The Joy Of… Pseudonyms

2015 Artwork The joy of pseudonyms article sketch

Well, for today, I thought that I’d talk about pseudonyms and why they’re awesome. In case you’ve somehow never heard of a pseudonym before, it just refers to a pen name that a writer, journalist or comic creator uses on their published works instead of their real name.

There are many reasons why writers use pseudonyms. Sometimes, it is purely to protect their privacy. Sometimes it is because they’re writing in a different genre and don’t want to confuse their audience. Sometimes, it’s for an unusual reason (like how J.K. Rowling wrote under the name of Robert Galbraith in order to see if people bought her books based purely on merit or on the basis of fame). Sometimes, a single pseudonym allows multiple writers to work on the same project.

There are lots of other reasons why writers use pseudonyms, but I thought that I’d give you a few reasons why they’re such amazing things.

The first reason is that an obvious pseudonym can make a story seem a lot more edgy and interesting. After all, if something is put out anonymously, it contains a frisson of mystery. A pseudonymous work seems like something that is so subversive/ interesting/ edgy that even the writer wants to remain hidden. Of course, this isn’t actually the case – but an obvious pseudonym can certainly give this impression.

Or, to use an artistic example, do you think that anyone would be quite as interested in Banksy‘s satirical graffiti if he actually revealed his name? Ok, there are probably some fairly good legal reasons why he has to remain anonymous but, those aside, his work would probably be less interesting and less impactful if we all knew who he was.

The third reason why pseudonyms are awesome is because they help to protect free expression. Whilst it’s pretty obvious how pseudonyms protect free expression in countries with no free speech laws, I’d also argue that they help to protect free expression even in countries that have some form of free speech laws on the books (eg: everything from the gold standard of the American 1st Amendment to some of the more vaguely-worded EU laws and hazy “traditions” that theoretically give us free speech in the UK).

Likewise, pseudonyms have allowed LGBT writers to speak candidly about their thoughts and experiences without fear of prejudice. Pseudonyms can also allow journalists or online writers to expose abuses of power or dodgy official activity in relative safety. In an ideal world, no-one would need to use pseudonyms, but we hardly live in an ideal world.

Finally, using a pseudonym could possibly be a way to make writing feel new and exciting again, in the same way that many actors use glamourous-sounding stage names.

Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