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A pseudonym ( ) is a name that a person or group assumes for a particular purpose, which differs from his or her original or true name (orthonym).[1] Pseudonyms include stage names, screen names, pen names, nicknames, aliases, superhero identities and code names, gamer identifications, and regnal names of emperors, popes and other monarchs. Historically they have often taken the form of anagrams, Graecisms, and Latinisations, although there are many other methods of choosing a pseudonym.[2]

Pseudonyms are most usually adopted to hide an individual's real identity, as with writers' pen names, graffiti artists' tags, resistance fighters' or terrorists' noms de guerre, and computer hackers' handles. Actors, musicians, and other performers sometimes use stage names, for example, to mask their ethnic backgrounds. Employers sometimes require employees to use assigned names to help sell products: for example, a company that does business mostly in one country but locates a call center in another country may require its employees to assume names common in the former country to try to draw a more positive or less negative reaction from customers.

In some cases, pseudonyms are adopted because they are part of a cultural or organisational tradition: for example devotional names used by members of some religious institutes, and "cadre names" used by Communist party leaders such as Trotsky and Lenin.

A pseudonym may also be used for purely personal reasons when an individual feels the context and content of the exchange offer no reason, legal or otherwise, to provide their given or legal name.

A collective name or collective pseudonym is one shared by two or more persons, for example the co-authors of a work, such as Ellery Queen, or Nicolas Bourbaki.


  • Etymology 1
  • Concealment of identity 2
    • Literary pen names 2.1
    • Aliases, fictitious business names, and dummy corporations in criminal activity 2.2
    • Noms de guerre 2.3
    • Computer users 2.4
    • Business sales 2.5
    • Privacy 2.6
    • Establishment of identity 2.7
  • Stage names 3
    • Film, theatre, and related activities 3.1
    • Music 3.2
  • Cultural or organizational traditions 4
  • Other types 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • Sources 8
  • External links 9


The term is derived from the Greek ψευδώνυμον (pseudṓnymon), literally "false name", from ψεῦδος (pseûdos), "lie, falsehood"[3] and ὄνομα (ónoma), "name".[4] A pseudonym is distinct from an allonym, which is the (real) name of another person, assumed by the author of a work of art. This may occur when someone is ghostwriting a book or play, or in parody, or when using a "front" name, such as by screenwriters blacklisted in Hollywood in the 1950s and 1960s. See also pseudepigraph, for falsely attributed authorship.

Concealment of identity

Literary pen names

A young George Sand

A pen name (or "nom de plume") is a pseudonym (sometimes a particular form of the real name) adopted by an author (or on the author's behalf by their publishers). Many pen names are used to conceal the author's identity. One famous example of this is Samuel Clemens' writing under the pen name Mark Twain. A pen name may be used if a writer's real name is likely to be confused with the name of another writer or notable individual, or if their real name is deemed to be unsuitable. Authors who write both fiction and non-fiction, or in different genres, may use different pen names to avoid confusing their readers, as in the case of mathematician Charles Dodgson, who wrote fantasy novels under the pen name Lewis Carroll and mathematical treatises under his own name. Some authors, such as Harold Robbins, use several literary pseudonyms.[5]

The Brontë family used pen names for their early work, so as not to reveal their gender (see below) and so that local residents would not know that the books related to people of the neighbourhood. The Brontës used their neighbours as inspiration for characters in many of their books. Anne Brontë published The Tenant of Wildfell Hall under the name Acton Bell. Charlotte Brontë published Shirley and Jane Eyre under the name Currer Bell. Emily Brontë published Wuthering Heights as Ellis Bell.

