pen name

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a pseudonym used by an author; nom de plume.
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Origin of pen name

First recorded in 1840–50

Words nearby pen name

Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What is a pen name?

A pen name is a name, especially a completely fake one, under which an author publishes their work instead of using their real name.

The term nom de plume means the exact same thing. There are many reasons an author may choose to use a pen name instead of their own name, such as to avoid controversy or to create a persona. Many women authors throughout history have used a male or gender-neutral pen name to get their work published due to bias against women writers. A famous example is Mary Ann Evans, who used the pen name George Eliot.

A more general term for a pen name is pseudonym, which refers to any false name but is most commonly associated with writers.

Example: Many people know that Mark Twain was the pen name of Samuel Clemens, but they don’t realize he also published as Sieur Louis de Conte.

Where does pen name come from?

The first records of the term pen name come from the 1800s. It’s essentially a translation of nom de plume, which uses French words but was actually coined in English. The French word nom means “name” and plume refers to a quill—a feather used as a pen. Both pen name and nom de plume are still in use.

Actors and entertainers have stage names (Cary Grant’s real name was Archibald Leach; Lady Gaga’s real name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta), but writers have pen names. Some famous ones are George Orwell (real name Eric Arthur Blair), Lewis Carroll (real name Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), and Evelyn Waugh (real name Arthur St. John).

Authors use pen names for many reasons. Sometimes, a famous author uses a pen name to publish a work in a genre that’s different from the one they’re known for, like when Agatha Christie published non-mystery novels as Mary Westmacott. Or just to write more books, like Stephen King did with the pen name Richard Bachman.

Sometimes, the fake name is intended to create a persona, such as Diedrich Knickerbocker (real name Washington Irving), Dr. Suess (real name Theodor Geisel), or Lemony Snicket (real name Daniel Handler).

Mark Twain, the famous pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, is said to come from the phrase that riverboat captains would shout out when the boat was in two fathoms of water.

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How is pen name used in real life?

Pen name is almost exclusively applied to writers.



Try using pen name!

True or False?

Pen name means the same thing as nom de plume.

How to use pen name in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for pen name

pen name

an author's pseudonymAlso called: nom de plume
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012