9 Writers And Musicians Who Used (Sometimes Weird) Pen Names
JK Rowling blew the socks off everyone when it was revealed that she wrote a crime novel under the name Robert Galbraith.
There are many other authors and musicians out there who have also used pen names and pseudonyms. Some of them you probably know or have heard about, like the Brontës sisters writing under masculine names for fear that no one would read books by women. Sadly, that fear remains as Rowling not only wrote a book under the male name Robert, but also went as “JK” Rowling instead of her using her full name, Joanne, as her publishers believed a female name would hurt sales.
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Here are 9 more writers and musicians who used (sometimes weird) pen names. And by pen names, I don’t mean stage names, like how Richard Starkey became Ringo Starr, nor do I mean slight changes to legal names like Francis Scott Fitzgerald to F. Scott Fitzgerald. If Ringo Starr used a fake name on top of his fake name, that would count. You’ll see some of that on this list.
1. Rosamond Smith, Lauren Kelly AKA Joyce Carol Oates.
Joyce Carol Oates and Stephen King may be the two most prolific novelists in history (this is based on me really wanting to believe it). And don’t worry, we’re getting to Stephen King next. Under her “normal name” she’s written 8 novellas, 42 novels, 3 children’s books, 6 young adult fiction books, 10 poetry books, 9 collections of plays, 16 essays/memoirs, and 27 collections of short stories. As Rosamond Smith she’s written 8 novels and as Lauren Kelly she’s written 3.
It took me two hours just to write and put together this post.
2. Richard Bachman, John Swithen AKA Stephen King.
Stephen King is the best, the end. He writes more than just horror (The Shining, Pet Semetary, It). Check out 11/22/63, an incredible story of a man who travels back in time to try to stop JFK’s assassination. (Joyce Carol Oates also wrote a fictionalized account of a Kennedy. Black Water is a novella about Ted Kennedy’s deadly car accident at Chappaquiddick. Needless to say, it’s a real downer.) King writes novels the way most people tweet — 1 to 3 times a day.
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So really his pen names were more out of necessity, or rather that was the publisher’s thinking, because who would want to buy 5 books a year by the same author? I would. Because he’s STEPHEN KING! At some point King decided, yeah, screw them, and decided to kill off the pen name Richard Bachman. No, really, he told everyone that Richard Bachman died of cancer.
3. Dr. Theophrastus Seuss, Theo LeSieg, Rosetta Stone, Dr. Seuss AKA Theodore Geisel
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Dr. Seuss is a name I think we’re all familiar with. Known for writing some of the most popular children’s books of all time, Mr. Theodore Geisel actually never had any of his own. His line was, “You have ’em; I’ll entertain ’em.” Some other things that may surprise you about “Dr. Seuss”: he won 2 Oscars, had an affair and his first wife committed suicide.
4. Boz AKA Charles Dickens
This one is in here just for… giggles. (YEEEAAAAHHH!!!) But really, can you imagine seeing everywhere,
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. — Boz
Charles Dickens took Boz, a family nickname, and used it for his first collection of drawings, Sketches By Boz.
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Apparently Dickens came up with Boz as a nickname for his younger brother, Augustus. Dickens would call Augustus “Moses”. Moses became Boses which became Boz. And Moses became Boses because legend has it that someone had a cold and thus when said out loud, the “M” sounded like a “B.”
5. George Eliot AKA Mary Anne Evans
George Eliot was not a man. There, I said it. George Eliot was the pen name of one Mary Anne (sometimes seen as Mary Ann sometimes Marian) Evans. She was, however, in an open marriage with a man named George and she used the pen name George to be taken seriously as a writer. For in 1856, she wrote her manifesto, “Silly Novels by Lady Novelists”, for The Review. Yeah, she was waaaaay ahead of her time.
She dedicated her novel Mill On The Floss to “my beloved husband, George Henry Lewes” which may have confused a lot of people.
6. Bernard Webb, Clint Harrigan AKA Paul McCartney
Paul McCartney is known as one of the greatest songwriters of all time, unless Kanye West asks you who the greatest songwriter of all time is, in which you say, “You are, Kanye. It’s always been you” and he’ll give you a free burrito.
Paul McCartney’s written songs for groups you may not even realize. Some big ’60s hits were his, like Peter and Gordon’s “World Without Love” and “I Wanna Be Your Man”, which was originally recorded by The Rolling Stones.
McCartney used the name Bernard Webb to write another song for Peter and Gordon, but this time to see if the song would still be a hit without the Lennon/McCartney name. (Even though Lennon didn’t write these songs, he was still credited. You could say he was the Ben Affleck to McCartney’s Matt Damon.)
The song by “Bernard Webb” was “Woman” and it did okay. It charted #14 in the US. In the 1970’s when Paul McCartney was in Wings, he used the name Clint Harrigan in the liner notes for their song “Live and Let Die.” (This was way back when he was young and his heart was an open book.)
7. Ann Orson, Lord Choc Ice, William A. Bong, Reggae Dwight, Frank N. Stein AKA Elton John
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Elton John, born Reginald Kenneth Dwight, really loved to screw with people by using a bunch of fake names. The are more more than the ones I’ve listed and there’s probably even more out there we don’t even know of.
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Some of these make sense, as in “Reggae Dwight” is credited on the reggae inspired song “Jamaica Jerk-Off” from the “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album. But “Ann Orson” was given credit for writing “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”, Elton’s duet with Kiki Dee and I don’t see the connection there. I’m probably not looking hard enough. Nicolas Cage is much better at spotting these kinds of clues, but only when The Declaration of Independence is involved.
8. Christopher, Alexander Nevermind, Jamie Starr, Joey Coco AKA Prince
Like Elton John, Prince wasn’t born with the name the world knew him as. Prince was born Prince Rogers Nelson, then became Prince, then became a symbol no one could pronounce, then became a joke and then became Prince again.
He used the name Christopher to write what became The Bangles’ hit “Manic Monday.” He originally wanted to give it to Apollonia 6, the female pop group he created, but for whatever reason, he didn’t. Maybe he saw a bird that day and got distracted. I don’t know how Prince works. “Alexander Nevermind” wrote Sheena Easton’s hit, “Sugar Walls.”
Perhaps Prince did not want the attention on him, but on the band. Or maybe, like McCartney, he wanted to see if a song could sell without his name attached to it.
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9. Carolyn Keene AKA A lot of different writers who wrote the Nancy Drew books
Sorry if this one is going to break some hearts. Carolyn Keene, the author credited with the Nancy Drew series, is not a real person. Carolyn Keene is many people. Mildred Wirt/Mildred Wirt Benson was the first. Mystery writer Susan Wittig Albert is another one. But perhaps most interesting of all is Naval Seal Captain Walter Karig, who also wrote as Carolyn Keene.
He admitted that he wrote 3 Nancy Drew books and the publishers got angry, not wanting anyone to know that Carolyn Keene didn’t exist. Karig died in 1956. The list of ghostwriters for the series is long and because of legalities we may never really know the names of every single person who wrote a Nancy Drew book.