A pseudonym (literally, "false name") is a name that a person (or, sometimes, a group) assumes for a particular purpose and that differs from his or her original orthonym (or 'true name').[1] They include stage names, noms de plume, aliases, gamer identification, anagrams, Graecisms, Latinisations, mystifications, nicknames, and names or orders or popes.[2]

Pseudonyms are often used 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.

Reasons for pseudonymsEdit

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 in an effort to draw a more positive or less negative reaction from current and/or prospective customers.

In some cases, pseudonyms are adopted because they are part of a cultural or organizational tradition. This has been the case of devotional names used by members of some religious orders, and "cadre names" used by Communist party leaders such as Trotsky and Stalin.

A collective name or collective pseudonym is one shared by two or more persons. This is sometimes used by the co-authors of a work, such as Ellery Queen, or Bourbaki, or the early 20th century poet Michael Field .


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 name of another actual person, which is assumed by someone in authorship 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 identityEdit

Literary pen namesEdit

File:Die junge George Sand.jpg

A pen name (or "nom de plume") is a pseudonym adopted by authors or their publishers, often to conceal their 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 in fiction and non-fiction, or in different genres, may use 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. Some authors, such as Harold Robbins, use several noms de plume.[5]

The Brontë family used pseudonyms for their early work, so residents in local communities did not know their works related to the neighborhood people. The Brontës used their neighbours as inspiration for characters in many of their books. Anne Brontë published her poem "The Narrow Way" under the pseudonym Acton Bell. Charlotte Brontë published Shirley and Jane Eyre under the pseudonym Currer Bell. Emily Brontë published Wuthering Heights under Ellis Bell.

Some female authors used male pen names, particularly in the 19th century, when writing was a male-dominated profession. The reverse example is that of male romance novelists using female pen names. A well-known example of the former is Mary Ann Evans, who wrote as George Eliot. One of Evans' most acclaimed novels is Adam Bede, which was published in 1859. Another example is Amandine Aurore Lucile Dupin, a 19th-century French writer who used the pen name George Sand. Jane Austen used the pseudonym "A Lady" as the author of her first novel Sense and Sensibility. Elisabeth Evermarie Sarai went by Elisheva (Hebrew for Elizabeth) Evermaire for her novel Sarai.

The authors C. L. Moore and S. E. Hinton were female authors who used abbreviated 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. However, these names are not pseudonyms, as they are simply the initialized versions of the authors' actual names. 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 with the pseudonyms Michael Richards and J. Michael Bingham. A more recent example would be J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series.

A pseudonym may also be used 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.

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.

A prolific Writer and Author, Mahesh Vallabh Pandey writes books and articles with the psuedonym as MVP. His writings can be experienced at his blog

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

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 newspaper, "getting to the truth requires a walk down a bizarre labyrinth", and multiple government agencies may become involved to uncover the truth.[6]

Noms de guerreEdit

Noms de guerre (French phrase meaning "names of war" or "war names") were frequently adopted by recruits in the French Foreign Legion as part of the break with their past lives. They were also adopted by members of the French resistance during World War II for security reasons. Such pseudonyms are often adopted by military special forces soldiers, such as members of the SAS and other similar units, resistance fighters, terrorists, and guerrillas. This practice hides their identities and protects their families from reprisal; it may also be a form of dissociation from domestic life. Some well-known men who adopted noms de guerre include Andy McNab, SAS soldier; Carlos the Jackal, for Ilich Ramírez Sánchez; Willy Brandt, Chancellor of West Germany; and Subcomandante Marcos, the spokesman of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN).(Citation needed) During Lehi's underground struggle against the British in Mandatory Palestine, the organization's commander Yitzchak Shamir (later Prime Minister of Israel) adopted the nom de guerre "Michael", in honor of Ireland's Michael Collins. Revolutionaries and resistance leaders, such as Lenin, Stalin, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan(Citation needed), Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque, and Josip Broz, often adopted their noms de guerre as their proper names after the struggle. George Grivas, the Greek-Cypriot EOKA militant, adopted the nom de guerre Digenis (Διγενής).

