Famous Authors Who Used Pen Names

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.

  • Samuel Langhorne Clemens
    Photo: A.F. Bradley, New York / Wikimedia Commons / Public domain

    Pen names: Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson Snodgrass, Josh

    Clemens assumed a number of pen names before settling on Twain, after years of working on Mississippi riverboats where the term "mark twain" was shouted out as a way to mark the depth of the river, as measured on a rope. In Life on the Mississippi, Twain explains, "I was a fresh new journalist, and needed a nom de guerre; so I confiscated the ancient mariner's discarded one, and have done my best to make it remain what it was in his hands."
    • Birthplace: USA, Missouri, Florida
    • Works: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, The Prince and the Pauper, The Mysterious Stranger
  • Benjamin Franklin
    Photo: David Martin / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Pen names: Mrs. Silence Dogood

    When Benjamin Franklin was a teenager living in Boston, his older brother James founded the The New-England Courant as the colonies' first independent newspaper. Franklin had been dying to write letters for publication in the paper, and when those letters were rejected, he adopted the persona of a middle-aged widow and his letters were gladly accepted and printed, and are said to have been widely read. The ruse ended when Franklin's brother discovered Dogood's true identity, and young Franklin was forced to leave town for Philadelphia.
    • Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts, USA
    • Works: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanack, Compleated Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin, Bite-size Ben Franklin, The Papers of Benjamin Franklin
  • Pen name: Robert Galbraith

    J.K. Rowling, author of the famous Harry Potter series, assumed her pseudonym in order to “publish without hype or expectation.” She called it a “liberating experience” and “a pure pleasure to get feedback from publishers and readers under a different name.” In 2013, Rowling published The Cuckoo’s Calling under her pseudonym.
    • Birthplace: Yate, United Kingdom
    • Works: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry Potter: Symphonic Suite, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Stephen King
    Photo: Pinguino Kolb / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    Pen nameRichard Bachman

    Even Stephen King has written under a nom de plume. The king of horror published seven novels under his pen name, the first one published in 1977. He says, “I did that because back in the early days of my career there was a feeling in the publishing business that one book a year was all the public would accept.” King explains that he came up with his pseudonym on the fly while on the phone with his publisher. He had a Richard Stark book on his desk, and a Bachman Turner Overdrive song was playing. He combined the two names and Richard Bachman was born. The move allowed King to publish several novels a year. In 1985, a bookstore clerk named Steve Brown noticed the similarities between the two author’s styles and, after some snooping, determined that they were the same person. Stephen King soon confirmed this, and announced that Bachman had died of “Cancer of the Pseudonym.”
    • Birthplace: Portland, Maine, USA
    • Works: Pet Sematary, Creepshow, Salem's Lot, Silver Bullet, Christine
  • Anne Rice
    Photo: Anne Rice / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Pen names: Anne Rampling, A. N. Roquelaure

    Anne Rice, perhaps best known for her series The Vampire Chronicles, is yet another popular writer who’s released work under pen names. Her 1985 Exit to Eden and 1986 Belinda were published under the Rampling pen name. Both are erotic novels, the former exploring the subject of BDSM. In the 80s, Rice also published the Sleeping Beauty Trilogy under the Roquelaure byline. The series included The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty, Beauty’s Punishment, and Beauty’s Release. These were also erotic BDSM novels that explicitly outlined pornographic tales and fantasies — which could explain why Rice opted for the pseudonym. In an interview with the Telegraph, Rice dismissed those books as “an obsession of youth – or something.” But as the Guardian points out, those novels continue to earn her around $50,000 in royalties each year.
    • Birthplace: New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
    • Works: Interview with the Vampire: The Vampire Chronicles, The Queen of the Damned, Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, The Vampire Armand
  • Pen name: J.D. Robb

    Best-selling author Nora Roberts already had years of success under her belt before she began churning out books under a pen name. As explained on the author’s website, using the pseudonym offered a new writing challenge, and an opportunity to delve into a genre outside Roberts’ wheelhouse. While she’d previously focused on romance novels, after taking up the pseudonym, Roberts began publishing futuristic science fiction books, all part of the In Death series, beginning in 1995. After the twelfth book of the series hit shelves in 2001, Roberts finally revealed that it had been her all along. The series is still going strong — and the books continue to publish under the name J.D Robb, despite the fact that everyone now knows J.D. Robb is really Nora Roberts.
    • Birthplace: Silver Spring, Maryland
    • Works: Irish Thoroughbred, Sweet revenge, Spellbound, Sacred Sins, Take This Man