Some female authors used male pen names, in particular in the 19th century, when writing was a male-dominated profession. In contrast, some twentieth and twenty first century male romance novelists have used female pen names.[6] A well-known example of the former is Mary Ann Evans, who wrote as Jane Austen used the pseudonym "A Lady" as the author of her first novel Sense and Sensibility. A few examples of male authors using female pseudonyms include Brindle Chase, Peter O'Donnell (wrote as Madeline Brent) and Christopher Wood (wrote as Penny Sutton and Rosie Dixon).[6]

Some pen names are not strictly pseudonyms, as they are simply variants of the authors' actual names. The authors C. L. Moore and S. E. Hinton were female authors who used the initialised forms of their full names in order to disguise their gender and attract various types of readers, without creating expectations about the content of their work due to some readers' gender-related stereotypes. C. L. Moore was Catherine Lucille Moore, who wrote in the 1930s male-dominated science fiction genre, and S. E. Hinton, (author of The Outsiders) is Susan Eloise Hinton. Star Trek writer D. C. Fontana (Dorothy Catherine) wrote using her abbreviated own name and also under the pen names Michael Richards and J. Michael Bingham. Author V.C. Andrews intended to publish under her given name of Virginia Andrews, but was told that, due to a production error, her first novel was being released under the name of "V.C. Andrews"; later she learned that the publisher had done this deliberately to increase her books' appeal for male readers. Joanne Kathleen Rowling[7] published the Harry Potter series under the shortened name J. K. Rowling. Rowling also published a detective novel The Cuckoo's Calling under the pseudonym "Robert Galbraith".

Winston Churchill wrote under the pen name Winston S. Churchill (from his full surname "Spencer-Churchill" which he did not otherwise use) in an attempt to avoid confusion with the American novelist of the same name. In this case the attempt was not entirely successful – and the two are still sometimes confused by booksellers.

A pen name may be used specifically to hide the identity of the author, as in the case of exposé books about espionage or crime, or explicit erotic fiction. Some prolific authors adopt a pseudonym to disguise the extent of their published output, e.g. Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman. Co-authors may choose to publish under a collective pseudonym, e.g., P. J. Tracy and Perri O'Shaughnessy. Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee used the name Ellery Queen as both a pen name for their collaborative works and as the name of their main character.

A famous case in French literature was Romain Gary. Already a well-known and highly acclaimed writer, he started publishing books under the pen name Émile Ajar. He wanted to test whether his new books would be well received on their own merits and without the aid of his established reputation, and they were. Similarly, Ronnie Barker submitted comedy material under the name of Gerald Wiley.

A collective pseudonym may represent an entire publishing house, or any contributor to a long-running series, especially with juvenile literature. Examples include Watty Piper, Victor Appleton, Erin Hunter, and Kamiru M. Xhan.

Another use of a pseudonym in literature is to present a story as being written by the fictional characters in the story. The series of novels known as A Series Of Unfortunate Events are written by Daniel Handler under the pen name of Lemony Snicket, a character in the series.

Aliases, fictitious business names, and dummy corporations in criminal activity

Criminals may use aliases, fictitious business names, and dummy corporations (corporate shells) to hide their identity, or to impersonate other persons or entities in order to commit fraud. Aliases and fictitious business names used for dummy corporations may become so complex that, in the words of the Washington Post, "getting to the truth requires a walk down a bizarre labyrinth" and multiple government agencies may become involved to uncover the truth.[8] While governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin used a private Yahoo! e-mail account to skirt government transparency laws.[9][10] While director of the EPA, Lisa Jackson set up a false identity named Richard Windsor in order to use an official email account that was not linked to her office. "Richard Windsor" was awarded certificates for completing training in ethical behaviour and e-mail management.[11][12]

Noms de guerre

In Ancien Régime France, a nom de guerre (a French phrase meaning "war name") would be adopted by each new recruit (or assigned to him by the captain of his company) as he enlisted in the French army. These pseudonyms had an official character and were the predecessor of identification numbers: soldiers were identified by their first names, their family names, and their noms de guerre (e.g. Jean Amarault dit Lafidélité). These pseudonyms were usually related to the soldier's place of origin (e.g. Jean Deslandes dit Champigny, for a soldier coming from a town named Champigny), or to a particular physical or personal trait (e.g. Antoine Bonnet dit Prettaboire, for a soldier prêt à boire, ready to drink). In 1716 a nom de guerre was mandatory for every soldier; officers did not adopt noms de guerre as they considered them derogatory. In daily life, these aliases could replace the real family name.[13]

Noms de guerre were adopted by members of the EOKA militant, adopted the nom de guerre Digenis (Διγενής). In the French Foreign Legion, recruits can adopt a pseudonym to break with their past lives. Mercenaries have long used "noms de guerre", even sometimes multiple identities depending on country, conflict and circumstance.

