How 8 Famous Writers Chose Their Pen Names

Charley Gallay / Getty Images for Disney
Charley Gallay / Getty Images for Disney

Scottish author Iain Banks died earlier this week after battling gall bladder cancer. With him died his nom de plume Iain M. Banks, under which he wrote science fiction. I admit I’m not familiar with the work Banks wrote under either name, and when I heard the news, I initially thought it weird that two writers with such similar names died on the same day. I wasn’t alone, and my Twitter feed was soon littered with realizations from others that they were the same guy. 

Some pen names are fairly well-known for what they are. Most people know that Mark Twain was the alias of Samuel Langhorne Clemens. The outing of Richard Bachman as a pen name used by Stephen King was well-publicized and inspired King’s novel, The Dark Half. Some pen names you don’t see coming, though, and assume the name on the book cover is the real deal. Here, eight that threw me for a loop when I first heard about them. 

1. Lewis Carroll

While Lewis Carroll might sound delightfully British to American ears, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson is even more so. Dodgson adopted his pen name in 1856 because, according to the Lewis Carroll Society of North America, he was modest and wanted to maintain the privacy of his personal life. When letters addressed to Carroll arrived at Dodgson’s offices at Oxford, he would refuse them to maintain deniability. Dodgson came up with the alias by Latinizing Charles Lutwidge into Carolus Ludovicus, loosely Anglicizing that into Carroll Lewis and then changing their order. It was chosen by his publisher from a list of several possible pen names. 

2. Joseph Conrad

Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski is a bit of a mouthful, and when the Polish novelist began publishing his writing in the late 1800s he used an Anglicized version of his name: Joseph Conrad. He caught some flack for this from Polish intellectuals who thought he was disrespecting his homeland and heritage (it didn’t help that he became a British citizen and published in English), but Korzeniowski explained, “It is widely known that I am a Pole and that Józef Konrad are my two Christian names, the latter being used be me as a surname so that foreign mouths should not distort my real surname… It does not seem to me that I have been unfaithful to my country by having proved to the English that a gentleman from the Ukraine [Korzeniowski was an ethnic Pole born in formerly Polish territory that was controlled by Ukraine, and later the Russian Empire] can be as good a sailor as they, and has something to tell them in their own language.”

3. Pablo Neruda

Ricardo Eliecer Neftalí Reyes Basoalto (another mouthful) had an interest in literature from a young age, but his father disapproved. When Basoalto began publishing his own poetry, he needed a byline that wouldn’t tip off his father, and chose Pablo Neruda in homage to the Czech poet Jan Neruda. Basoalto later adopted his pen name as his legal name. 

4. Stan Lee

Stanley Martin Lieber got his start writing comic books, but hoped to one day graduate to more serious literary work and wanted to save his real name for that. He wrote the kids’ stuff under the pen name Stan Lee and eventually took it as his legal name after achieving worldwide recognition as a comic book writer. 

5. Ann Landers

Ann Landers was the pseudonym for several women who wrote the column over the years. The name was created by the column’s original author, Ruth Crowley, who adopted it because she was already writing a newspaper column about child care and didn’t want readers confusing the two. She borrowed the name from a friend of her family, Bill Landers, and made an effort to keep her real identity a secret. 

6. Voltaire

When François-Marie Arouet was imprisoned in the Bastille in the early 1700s, he wrote a play. To signify his breaking away from his past, especially his family, he signed the work with the alias Voltaire. The name, the Voltaire Foundation explains, was derived from “Arouet, the younger.” He took his family name and the initial letters of le jeune—“Arouet l(e) j(eune)”—and anagrammed them. If you’re left scratching your head, the foundation helpfully points out that and j, and u and v, were typographically interchangeable in Voltaire’s day.x

7. George Orwell

When Eric Arthur Blair was getting ready to publish his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London, he decided to use a pen name so his family wouldn’t be embarrassed by his time in poverty. He chose the name George Orwell to reflect his love of English tradition and landscape. George is the patron saint of England and the River Orwell, a popular sailing spot, was a place he loved to visit. 

8. J.K. Rowling

Joanne Rowling’s publishers weren’t sure that the intended readers of the Harry Potter books—pre-adolescent boys—would would read stories about wizards written by a woman, so they asked her to use her initials on the book instead of her full name. Rowling didn’t have a middle name, though, and had to borrow one from her grandmother Kathleen to get her pen name J.K. Rowling.

What’s Better Than a Dog in a Sweater? A Sweater That Shows an Image of Your Dog in a Sweater

Sweater Hound
Sweater Hound

If you think the sight of someone walking their sweater-clad dog is just about the cutest thing in the world, you’re absolutely correct. But what if that person was wearing a sweater that showed an image of their dog wearing a sweater? If you think that sounds even cuter, you’re in for a treat.

According to People, New York-based apparel company Sweater Hound will knit you a sweater that displays an image of your dog in a sweater—all you have to do is submit your favorite photo of your dog. And, because not all dogs love wearing sweaters in real life, your dog doesn’t have to be wearing a sweater in the photo you upload.

Each sweater is made from a combination of acrylic and recycled cotton, and will prove to your pet that you truly do love them more than anyone else (unless you already own sweaters emblazoned with the faces of your friends and family).

