother,
On Tue, Apr 28, 2020 at 1:22 PM Mere Inkling Press wrote:
> robstroud posted: ” Many great writers have used pen names, C.S. Lewis > (and yours truly) included. Lewis, in fact, employed two. There are a > variety of reasons for writing under a pen name. While it may occasionally > be done in order to deceive, most occurrences are u” >
I know what it’s like sharing a name with someone disreputable. Young people never saw the movie–it was, in fact, the last major film released in B&W–but Burt Lancaster starred in 1962’s “Birdman of Alcatraz.”
Growing up, almost everyone had some familiarity with Robert Stroud.
As an historical note… Stroud was not nearly the sympathetic character portrayed by the Academy Award winner.
It’s too bad about the carcinogens in the red. I suppose all that is worth it for commercial opportunity.
“If there’s a dollar to be made from Western imperialists, using dangerous substances is often necessary… and always profitable.” (From Xi Jinping’s recent address to the PRC production oligarchy.)
I thought of doing a post like this. Thanks!
What’s that they say about “great minds…,” my friend?
Glad you enjoyed it, and I look forward to reading your approach in the future.
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