Computer users

Individuals using a computer online may adopt or be required to use a form of pseudonym known as a "handle" (a term deriving from CB slang), "user name", "login name", "avatar", or, sometimes, "screen name" or "nickname". On the Internet, pseudonymous remailers utilise cryptography that achieves persistent pseudonymity, so that two-way communication can be achieved, and reputations can be established, without linking physical identities to their respective pseudonyms. Aliasing is the use of multiple names for the same data location.

More sophisticated cryptographic systems, such as anonymous digital credentials, enable users to communicate pseudonymously (i.e., by identifying themselves by means of pseudonyms). In well-defined abuse cases, a designated authority may be able to revoke the pseudonyms and reveal the individuals' real identity.

Business sales

People of ethnic minorities in some areas of the world are sometimes told by an employer to use a pseudonym that is common or acceptable in that part of the world when conducting business, as some people might prefer a person of similar ethnic origin or similar background to people of foreign background or foreign ethnicity.[14]


People seeking privacy often use pseudonyms to make appointments and reservations.[15] Those writing to advice columns in newspapers and magazines may use pseudonyms.[16]

Establishment of identity

The practice of assigning patrilineal and matrilineal names to offspring for the purpose of tracing ancestry or determining inheritance and other relationships may be giving way to a 21st-century preference for self-assigned or quality-assigned names as replacements for birth given names. A common practice of many indigenous peoples was to assign a clan or shamanic name to members in puberty and post-puberty rituals. It is becoming more common for modern authors and others to elect to take names better suited to their own tastes, characters, or other aspects of personal description or preference. "In most legal systems, a name assumed for a non-fraudulent purpose is a legal name and usable as the person's true name...". This is distinct from, though not exclusive of, employing a pseudonym for the purpose of concealment.

Stage names

When used by an actor, musician, radio disc jockey, model or other performer or "show business" personality a pseudonym is called a stage name, or, occasionally, a professional name, or screen name.

Film, theatre, and related activities

Members of a marginalized ethnic or religious group have often adopted stage names, typically changing their surname or entire name to mask their original background. The film-making team of Joel and Ethan Coen, for instance, share credit for editing under the alias Roderick Jaynes.[17]

Stage names are also used to create a more marketable name, as in the case of Creighton Tull Chaney, who adopted the pseudonym Lon Chaney, Jr., a reference to his famous father Lon Chaney, Sr. Conversely, Nicolas Cage adopted this stage name instead of his real name, Nicolas Kim Coppola, in order to conceal the appearance of nepotism as the nephew of famous director Francis Ford Coppola. Chris Curtis of Deep Purple fame was christened as Christopher Crummey. In this and similar cases a stage name is adopted simply to avoid an unfortunate pun.

Pseudonyms are also used to comply with the rules of performing arts guilds (Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Writers Guild of America, East (WGA), AFTRA, etc.), which do not allow performers to use an existing name, in order to avoid confusion. For example, these rules required film and television actor Michael Fox to add a middle initial and become Michael J. Fox, to avoid being confused with another actor named Michael Fox. This was also true of author and actress Fannie Flagg, who chose this pseudonym; her real name, Patricia Neal, being the name of another well-known actress; and British actor Stewart Granger, whose real name was James Stewart. Even Dick Van Dyke was called Navckid Keyd at the end of the credits in the 1964 film Mary Poppins.

Some stage names are used to conceal a person's identity, such as the pseudonym David Agnew, and Walter Plinge are used to hide the identity of a performer, usually when he or she is "doubling" (playing more than one role in the same play).


Musicians and singers can use pseudonyms to allow artists to collaborate with artists on other labels while avoiding the need to gain permission from their own labels, such as the artist Cream's song "Badge" using a pseudonym. In classical music, some record companies issued recordings under a nom de disque in the 1950s and 1960s to avoid paying royalties. A number of popular budget LPs of piano music were released under the pseudonym Paul Procopolis. Pseudonyms are also used as stage names in heavy metal bands, such as Tracii Guns in LA Guns, Axl Rose and Slash in Guns N' Roses, Mick Mars in Mötley Crüe or C.C. Deville in Poison. Some of these names have additional meanings, like that of Brian Hugh Warner, more commonly known as Marilyn Manson: Marilyn coming from Marilyn Monroe and Manson from convicted serial killer Charles Manson. Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach went under the name "Coby Dick" during the Infest era. He changed back to his birth name when lovehatetragedy was released.

