Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Lewis Carroll (pseudonym)
Lewis Carroll, the pseudonym of the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898). (Culture Club/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


A pseudonym (also called a pen name) is a fictitious name assumed by an individual to conceal his or her identity. Adjective: pseudonymous.

Writers who use pseudonyms do so for a variety of reasons. For instance, J.K. Rowling, renowned author of the Harry Potter novels, published her first crime novel (The Cuckoo's Calling, 2013) under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. "It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation," Rowling said when her identify was revealed.

American author Joyce Carol Oates (who has also published novels under the pseudonyms Rosamond Smith and Lauren Kelly) notes that there's "something wonderfully liberating, even childlike, about a 'pen-name': a fictitious name given to the instrument with which you write, and not attached to you" (The Faith of a Writer, 2003).

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

From the Greek, "false" + "name"

Examples and Observations

  • "Imprisoned for political offenses under Louis XV, Francois Marie Arouet changed his name to Voltaire in order to make a fresh start as a writer. The Rev. C. L. Dodgson used the pseudonym Lewis Carroll because he thought it beneath the dignity of a clergyman and a mathematician to write a book like Alice in Wonderland. Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot) and Lucile-Aurore Dupin (George Sand) used men's names because they felt women authors were discriminated against in the 19th century."
    ("Fool-the-Squares." Time, December 15, 1967)
  • Gender and Pseudonyms
    "Publishing under male and a-gendered pseudonyms was one way in which women writers made their work public, defied social convention, yet also became 'honorary men' in their own day. The Brontë sisters, George Eliot and even Louisa May Alcott published under pseudonyms. . . . [S]ubmitting work for publication under male or ambiguously gendered pseudonyms afforded the anonymity necessary to have work judged by its literary merit, rather than on grounds of gender difference."
    (Lizbeth Goodman, with Kasia Boddy and Elaine Showalter, "Prose Fiction, Form and Gender." Literature and Gender, ed. by Lizbeth Goodman. Routledge, 1996)
  • Alan Smithee
    "'Alan Smithee' is probably the most famous pseudonym, invented by the Directors Guild for directors who are so unsatisfied with a studio or producer's meddling with their film that they don't think it reflects their creative vision anymore. The first movie to use it was Death of a Gunfighter in 1969, and it has since been used dozens of times."
    (Gabriel Snyder, "What's in a Name?" Slate, January 2, 2007)
  • Pseudonyms of Stephen King and Ian Rankin
    "The hyper-fecund Stephen King wrote as Richard Bachman . . . (until he killed Bachman off, citing "cancer of the pseudo-nym" as the cause of death). Ian Rankin found himself in a similar spot in the early 1990s, when he was bursting with ideas, but with a publisher wary of putting out more than one book a year. Along came Jack Harvey--named for Jack, Rankin's first son, and Harvey, his wife's maiden name."
    (Jonathan Freedland, "What's in a Pseudonym?" The Guardian, March 29, 2006)
  • Pseudonyms and Personae
    "A writer may sometimes assume a persona, not simply a different name, and publish a work under the guise of that persona. Washington Irving thus took on the character of a Dutch author named Diedrich Knickerbocker for his famous History of New York, while Jonathan Swift published Gulliver's Travels as if he actually was Lemuel Gulliver, and described himself in the novel's full title as 'first a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships.' The original edition even had a portrait of the fictional author, aged 58."
    (Adrian Room, Dictionary of Pseudonyms: 13,000 Assumed Names and Their Origins. McFarland, 2010)
  • bell hooks, Pseudonym of American Author Gloria Jean Watkins
    "One of the many reasons I chose to write using the pseudonym bell hooks, a family name (mother to Sarah Oldham, great-grandmother to me), was to construct a writer-identity that would challenge and subdue all impulses leading me away from speech into silence. I was a young girl buying bubble gum at the corner store when I first really heard the full name bell hooks. I had just 'talked back' to a grown person. Even now I can recall the surprised look, the mocking tones that informed me I must be kin to bell hooks--a sharp-tongued woman, a woman who spoke her mind, a woman who was not afraid to talk back. I claimed this legacy of defiance, of will, of courage, affirming my link to female ancestors who were bold and daring in their speech. Unlike my bold and daring mother and grandmother, who were not supportive of talking back, even though they were assertive and powerful in their speech, bell hooks as I discovered, claimed, and invented her was my ally, my support."
    (bell hooks, Talking Back: Thinking Feminist, Thinking Black. South End Press, 1989)

Pronunciation: SOOD-eh-nim

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "pseudonym." ThoughtCo, Aug. 25, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 25). pseudonym. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "pseudonym." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 24, 2023).