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What's in a name?

On the eve of the release of his thriller, The Righteous Men, Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland, AKA Sam Bourne, dishes on the origin of some writers’ pen names. Known for his political commentary in The Guardian and for his non-fiction books, Bring Home the Revolution: The Case for a British Republic and Jacob’s Gift: A Journey into the Heart of Belonging, Freedland submitted his manuscript anonymously, unwilling to give publishers a false impression of what the new book might be like. But when a publisher expressed interest and Freedland revealed to them his true identity, they urged him to take up a pen name to avoid confusing readers.

The historical use of pen names is rather well documented. In the 18th and 19th centuries, when novels lacked the prestige they now have, pen names were used by members of society who did not want to sully their good names. Mary Ann Evans called herself George Eliot both to divorce herself from traditional women’s writing and so that her novels could command the authority then only conferred on the works of men. Today, pen names are often used for marketing purposes: Freedland makes the points that many romance novels are actually written by men who assume women’s names to sell more books, and that some extremely prolific authors write several novels each year under various pseudonyms.

Related links:
Click here for the Guardian piece on pen names