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Famous Authors Who Used Pen Names

Updated September 16, 2020 49.1k 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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  • Samuel Langhorne Clemens is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Famous Authors Who Used Pen Names
    Photo: A.F. Bradley / 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: Florida, Missouri, United States of America
    • 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

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  • Benjamin Franklin is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Famous Authors Who Used Pen Names
    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, United States of America
    • 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 is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Famous Authors Who Used Pen Names
    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, United States of America
    • Works: Pet Sematary, Creepshow, Salem's Lot, Silver Bullet, Christine

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