Frank Fiore – Novelist & Screenwriter

May 16, 2013

The Strange Stories Behind Famous Writers’ Pen Names

Filed under: Uncategorized — Frank Fiore @ 10:11 AM

Ever wonder how famous authors chose their pen names? Authors like Dr. Seuss, O. Henry, and others?

So did I. And so did Kim Parker writing in the Atlantic.

Authors change their names for many reasons, but historically, one of the strongest reasons to use a pen name was to hide your gender. Back in the day, women writers were forced to use male pseudonyms. Despite much more equality between the sexes in present day, the tradition remains in the use of initials instead of first names, which immediately alert the male reader to “cooties”—something boys avoid at all costs.

But gender isn’t the only reason to pick a pen name. Here are some famous authors who did – and why.

After he threw a raging party, breaking Dartmouth and federal law during Prohibition, Dr. Seuss, born Theodor Geisel, was fired from his job as editor-in-chief of the college’s Jack-O-Lantern magazine. However, Theodor, that rapscallion, kept writing for the humor mag by signing his work under his middle name—Seuss. Years later, when his first book was published, Seuss added the “Dr.” as a joke at the expense of his father, who always wanted him to pursue a medical career.

Stephen King, the epitome of prolific (sorry, James Franco), created the nom de plume “Richard Bachmann” to publish more frequently than a single name would allow. After the connection was made public, in 1985, way before being self-aware was hip, King declared Bachmann dead of “cancer of the pseudonym, a rare form of schizonomia.”

Jonathan Swift used the pseudonym “Isaac Bickerstaff, Esq.” to essentially punk John Partridge, who was a then-famous astrologist and almanac-maker. Swift loved April Fool’s Day, so “Bickerstaff” published “Predictions for the Year 1708,” prophesying the astrologist’s death by “raging fever.” Two months later, Swift used a different pen name to proclaim that Partridge did, in fact, die—an event so many people believed that it pestered Partridge until his actual death. His mourning followers cried outside his window at night, disrupting his sleep. After an undertaker arrived, an elegy was published, and a gravestone was inscribed, Partridge finally published a statement declaring himself alive.

When Charles Dickens started writing, he used the pen name of Boz, one word, which simultaneously reminds us of the Muppets and Madonna. He once explained, writing that ‘Boz’ was “the nickname of a pet child, a younger brother, whom I had dubbed Moses, in honour of Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield, which, being pronounced Bozes, got shortened into Boz.” Fair enough. His early writing was so popular that Sketches by Boz was actually published in 1836.

William Sydney Porter may have immortalized an Ohio State Penitentiary guard with his famous nom de plume, O. Henry. While in jail for embezzlement, Porter published his first story under that pseudonym, though why he’d want to celebrate his guard, we don’t know. The guard’s name was reportedly Orrin Henry.

As far as myself, I had a reader tell me that he liked the idea of using F.F. Fiore as my nom de plume. And I will for MURRAN because it’s my first foray into serious mainstream fiction.

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