Elton John (whose given name was Reginald Kenneth Dwight, until it was legally changed in 1972) is known for his use of aliases under various writing and production credits throughout his career. Amongst the many are: Ann Orson; Lord Choc Ice; William A. Bong (a pun on "bill-a-bong", an Australian term for "pond"); Reggae Dwight, and Frank N. Stein.

For a time, the musician Prince used an unpronounceable "Love Symbol" as a pseudonym ("Prince" is his actual first name rather than a stage name). He wrote the song "Sugar Walls" for Sheena Easton under the alias "Alexander Nevermind" and "Manic Monday" for The Bangles as "Christopher Tracy" (he also produced albums early in his career as "Jamie Starr").

In 2009, British rock band Feeder briefly changed their name to Renegades so they could play a whole show featuring a setlist in which 95 percent of the songs played were from their forthcoming new album of the same name, with none of their singles included. Frontman Grant Nicholas felt that if they played as Feeder, there would be an uproar that they did not play any of the singles, so used the pseudonym as a hint. A series of small shows were played in 2010, at 250- to 1,000-capacity venues with the plan not to say who the band really are and just announce the shows as if they are a new band, Grant later hinted it was really Feeder to the fans on their website, which caused a series of rumours that suggested the band changed their name permanently, although "Some people got it straight away", but as intended got people talking.

In many cases, hip-hop artist prefer to use pseudonyms that represents some variation of their name, personality, or interests. Prime examples include Ol' Dirty Bastard (who was known under at least six aliases), Diddy (previously known at various times as Puffy, P. Diddy, and Puff Daddy), Ludacris, Flo Rida (his name is a tribute to his home state, Florida), LL Cool J, and Chingy. Black metal artists also adopt pseudonyms, usually symbolizing dark values, such as Nocturno Culto, Gaahl, Abbath, and Silenoz. In punk and hardcore punk, singers and band members often replace their real names with "tougher"-sounding stage names, such as Sid Vicious (real name John Simon Ritchie) of the late 1970s band Sex Pistols and "Rat" of the early 1980s band The Varukers and the 2000s re-formation of Discharge. Sid Vicious did not take his name to seem tough but rather because he was anything but Vicious (several sources have indicated that Sid himself hated this nickname). Punk rock band The Ramones also had every member take the last name of Ramone. Rob Crow of the rock band Goblin Cock chose to go by the name "Lord Phallus" during the release of the band's albums. A similar practice occurred in hardcore with musicians taking the names of their bands, like Kevin Seconds of 7 Seconds and Ray Cappo of Youth of Today who, for a while, billed himself as Ray of Today. The Norwegian electronic duo Röyksopp's pseudonym for their Back to Mine album was Emmanuel Splice.

Cultural or organizational traditions


In many cultures, people go by several different nicknames over the course of their lives, to reflect important parts of their lives. In some cases, a rite of passage or puberty marks the transition from a "milk name" to an adult name. Enrollment in school is another occasion where a child's formal or legal name would begin to be used.


In many monarchies, the sovereign is allowed to choose a regnal name. This official name may differ from their first name and may not even be one of their given names.

A sovereign may choose not to use their first name for many reasons. Some, such as Queen Victoria (born Alexandrina Victoria of Kent), may never have been known by their original first name.

In Japan, the Emperor's personal name is never used as a regnal name: he is referred to by the name of his regnal era, and after his death his name is officially changed to that of the era. It is a severe breach of etiquette in Japan to refer to the current Emperor's personal name either in speech or in writing unless absolutely required by law. This does not apply to those outside Japan, which explains why Japanese and non-Japanese use different names for the Emperor. For instance, Emperor Hirohito was known within Japan as Emperor Shōwa.