The sweaters, which cost $98 each, come in both child and adult sizes, and you can choose between cream, navy, black, and gray. The options don’t stop there—Sweater Hound offers sweaters that show your dog wearing just a bow tie, a bow tie and a sweater, a Santa hat and scarf, reindeer ears and a sweater, or even a “Super Dog” cape and domino mask outfit.

sweater hound dog wearing a bow tie on a sweater
Sweater Hound

If sweaters aren’t really your style, there are also hoodies and sweatpants decorated with a smaller, logo-sized image of your dog. Or, you could snuggle with your prized pooch underneath a warm blanket bearing a rather giant image of said pooch.

blanket with an image of a dog wearing a bow tie and sweater
Sweater Hound

While the company does specialize in creating dog-related products, they’ll do their best to accommodate people who love salamanders in Santa hats, birds in bow ties, and other pets wearing clothes. You can email them at Hello@Sweaterhound.com to discuss your options.

If you’re hoping to get someone a gift from Sweater Hound this holiday season, you should act fast: You have to place your order by December 4 in order to guarantee delivery before Christmas, and that date will likely change as the days go by.

Adorable, customizable clothing is just one of the many perks of being a dog owner—here are 10 more scientifically proven benefits.

[h/t People]

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10 Splendid Gifts for Royal Family Fanatics

Funko/Amazon
Funko/Amazon

Between the never-ending publicity surrounding Meghan Markle and the long-awaited third season of The Crown on Netflix, Americans seem to be tuning into the intimate goings-on of England’s most famous family now more than ever. From corgi-covered socks to a Kate Middleton fashion coloring book, here are 10 brilliant products to help you showcase your passion for all things royal.

1. Royal Windsor Monopoly; $56

windsor castle monopoly
Winning Moves Games/Amazon

Forget Baltic Avenue and Marvin Gardens—take your tiny top hat on a tour of the Windsor grounds, from St. George’s Chapel to Eton College. This edition of Elizabeth Magie’s classic board game still has many opportunities for taxes, bankruptcy, and jail, but with an undeniable air of sophistication.

Buy It: Amazon

2. Corgi Socks; $7

corgi socks
Hot Sox

Celebrate Queen Elizabeth II’s long-standing love for corgis by sporting some of the smiling puppers on your very own two feet.

Buy It: Amazon

3. Princess Diana Funko POP! Doll; $9

princess diana funko pop doll
Funko/Amazon

While you’re waiting to see Emma Corrin portray Princess Diana in season four of The Crown, treat your toy shelf to a Funko Diana doll, clad in her iconic black gown. There are more royal Funkos, too, like Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Harry, and Kate Middleton.

Buy It: Amazon

4. Twinings Earl Grey Tea; $9

twinings earl grey tea
Twinings/Amazon

Twinings has been the official tea supplier of the Royal Household since the 19th century, and according to former royal chef Darren McGrady, the Queen likes Earl Grey the best. If you really want to mirror the monarch’s preferences, add a splash of milk—but skip the sugar.

Buy It: Amazon

5. Royally British Mug; $16

royally british mug
Victoria Eggs/Amazon

What better way to sip the Queen’s favorite tea than from a teacup bearing symbols of her kingdom? Not only is this 12-ounce bone china mug hand-illustrated with Balmoral Castle, Windsor Castle, and Buckingham Palace, it also features all of the UK’s national flowers: England’s rose, Wales’s daffodil, Scotland’s thistle, and Northern Ireland’s shamrock.

Buy It: Amazon

6. Kate Middleton Royal Fashions Coloring Book; $4

kate middleton fashion coloring book
E.R. Miller Designs

Kate Middleton manages to stick to the many royal family fashion rules while still stepping out in some impressively voguish ensembles. Add your own polychromatic flair to her most memorable looks in this coloring book, with special appearances by Prince William and more.

Buy It: Amazon

7. How to Speak Brit; $16

how to speak brit book
Avery/Amazon

Though the royal family doesn’t likely deign to speak the slang of the masses, How to Speak Brit also contains plenty of posh phrases, along with explanations of how they came to be. This dictionary-slash-cultural-study is handy for anyone who watches Downton Abbey, The Great British Bake Off, or any other British television series or film.

Buy It: Amazon

8. LEGO Buckingham Palace Set; $72

lego buckingham palace set
LEGO/Amazon

This 780-piece buildable version of Queen Elizabeth II’s primary residence includes a double-decker bus, black cab, and the Victoria Memorial. It also comes with a booklet on the design, architecture, and history of Buckingham Palace.

Buy It: Amazon

9. Royal Carriage Jewelry Box; $17

qifu royal carriage jewelry box
Qifu/Amazon

We can’t all roll up to special events in a gold-embellished stagecoach, but we can store our jewelry in one. The Fabergé egg-inspired design of this carriage makes it a perfect mantelpiece decoration, too.

Buy It: Amazon

10. Buckingham Palace Jigsaw Puzzle; $30

buckingham palace jigsaw puzzle
Gibsons/Amazon

This 1000-piece puzzle depicts the scene at Buckingham Palace during the Queen’s birthday celebration. In the image, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip are trotting off to Horse Guard's Parade for Trooping the Colour, the Queen’s annual inspection of the military.

Buy It: Amazon

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we choose all products independently and only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

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