Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Story Behind Pen Names

Elizabeth Black writes in a wide variety of genres including erotica, erotic romance, and dark fiction. She lives on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and four cats.

Pseudonyms, pen names, noms de plume. Regardless of what you wish to call them, writers have chosen fake names for as long as they've been transferring their thoughts to the written word. I interviewed some of my writer friends to learn why they chose the pen names they chose. Everyone gave sensible and even fascinating answers.

I'll start with myself. Elizabeth Black is not my real name. It is one of my pen names. I chose Elizabeth Black for my erotic fiction to differentiate it from the political and feminist non-fiction I had written under my real name. Elizabeth is my favorite woman's name. I chose "Black" because the "Bs" would be at eye level or above in a bookstore. Black is also a classy name and it's one of my favorite colors. My horror, fantasy, and speculative fiction pen name is E. A. Black, and I created it to separate those works from my erotic works. I liked the idea of using initials and a surname because I thought it was cool. "E" for Elizabeth, obviously. Black is already my fake surname. "A" is my fake middle name - Alexia. I first saw that name on the game "Resident Evil: Code Veronica". I'm a fan. I later learned that "alexia" is the name of an acquired reading disability. That didn't cause me to waver in my choice at all, but it did make me giggle.

Authors choose pen names for a wide variety of mundane and interesting reasons. Here are a few examples of famous pen names:

J. K. Rowling - Joanne Rowling's publishers feared that pre-adolescent boys (her target market for her Harry Potter books) would not want to read stories about a boy wizard written by a woman. So, they asked her to use her initials. She has no middle name so she used the initial of her grandmother Kathleen. The interesting thing about this is that these days, it's largely assumed that anyone whose pen name includes initials is a woman.

Nathaniel Hawthorne was born Nathaniel Hathorne. He was a direct descendent of one of the hanging judges of the Salem witch trials. Hawthorne may have added the "W" to his last name as a means of distancing himself from his personal history.

George Orwell - Eric Arthur Blair chose a pen name so his family wouldn't be embarrassed by his time living in poverty. He chose the name George after the patron saint of England. He chose the name Orwell from the River Orwell, a popular sailing spot he loved to visit.

Stan Lee - Stanley Martin Lieber wanted to save his real name for the more serious literary work he hoped to someday write. He got his start writing comic books, so he chose the name Stan Lee. He legally changed his name to Stan Lee after making it big in the kid's market as a comic book writer.

Lewis Carroll - Charles Lutwidge Dodgson wanted a simpler, less snooty name and he wanted to keep his privacy. He changed Charles Ludwidge into Carolus Lusovicus, changed that to Carroll Lewis, and then switched the words, resulting in Lewis Carroll.

William Makepeace Thackeray - He wrote under pen names that were just plain silly, since he was a satirist. His pen names included C. J. Yellowplush, Esq., George Savage Fitz-Boodle, and Théophile Wagstaff.

Harry Turtledove - (from Dear Readers: A Letter From Harry Turtledove) "When I sold my first fantasy novel, the publisher renamed me Eric Iverson.  They said no one would believe Harry Turtledove, which is my real name.  I decided to live with it, though I gave myself a middle initial, G., which stood for Goddam.  The pen name had certain uses:  I could use it for my fiction and my own name for academic nonfiction, which I still published then.  But when Lester bought The Videssos Cycle, he named me Turtledove again–people would remember it, he declared.  I objected that I was just starting to get known as Iverson.  He said he wouldn’t buy the books if I wanted to stay Scandinavian.  I stopped objecting.  But I may be the only writer in captivity who’s had both his pen-name and his own name imposed on him by force!  I hope you will remember my name–that’s Harry Turtledove–and look for the reprint of The Videssos Cycle (and maybe even some other things I’ve done)."

My friends who write erotic fiction had many sensible reasons for choosing their pen names. Here are the most common reasons:

Some writers simply wanted to create a new identity for their writing, and the way they chose their pen names was rather creative. Julez S. Morbius told me: "The first two initials are my real name initials and Morbius because of my love for vampires and Marvel Comics." Angelica Dawson's pen name is derived from Angelica dawsonii, a yellow flower in the carrot family native to her province. She's a botanist and environmental consultant in her day job.

Dawson also gives another reason for her pen name: she writes Young Adult fiction under her real name, Kimberly Gould. Many erotic writers like to differentiate their erotic works from their other works by use of multiple pen names.

Writers like Jacques Gerard chose pen names to protect their privacy, especially when it comes to disapproval from family and religious people. Gemma Parkes also wanted to protect herself from familial disapproval and she wanted to protect her children from negative comments from her family in case any of them read her books, hence her pen name. Vanessa de Sade feared her family would discover her erotic writing so she chose her pen name to protect her privacy. Obviously, de Sade is based on the Marquis de Sade. She wrote: "So I thought, well I don't want to be Fluffy von Kitten, or Sweetcakes McGhee or anything like that. And then I thought about the Marquis de Sade, and all his weird shit, and I thought, yeah, that's more like me." She's not sure where Vanessa came from. Might be an old girlfriend from years ago.

Kara Huntington works with children in a very small town. She figured she'd save the locals the trouble of running her out of town with pitchforks. Her concern over small-minded townspeople lead her to create her pen name. Alysha Ellis voiced a similar concern. She is also a teacher. Any connection between her real name and erotica or even erotic romance would result in instant dismissal. Even if it didn't, the knowledge would be very disruptive to her ability to teach very curious 15 - 18 year olds who would probably make a big deal of it.

