The Strange Stories Behind Famous Writers' Pen Names

By Kim Parker

How authors came up with pseudonyms like Dr. Seuss, O. Henry, and more

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Pen names speckle literary history and our modern bookshelves. If you own anything by George Orwell, Anthony Burgess, or George Eliot, you own a piece of the epic chronicle of pseudonyms. 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 guiding force when picking your pen name. We've collected ten strange stories behind famous writers' nom de plumes for your consideration.

This post also appears on Flavorpill, an Atlantic partner site.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2012/04/the-strange-stories-behind-famous-writers-pen-names/255619/