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Famous Authors Who Used Pen Names

Updated September 16, 2020 51.6k views50 items

Think you really know your favorite author? It may be surprising to you to learn that a number of famous authors are actually using a pen name, pseudonym, or nom de plume. In fact, the use of a pen name in place of an author's real name has been quite popular throughout history of writing for a variety of reasons, from avoiding a political danger due to a controversial literary work, avoiding a previous failed attempt at literary success, or utilizing a false name in order to completely distance and author from his or her public identity to write a different genre.

Who are some famous authors who used pen names? You might be surprised. Some of the authors featured here are regarded as the most beloved in the industry and many are even Nobel Peace Prize or Pulitzer Prize winners.

You’ll find authors such as Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, J.K. Rowling, Nora Roberts, Anne Rice, Stephen King, Louisa May Alcott, the Bronte Sisters, and many other authors who used pen names that might surprise you.

Think you know your favorite writers? Read on to find out which authors have used pen names.
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  • Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë

    Photo: Branwell Brontë / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Pen names: Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell

    While many contemporary writers have taken up pen names for various creative reasons, the Brontë sisters did so out of necessity. In 19th century England, women were not permitted to publish, and so the sisters adopted male pseudonyms, each maintaining their real initials. In May, 1846, they published their first anthology of poetry using these names. Though this initial work wasn’t very successful, some of the sisters’ most famous and best-selling works were also published under these pen names, like Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Emily’s Wuthering Heights, both in published in 1847. The following year, Charlotte and Anne travelled to London to meet face-to-face with their publisher, ultimately revealing that they were women.
    • Photo: David Shankbone / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0

      Pen name: Anonymous

      Joe Klein doesn’t just write political commentary for TIME. In 1996, he also penned a novel called Primary Colors under his pen name. The book is a roman à clef about Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign in 1992. Klein publicly denied several times that he was the author, but eventually came forward at a news conference. The New York Times reported that Klein protected his identity in the same way a journalist protects his or her sources. “It wasn’t easy. But I felt that there are times when I’ve had to lie to protect a source, and I put this in that category,” he said at the conference.
      • Pen name: Barbara Vine

        The prolific English mystery writer Ruth Rendell took up her pen name in 1986. Under that name, she released 14 novels. As the author once explained to the National Post, the two distinct bylines offered the opportunity to hone two distinct voices. The author also said she used Vine to explore specific topics, like the evolution of morality.
        • Jayne Anne Krentz

          Pen names: Amanda Quick, Jayne Castle

          Romance novelist Jayne Anne Krentz has churned out books under her own name as well as two separate pen names since 1979. These names establish three separate literary worlds: Krentz for romantic suspense, Quick for historical fiction, and Castle for futuristic science fiction. But this wasn’t Krentz’s original plan. “Trust me, I did not set out to establish three pen names … The idea back at the start was that I would stick with the name that proved most successful,” she told USA Today. Eventually, these identities just kind of evolved until they stuck, giving the author room to develop distinct types of writing.