An author’s reasons behind the decision to use a fake name can and do come with as much variation as the authors themselves. They might want the freedom to experiment with new styles, keep their family from finding out what they’re working on, or simply not like their given name. Not matter the reason, it’s always a surprise to find out which of your favorite writers used a pen name. Here are three you didn’t know about.
Using a fake name seems to be an author’s way of experimenting with different forms of writing without affecting their main body of work. C.S. Lewis seemed to have followed that reasoning early in his career. Two of his first publications were poetic works and were published under the name Clive Hamilton. The first was Spirits in Bondage, a collection of verse released in 1919. The second was Dymer, a long narrative poem released in 1926. Neither did particularly well, so he returned to his strengths in prose fiction and scholarly writing, a decision that paved the way for the wild success of his later career with Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and Out of the Silent Planet, to name a few.
What’s interesting to note about Lewis’s pen name is that he chose to use his real first name for his Hamilton poems, then shorten it to an initial for his real career. We don’t know what that means, we just think it’s interesting to point out.
Charles Dickens’ work is surprisingly readable. Pick up a copy of Hard Times, Oliver Twist, or A Christmas Carol and you’ll see what we mean. Most of the jokes still land and the language is relatively plain, making his work some of the few high school English classics that weren’t complete slogs. But before he published his most famous books, he was an aspiring writer searching for a way to distinguish himself from the crowd. The method he landed on was using the striking pen name, Boz, for his first published work, an essay called A Dinner at Poplar Walk. He came up with the name after messing around with his favorite character, Moses, from Oliver Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield. For reasons known only to himself, he turned Moses in Boses, Boses in Boz, then started publishing work under that weird name.
Michael Crichton’s written so many books we have a hard time believing he found the time to produce work under any other name. Evidently he found that time at the beginning of his career, since he used his primary pen name, John Lange, mostly when he was trying to pay his way through medical school. While Crichton’s later books were science and action heavy thrillers, his Lange books were some of the pulpiest fiction ever published. They have the mandatory naked, or nearly naked, women on the front and are generally concerned with heists, sex, or sexy heists. They paid the bills though, and it’s quite possible we wouldn’t have Jurassic Park or The Andromeda Strain without those earlier works. The Lange books were first published between 1966 and 1972 and have enjoyed a few reissues, mostly as curiosities in light of Crichton’s later success.