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A pseudonym is a fictitious name used by a person, or sometimes, a group.

Pseudonyms are often used to hide an individual's real identity, as with writers' pen names, graffiti artists, resistance fighter' 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. Stage names are also used as something that better matches their stage persona, as in the case of hip hop artists such as Ol' Dirty Bastard (who was known under at least six aliases); black metal performers such as Nocturno Culto; and hardcore punk singers such as "Rat" of Discharge. Another example of a pseudonym is Lemony Snicket, used by an author who wanted to hide his identity; or S. E. Hinton, an author who chose a name that was neither male nor female.

In some cases, pseudonyms are adopted because they are part of a cultural or organizational tradition. This has been the case of devotional name 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.

The term is derived from the Greek (pseudṓnymon), literally "false name", from (pseûdos), "lie, falsehood" and (ónoma), "name". 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 Hollywoodmarker in the 1950s and 1960s.

Concealment of identity

Literary pen names

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 nom de plumage.

The Bronte family used pseudonyms for their early work, so residents in local communities did their works related to the neighborhood people. The Brontes used their neighbours as inspiration for characters in many of their books. Anne Bronte published her poem "The Narrow Way" under the pseudonym Acton Belle. Charlotte Bronte published Shirley and Jane Eyre under the pseudonym Currer Belle. Emily Bronte published Wuthering Heights under Ellis Belle.

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.

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 (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, and Franklin W. Dixon.

Nom de guerre

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 fighter, terrorists and guerrilla. 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, former SAS soldier; Carlos the Jackal for Ilich Ramírez Sánchez; Willy Brandt, former Chancellor of West Germanymarker; and Subcomandante Marcos, the spokesman of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN). 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 Irelandmarker's Michael Collins. Revolutionaries and resistance leaders, such as Lenin, Stalin, Golda Meir, Moshe Dayan, Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque, often adopted their noms de guerre as their proper names after the struggle. George Grivas, the Greek-Cypriot EOKA freedom fighter (a terrorist from British and Turkish perspectives), adopted the nom de guerre Digenis (Διγενής).

Computer users

Individuals' using a computer online may adopt or be required to use a form of pseudonym known as a "handle", a "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.

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.


People seeking privacy often use pseudonyms to make appointments and reservations.

Stage names

Film, theatre, and related activities

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—as has been done in other fields as well. 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.

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.

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 Americamarker (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 pseudonym 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 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. In classical music, some record companies issued recordings under pseudonyms 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 meanings to them as well, 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.

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).

Most hip-hop artists prefer 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, LL Cool J, Sam "Original Gangster" Biglari, 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 indicate Sid 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 Royksopp'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 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 Japanmarker, 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, monks and nuns are given a saint's name by their bishop or abbot at the time of their tonsure as the new monk's (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.

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

In Islam new converts often accept an Islamic name. 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.

Cadre names

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

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.

Michael Jackson wrote "Happy Birthday Lisa" for an episode of The Simpsons, but used the name John Jay Smith. He recorded the song, but in the episode "Stark Raving Dad" Jackson's voice was not used for singing the song, though he did speak in the episode. Also, Jackson never received credit for another song performed on the show, "Do The Bartman".

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. 3-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 examples 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 Israelmarker, 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 Jerusalemmarker. 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 also


  1. Rubin, Harold Francis (1916-), Author Pseudonyms: R. Accessed 27 November 2009.
  2. Investigators target Michael Jackson's pseudonyms

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