In the tradition of various Roman Catholic religious institutes, members abandon their birth name to assume a new, often unrelated, devotional name, often referring to an admired saint. For women, for example in the Society of the Helpers of the Holy Souls, this reflects the mystical marriage as bride of Christ. Newly elected popes assume a papal name. Most popes choose a name commemorating an admired saint (Benedict XVI, for example) or a predecessor or predecessors (John Paul I), or even a family member (John XXIII).

In Eastern Orthodoxy, a monk or a nun is given a saint's name by their bishop or abbot at the time of their tonsure as the new monk's or nun's first act of monastic obedience. In addition, Orthodox monks and nuns never use their last names, except for legal reasons or for disambiguation. This may also have changed to indicate their brotherhood e.g. a monk at Kykkos Monastery in Cyprus may be known as Κυκκότης.

In Buddhism, a Dharma name is given during the traditional refuge ceremony.

In Islam, new converts often accept Islamic names. Examples include Muhammad Ali, formerly Cassius Clay; Ivan Aguéli, who became Abd al-Hadi Aqhili; Cat Stevens, who became Yusuf Islam; and Yousuf Youhana, who became Mohammad Yousef. Malcolm X (born Malcolm Little) adopted the Arabic name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz when he converted to Islam in 1964.

In Sikhism, adherents adopt the last name Singh for males or Kaur for females.

It is a long standing tradition in the Western Occult tradition to assume a pseudonym or motto. For instance Alphonse Louis Constant wrote under the name Eliphas Levi, William Wynn Westcott wrote under Frater Sapere Aude, and Aleister Crowley wrote under the name Frater Perdurabo.

Some practitioners of Wicca adopt a "craft name" or "witch name" upon initiation for use within their community. This may be to create a name of their own choosing as opposed to their given name, or to provide anonymity to those who are in the "broom closet." Often a craft name will reflect their personality, interests or feelings.[18]

Sexual minorities

Members of sexual minority groups have often assumed different names to protect their identity, or to represent a different persona. "Scene names" are still common within the BDSM community, and the use of the Internet for social networking and information exchange among kinky and polyamorous people means that many are often known more by their computer "handles" than their legal names.

Cadre names

Within Lenin (Vladimir Il'ich Ulyanov); Stalin (Yosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili); Trotsky (Lev Davidovich Bronshtein); Max (Yakov Sverdlov); Nahuel Moreno (Hugo Miguel Bressano) and Hua Guofeng (Su Zhu).

Political articles

From the late-18th to early-19th centuries, it was established practice for political articles to be signed with pseudonyms. A well-known American was the pen name "Publius", used by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, in writing The Federalist Papers. In his youth, Benjamin Franklin wrote a number of letters to his brother's newspaper posing as a widow under the pen name Silence Dogood. The British political writer "Junius" was never identified but is probably Sir Philip Francis.

Other types

Pseudonyms are also adopted for other reasons. Criminals often took on (or were given) pseudonyms, such as famed con man Jefferson R. Smith, who was known as Soapy Smith.

Comedians and others performing hoaxes often adopt aliases for their performance role. A notable instance is provided by the comedian and hoaxer Rodney Marks,[19] who in public performances as a corporate comedian has used over one hundred different aliases indicative of the hoax features.[20]

Mervyn's founder Mervin G. Morris was advised by an architect to spell the name of his store chain with a Y instead of an I because the signs would be more pleasing to the eye.

It is not uncommon for a pseudonym to be adopted by a racing car driver. Reasons for this may include keeping their parents or family unaware of their participation in such activities, so members of royalty (who may be otherwise prohibited from such a dangerous activity as racing) can participate, or as a way to remain in relative anonymity. Three-time F1 champion Jackie Stewart's son Paul used a pseudonym when he joined a British racing school for just this reason. Of the many instances of racing drivers assuming false names, two more are Louis Krages, who raced under the name "John Winter" to keep his mother from finding out about his "habit", and former F1 driver Jean Alesi. Alesi, born in France but of Italian descent, went by his real given name of Giovanni until teasing from classmates led him to adopting a more French first name.

