Colin McEnroe Show: 'Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History Of Pseudonyms'

Why do writers use pen names?

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Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms
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Colin McEnroe Show: 'Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History Of Pseudonyms'
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Colin McEnroe Show: 'Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History Of Pseudonyms'

For me, the champion of the nom de plume game will forever be Brian O'Nolan who wrote great modernist novels under the name Flann O'Brien and an important newspaper column in the Irish times under the pen name Miles nagCopaleen. (Miles of the Little Ponies.)

Still not content, he sent letters to the Times, ostensibly from other made up names, attacking his own work. But all writers of fiction are, to varying degree, in flight from their own biographies.  
 
I was reminded of this during a recent onstage conversation with John Irving who bristled when I brought up disclosures, made by Irving himself, about his own life and parentage. Irving said he hated the whole subject because it tended to douse, in the minds of readers, the whole idea of the imaginative act. If people know your story, they think you're not inventing anything, he said. One of the many reasons for noms de plume. 
 
Leave your comments below, e-mail colin@wnpr.org or Tweet us @wnprcolin.

  

Comments

East Hampton, blogging and pseudonyms

I was glad I caught this show and was able to call in. Sorry the audio was not better but I was in the car using the handsfree system.

The information about Mark Twain was particularly interesting and it is always fun to hear from Sad City Hartford.

The basic reason I began blogging anonymously was to protect my professional identity. It occurs to me that the use of pseudonyms in political criticism has a long and established history. In going back and forth with one of the Councillors in East Hampton who attempted to parse my use of a nom-de-plume as a sign of some moral weakness, I reminded him that John Adams frequently wrote under a pseudonym in local papers, sometimes using multiple identities in order to argue both sides of an issue.

In my case, my blogging grew out of my commenting on the internet, which really could be a whole other show. The commenting last year on the Middletown Press website on any given article about the Police Chief controversy was truly remarkable. The outrage was so severe that some of the comment threads would go to 300 or 400 (the average for an MP article is typically a dozen or less) and this was before the Patch sites started springing up.

I started my blog really more as a means to present and edit my own commentary, and over time it grew into a community of persons who used the site as a place to gather and communicate their concerns about the singular issue. People have credited me with helping to restore the Chief of Police to his position, but that credit actually belongs to the organizers at Take Back Our Town, the Chatham Party, and most importantly the voters who restored Matt Reimondo to his position at the referendum last year.

E-mail from Aynonmous

I was listening to the recent show and was very impressed by the content. I too am a blogger using a separate name. I am from Rhode Island and due to the controversial nature and social stigmas against my lifestyle I chose to combine the city in which I live during the school year and the life I chose to live for my name. I have been known to write some very scathing posts recounting hardships usually with various businesses. I also blog and post pictures of me doing things most people would cringe at like standing barefoot in snow or climbing buildings. Things I wouldn't want possible employers to see. Classmates and family members have had no trouble connecting the dots but I enjoy a degree of anonymity from the world.

E-mail from JTP

Love the show on pseudonyms. I loved when I discovered about E.E. Cummings that he wrote under several pseudonyms that were very funny when he wrote for Vanity Fair. There was a used book store in Cornwall and I went over there to purchase old Vanity Fair Magazines that had his articles. What fun! I wanted to call and read you some of them from a bibliography I have on E.E. Cummings but cannot put my hands on the book right now.

E-mail from Aynonmous

Sometimes the reasons folks adopt pseudonyms is more pragmatic. In my case, I had a stalker whilst using my real name as my "radio" name - when you are pregnant and a guy shows up at your door and wants to kill you, well, to say it sucks is an understatement. I ended up leaving the business for four years, coming back only a variety of pseudonyms, the most prominent of which was (and still is) Lynn Townshend. No matter what you call me, though, my persona doesn't change - it's just an indicator of where I know you from.

E-mail from Tom

I was wondering if your guest had any insight into authors who used other names to protect their other careers (im thinking of Pat Frank of Alas Babylon fame)