Computer usersEdit

Individuals using a computer online may adopt or be required to use a form of pseudonym known as a "handle", "user name", "login name", "avatar", or, sometimes, "screen name" or "nickname" (or "nick"). 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.(Citation needed) 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 Edit

People of ethnic minorities in some areas of the world are sometimes told by an employer to use a pseudonym that is common and/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.[7]


People seeking privacy often use pseudonyms to make appointments and reservations.[8] Those writing to agony columns in newspapers and magazines may use pseudonyms.[9]

Establishment of identityEdit

The patrilineal and matrilineal practices of assigning 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...".(Citation needed) This is quite distinct from, though not exclusive of, employing a pseudonym for the purpose of concealment.

Stage namesEdit

Main article: Stage name

Film, theatre, and related activitiesEdit

When used by an actor, radio disc jockey, performer, or model, a pseudonym is a stage name, professional name, or screen name. Actors who are 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. For example, Chris Curtis of Deep Purple fame was christened as Christopher Crummey. Screen 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. Filmmakers the Coen brothers share credits for editing under the alias Roderick Jaynes.[10]

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.

Some stage names are used to conceal a person's identity, such as the pseudonym Alan Smithee, which is used by directors in the Directors Guild of America (DGA) to remove their name from a film they feel was edited or modified beyond their artistic satisfaction. Actors and actresses in pornographic films use noms de porn to conceal their identity as well as to make it more outrageous and memorable (e.g., Dick Nasty). In theatre, the pseudonyms George or Georgina Spelvin, 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 Jerry Samuels, who made songs under Napoleon XIV. Rock singer-guitarist George Harrison, for example, played guitar on Cream's song "Badge" using a pseudonym. Another member from The Beatles was Ringo Starr, the drummer, whose real name is Richard Starkey. In classical music, some record companies issued recordings under a nom de disque[11] 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 Motley Crue 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) was notorious for his use of aliases under various writing and production credits throughout his career. Amongst the many were: 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 real first name and not a stage name). He also wrote the song Sugar Walls for Sheena Easton under the alias "Alexander Nevermind".

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 250-1,000 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 most cases, a hip-hop artist prefers to use a pseudonym 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 (formerly known as 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) 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, however, did not truly 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. 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 traditionsEdit


Template:Unreferenced section 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.


Template:Unreferenced section In many monarchies, the sovereign is allowed to choose a regnal name by which he or she will be known. This official name may differ from his or her first name and may not even be one of his or her given names at birth.

A sovereign may choose not to use his or her first name for many reasons. Some, such as George VI of the United Kingdom (born Albert Frederick Arthur George), may wish to make a connection between their reign and that of a previous sovereign (in his case, his father, George V). Others, 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, however, which explains why Japanese and non-Japanese use different names for the Emperor. For instance, Emperor Hirohito was known within Japan as Emperor Showa.


In the tradition of various Roman Catholic religious orders and congregations, members abandon their birthname 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.

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 and/or feelings.[12]

Cadre namesEdit

Within Communist parties and Trotskyist organisations, noms de guerre are usually known as "party names" or "cadre names". While the practice originated during the revolutionary years after World War I, to conceal the identity of leaders, by the 1950s and 1960s, the practice was more of a tradition than an identity-concealment strategy. Some famous Communist Party names include Lenin (Vladimir Il'ich Ulyanov); Stalin (Yosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili); Pol Pot (Saloth Sar); and Hua Guofeng (Su Zhu).

Political articlesEdit

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. The British political writer "Junius" was never identified.

Other typesEdit

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.

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 (the latter'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 which 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 alsoEdit


  • Peschke, Michael. 2006. International Encyclopedia of Pseudonyms. Detroit: Gale. ISBN 978-3598249600.
  • Room, Adrian. 2010. Dictionary of Pseudonyms: 13,000 Assumed Names and Their Origins. 5th rev. ed. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Co. ISBN 978-0786443734.

Notes Edit

  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. THE RUSE THAT ROARED, Washington Post, November 5, 1995, Richard Leiby, James Lileks
  7. 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".
  8. Investigators target Michael Jackson's pseudonyms
  9. Toronto Daily Mail, "Women's Kingdom", "A Delicate Question", April 7 1883, page 5
  11. For example, British Homophone Co., Ltd. frequently used noms de disque. See Colin MacKenzie, Mantovani: A Lifetime in Music (Melrose Press, 2005):44.
  12. Buckland, Raymond (1986). Buckland's Complete Book of Witchcraft. Llewellen. p. 54. ISBN 0875420508. 

External linksEdit


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