Sometimes having more than one pen name makes decisions difficult, even if you started out creating them for good reasons. Sacchi Green said: I started out writing science fiction and fantasy short stories under my real name, Connie Wilkins. Eventually I published work in a couple of anthologies for kids, and enjoyed it so much (plus it paid pretty well) that I thought that was the direction I'd mostly go. When I wrote a lesbian erotica story and had it accepted at Best Lesbian Erotica, I thought I should use a pen name in case I wrote so much for kids that they might look me up online. Things didn't work out that way, though, and my pen name got a whole lot more mileage than my real one. I've still used the real one sometimes for speculative fiction, and in cases where I have more than one story in an anthology, but it gets to be hard to decide when it comes to erotic speculative fiction. Right now I'm in the process of having a mini-ebook published by Circlet Press, consisting of three stories I wrote for their books previously and one more that's about one of the same group of characters. The problem is that two of the stories are under my real name, and two under my pen name, so we're having a hard time deciding which name to use on the cover.

Some writers chose pen names to keep them safe. Phoenix Johnson had an online stalker and she didn't want that person following her and hurting her writing career in any way. Phoenix to her means rebirth, and it represents her darker, wilder side. Her surname was luck of the draw.

Lynn Townsend (real name K. T. Hicks) wanted a name that sounded more appropriate for erotic romances. Her real name to her sounded like someone who should write Tractor Romances, which were what her Russian Studies professor called "a series of Stalin-era propaganda novels that were about farmers and farmers' daughters who would sneak off to talk about Comrade Stalin behind haystacks."

So there you have it. Writers create pen names for a wide variety of very interesting reasons. If you use a pen name, what's your story behind it?


Elizabeth Black writes erotica, erotic romance, speculative fiction, fantasy, and dark fiction. She also enjoys writing erotic retellings of classic fairy tales. Born and bred in Baltimore, she grew up under the influence of Edgar Allan Poe. Her erotic fiction has been published by Xcite Books (U. K.), Circlet Press, Ravenous Romance, Scarlet Magazine (U. K.), and other publishers. Her dark fiction has appeared in "Kizuna: Fiction For Japan", "Stupefying Stories", "Midnight Movie Creature Feature 2", "Zippered Flesh 2: More Tales Of Body Enhancements Gone Bad", and "Mirages: Tales From Authors Of The Macabre". An accomplished essayist, she was the sex columnist for the pop culture e-zine nuts4chic (also U. K.) until it folded in 2008. Her articles about sex, erotica, and relationships have appeared in Good Vibrations Magazine, Alternet, CarnalNation, the Ms. Magazine Blog, Sexis Magazine, On The Issues, Sexy Mama Magazine, and Circlet blog. She also writes sex toys reviews for several sex toys companies.

In addition to writing, she has also worked as a gaffer (lighting), scenic artist, and make-up artist (including prosthetics) for movies, television, stage, and concerts. She worked as a gaffer for "Die Hard With A Vengeance" and "12 Monkeys". She did make-up, including prosthetics, for "Homicide: Life On The Street". She is especially proud of the gunshot wound to the head she had created with makeup for that particular episode. She also worked as a prosthetic makeup artist specializing in cyanotic blue, bruises, and buckets of blood for a test of Maryland's fire departments at the Baltimore/Washington International Airport plane crash simulation test. Yes, her jobs are fun.  ;)

She lives in Lovecraft country on the Massachusetts coast with her husband, son, and four cats. The ocean calls her every day, and she always listens. She has yet to run into Cthulhu.

Visit her web site at
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  1. I have two reasons - firstly the rather condescending attitude to erotic fiction as 'not serious' or 'pornographic' (I write on more 'serious' matters for a living) as well as the fact that I blog about sex matters revealing aspects of my sexuality and sex life that I don't want everyone to know about and secondly because Eve Ray is less of a mouthful than my real name!

  2. I've noticed that condescending attitude as well. It seems a very popular reason for choosing a pen name is to protect privacy.

  3. Very informative and enjoyable column, Elizabeth! You seem to have dug deep for some lesser-known tales of classic pen names.

  4. I've seen it suggested that Blair also liked Orwell because of his sympathies for HG Wells — 'Or Well(s)'.

  5. I didn't see that one, Korhomme, but it makes sense. Sure would be cool if true.

  6. Thanks, Jeremy! The reasons people pick for choosing a pen name always interested me.

  7. I really enjoyed this. Even beginning blogging, I needed be anonymous as my career would not accept writing erotica. The problem is I blog with my [job adventurous/mostly unemployed] sister, who could care less about being found out, as she isn't in a career.
    It is a see-saw, and additional risk with another, one that could demolish my career, but I love to write.

  8. I suppose one reason erotica and erotic romance writers create pen names is precisely because of what they write. Cammies, I've heard of jobs being threatened because the person in question writes erotic fiction. Teachers have been fired. Even the new CIA Deputy Director made the news because she used to host erotic fiction readings at her store in Baltimore years ago.

  9. Hi, Elizabeth,

    Very enjoyable post!

    I chose a pen name partially for anonymity, but also because my real name sounds much too much like the girl next door, not at all appropriate for my work. Since my first novel was set in Asia, I wanted something that sounded exotic and foreign, without being too obvious about just what country I had in mind. (I created a fictional bio about the romance between my parents - a Lebanese belly dancer and a British airforce officer...!)

    Anyway, as in many cases, the pen name is a transformation of my real name. In particular, Lisabet derives from my middle name, which happens to be Elizabeth - one of my favorite names, too!

  10. Thanks, Lisabet! I love your story. Sometimes I think choosing a pen name is like trying on different clothes - what mood are you in and what kind of image do you want to project? A pen name is part of a character, and you create the character.

    A Lebanese belly dancer and a British airforce officer... I love it!


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