Jennifer Aniston, Tom Cruise, Charlie Sheen, Michael Caine, Whoopi Goldberg, John Wayne, Stan Lee, and Mark Twain.
None of these people have the names you think they do. They’re all stage names or pen names. And there’s loads of them – see my list below (I hate good research to go to waste).
My mentor over the past year or more has been an internet marketer called Marc Milburn. He is one of Alex Jeffreys’ most successful students and has built an enviable reputation for delivering top-quality information products.
However Marc Milburn doesn’t really exist. He’s a pen name for Robert Temple. Rob had a reputation as a stage hypnotist long before he started in internet marketing and decided to use a pen name to keep a distance between his two profitable businesses. However, recently Rob decided to step back from the internet marketing niche and has dropped the pen name.
The revelation about the pen name didn’t come as a shock to me as he had already explained the situation when I became one of his mentees, but this has been a surprise to many and perhaps a disappointment to some. You see some regard a pen name as an underhand attempt to hide something, a trick that only the untrustworthy would use.
However there are plenty of legitimate reasons for using a pen name.
Like Rob you might want to use pen names if you are working in separate niches. For example, if you write about photography, children’s stories and erotica it would be a good idea to work in each niche under different pen names. You certainly wouldn’t want readers in the second niche inadvertently picking up books in the third, and there will be some people for whom you lose credibility if you are spending time in more than one niche.
You might want to use a pen name if you’re writing in a genre that is traditionally dominated by the opposite sex. For example, a male author writing a romance might feel his books will be more accepted if he adopts a female pen name. Women have also felt a male pen name is advantageous. Alice Sheldon wrote science fiction under the name James Tiptree, Jr. and George Eliot was really Mary Ann Evans. When Joanne Rowling was advised by her publisher that her books wouldn’t be popular with boys if they were written by a woman she added another initial and used the more ambiguous name J.K. Rowling.
Some fiction writers use pen names even if they are operating in the same niche. Stephen King used the pen name Richard Bachman when he wanted to release more than one book a year and Dean Koontz used several pen names in his early career for the same reason.
Transparency is one of the buzzwords of the Internet and if you do decide to use a pen name you have to accept the possibility that it will not provide the anonymity it once did. Today it is expected that anyone positioning themselves online will have social media accounts that will provide updates and insights into who the person is and what they do. One way to address this is to mention upfront that you are using a pen name for legitimate reasons.
So, there are many reasons for using a pen name. There’s nothing shady about it, although there will always be some who believe that’s the case.
P.S. Here’s my list of famous people know by a pseudonym or pen name:
Jennifer Aniston – Jennifer Anastassakis Nicolas Cage – Nicolas Kim Coppola
Michael Caine – Maurice Joseph Micklewhite Michael Keaton – Michael John Douglas
Marilyn Monroe – Norma Jean Mortenson/Baker Natalie Portman – Natalie Hershlag
Bruce Willis – Walter Bruce Willis Whoopi Goldberg – Caryn Elaine Johnson
Tom Cruise – Thomas Mapother IV John Wayne – Marion Morrison
Danny DeVito – Daniel Michaeli Kirk Douglas – Issur Danielovitch Demsky
Ben Kingsley – Krishna Banji Judy Garland – Frances Gumm
Jamie Foxx – Eric Marlon Bishop Bob Hope – Leslie Townes Hope
Jodie Foster – Elisabeth Foster Meg Ryan – Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra
Charlie Sheen – Carlos Irwin Estevez Christopher Walken – Ronald Walken
Gene Wilder – Jerome Silberman Elton John – Reginald Kenneth Dwight
Mark Twain – Samuel Langhorne Clemens George Orwell – Eric Arthur Blair
Lewis Carroll – Charles Lutwidge Dodgson Stan Lee – Stanley Martin Lieber
and there are plenty more…