Famous pseudonyms of people who were neither authors nor actors include the architect Le Corbusier (né Charles Édouard Jeanneret), and the statistician Student (né William Sealey Gosset), discoverer of Student's t-distribution in statistics (Gosset's employer prohibited publication by employees to prevent trade secrets being revealed).

When used by a radio operator, a pseudonym is called a "handle", especially in Citizens' Band radio; on the Appalachian Trail it is common to adopt or, more usually, be given by others a "trail name".

Pseudonyms should not be confused with new names that replace old ones. Some Jewish politicians adopted Hebrew family names upon making aliyah to Israel, dropping Westernized surnames that may have been in the family for generations. David Ben-Gurion, for example, was born David Grün in Poland. He adopted his Hebrew name in 1910, when he published his first article in a Zionist journal in Jerusalem. In the 1960s, black civil rights campaigner Malcolm X (né Malcolm Little) took the "X" to represent his unknown African ancestral name that was lost when his ancestors were brought to North America as slaves, and then changed his name again to Malik El-Shabazz when he converted to Islam.

See also


  1. ^ Room (2010, 3).
  2. ^ Peschke (2006, vii).
  3. ^ ψεῦδος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus project
  4. ^ ὄνομα, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus project
  5. ^ Rubin, Harold Francis (1916-), Author Pseudonyms: R. Accessed 27 November 2009.
  6. ^ a b Naughton, Julie (1 June 2012). "Yes, Virgil, There Are Men Writing Romance: Focus on Romance 2012". Publishers Weekly. Retrieved 6 May 2014. 
  7. ^ "Witness statement of Joanne Kathleen Rowling". The  
  8. ^ The Ruse That Roared, The Washington Post, November 5, 1995, Richard Leiby, James Lileks
  9. ^ Gewargis, Natalie (16 September 2008). "How Transparent Will Palin Be?". ABC News. Retrieved 7 April 2014. The governor and her top officials sometimes use personal e-mail accounts for state business; dozens of e-mail messages obtained by The New York Times show that her staff members studied whether that could allow them to circumvent subpoenas seeking public records. 
  10. ^ Demer, Lisa (14 September 2008). "Governor's two e-mail accounts questioned". Anchorage Daily News. Retrieved 7 April 2014. Palin routinely uses a private Yahoo e-mail account to conduct state business. Others in the governor's office sometimes use personal e-mail accounts too. 
  11. ^ Hicks, Josh (June 7, 2013). "EPA awarded ethics certificate to Lisa Jackson alias ‘Richard Windsor’". Washington Post. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Home | Historica - Dominion". Historica. Retrieved 2012-10-14. 
  14. ^ Robertson, Nan, The Girls in the Balcony: Women, Men, and The New York Times (N.Y.: Random House, [2nd printing?] 1992 (ISBN 0-394-58452-X)), p. 221. In 1968, one such employer was The New York Times, the affected workers were classified-advertising takers, and the renaming was away from Jewish, Irish, and Italian names to ones "with a WASP flavor".
  15. ^ Ryan, Harriet; Yoshino, Kimi (2009-07-17). "Investigators target Michael Jackson's pseudonyms". Retrieved 2012-10-14. 
  16. ^ 'Toronto Daily Mail, "Women's Kingdom", "A Delicate Question", April 7, 1883, page 5"'". Retrieved 2012-10-14. 
  17. ^ "Roderick Jaynes, Imaginary Oscar Nominee for ‘No Country’ - Vulture". Retrieved 2012-10-14. 
  18. ^  
  19. ^ Hoaxes and Jokeses. "". Retrieved 2012-10-14. 
  20. ^ List of aliases used by Marks


  • Peschke, Michael. 2006. International Encyclopedia of Pseudonyms. Detroit: Gale. ISBN 978-3-598-24960-0.
  • Room, Adrian. 2010. Dictionary of Pseudonyms: 13,000 Assumed Names and Their Origins. 5th rev. ed. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co. ISBN 978-0-7864-4373-4.

External links

  • An extensive list of pseudonyms
  • A site with pseudonyms for celebrities and entertainers
  • Another list of pseudonyms
  • The U.S. copyright status of pseudonyms
  • Using a Pseudonym as a Fiction Author
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