8 Famous Authors Who Used Secret Pseudonyms

J.K. Rowling, who you might also know as Robert Galbraith. (Photo: Daniel Ogren/ flickr).

Many authors have chosen to publish by a pen name. Lewis Carroll was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, Mark Twain grew up as Samuel Langhorne Clemens, and Theodor Seuss Geisel was the name on the birth certificate of Dr. Seuss. But where pen names get interesting is when an established author decides to slip past the spotlight and write something secretly under a pseudonym. Consider the following examples:

1. Agatha Christie: Mary Westmacott

The English crime writer wrote an impressive 66 detective novels and more than 15 short story collections under her own name, but she also wrote six romance novels under the name Mary Westmacott.

2. Benjamin Franklin: Mrs. Silence Dogood

What a wicked sense of humor this founding father had. In 1722, a series of “charming” letters were delivered to the New-England Courant (one of the first American newspapers) written by a middle-aged widow named Silence Dogood — who was actually young Benjamin Franklin. After being denied publication in the paper, the sly writer took on the alias, and was quickly published. Of hoop skirts, the cheeky Mrs. Dogood wrote:

These monstrous topsy-turvy Mortar-Pieces, are neither fit for the Church, the Hall, or the Kitchen; and if a Number of them were well mounted on Noddles-Island, they would look more like Engines of War for bombarding the Town, than Ornaments of the Fair Sex. An honest Neighbour of mine, happening to be in Town some time since on a publick Day, inform’d me, that he saw four Gentlewomen with their Hoops half mounted in a Balcony, as they withdrew to the Wall, to the great Terror of the Militia, who (he thinks) might attribute their irregular Volleys to the formidable Appearance of the Ladies Petticoats.

3. C.S. Lewis: Clive Hamilton and N.W. Clerk

Clive Staples Lewis, the hugely influential Christian writer who contributed "The Chronicles of Narnia," "Out of the Silent Planet," "The Four Loves," "The Screwtape Letters" and "Mere Christianity" to the world also wrote by another pen name. Under the name of Clive Hamilton, he published "Spirits in Bondage" and "Dymer." And then in 1961, he published "A Grief Observed" which addressed his bereavement over losing his wife. The book was first published under the pseudonym in hopes of avoiding identification of Lewis as the author.

4. Isaac Asimov: Paul French

Author and professor Isaac Asimov, best known for his works of science fiction and his popular science books, was asked to write a juvenile science-fiction novel that would serve as the basis for a television series. Fearing that the “Lucky Starr” series would be adapted into the "uniformly awful" programming typical of television, he decided to publish it under the pseudonym Paul French. Plans for the TV series fell through, but he continued to write the books, eventually producing six novels in the series.

5. J.K. Rowling: Robert Galbraith

Having already shortened her name to a gender-ambiguous set of initials, Joanne Rowling recently set the book-reading world reeling when it was divulged that the world’s best selling author was the voice behind Robert Galbraith, supposed first-time author of “The Cuckoo’s Calling.” Said the author upon her outing: “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.”

6. Michael Crichton: John Lange, Jeffery Hudson and Michael Douglas

During his time at Harvard Medical School, the bestselling author began publishing under his own name, but then also started publishing under the names of John Lange, Jeffery Hudson and Michael Douglas — the latter being a combination of his name and his brother’s, with whom he co-wrote "Dealing."

7. Stephen King: Richard Bachman

Early in horror fiction author Stephen King's career, publishers often limited writers to one book per year, leading King to create a pseudonym to increase publications without over-saturating the King brand. He convinced his publisher to print the extra novels under the pseudonym, Richard Bachman. Books published under the pen name include: "Rage" (1977), "The Long Walk" (1979), "Roadwork" (1981), "The Running Man" (1982), "Thinner" (1984), "The Regulators" (1996), and "Blaze" (2007).

8. Washington Irving: Jonathan Oldstyle, Diedrich Knickerbocker and Geoffrey Crayon

Famed American author of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle," Washington Irving made his debut in 1802 under the name Jonathan Oldstyle. In 1809, he finished his first long book “A History of New-York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty," a political and historic satire published under another pseudonym: Diedrich Knickerbocker.

Before its publication, Irving started a marketing hoax by issuing a series of missing person notices in New York newspapers seeking information about Knickerbocker, a Dutch historian who had gone missing from his hotel in New York City. As part of the scheme, Irving also placed a notice allegedly from the hotel’s proprietor, saying that if Mr. Knickerbocker didn’t return to settle his hotel bill, the hotel owner would publish the manuscript Knickerbocker had left behind. Naturally, it was published and eagerly scooped up. Guerilla marketing has never been the same.

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Breyer, Melissa. "8 Famous Authors Who Used Secret Pseudonyms." ThoughtCo, Aug. 31, 2021, thoughtco.com/famous-authors-who-used-secret-pseudonyms-4864216. Breyer, Melissa. (2021, August 31). 8 Famous Authors Who Used Secret Pseudonyms. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/famous-authors-who-used-secret-pseudonyms-4864216 Breyer, Melissa. "8 Famous Authors Who Used Secret Pseudonyms." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/famous-authors-who-used-secret-pseudonyms-4864216 (accessed March 25, 2023).