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Pseudonym

Call Me Maybe – a quiz of literary pseudonyms

As mentioned in our blog post about noms de plume, it was recently discovered that J. K. Rowling had written a crime novel under the pen name “Robert Galbraith”. Regretting the exposure of her alter-ego, Rowling said that she longed to relive the experience of beginning a writing career, without the media hype or expectations created by her wildly successful Harry Potter series. The pen name has provided refuge for a whole host of writers over the centuries, from those who seek to express religious or political views without exposing themselves to censure (“Martin Marprelate”, at work in the late-1500s writing against ecclesiastical privilege is a good example), through writers of erotica who wish to avoid personal scandal (such as “Walter”, the author of the eleven-volume classic of Victorian pornography My Secret Life), and women adopting male pseudonyms in order to be taken more seriously (the Brontë sisters, for example, who published as “Ellis”, “Acton”, and “Currer Bell”), up to the modern trend of writers who (like J. K. Rowling and Stephen King) use pen names to test their abilities beyond their already-established fame. Despite this long pedigree, however, the word pseudonym is itself of fairly recent origin. It is derived from the Greek words for “false” and “name”, and the Oxford English Dictionary’s current first written example of its use comes from 1817. This makes it only a little earlier than the related term pen name, which appears nearly fifty years later. An earlier term, applied generally to any sort of fake name, and first recorded in this sense in 1605, was alias, which is related to the Latin alius meaning “other”, and is also the root of words such as alien.

Today’s quiz presents you with ten questions about authors who have published using pseudonyms. Will you be able to sort out the true names from the pen names?

OxfordWords Literary Pseudonyms Quiz

Game Over

The novel Nineteen Eighty-Four gave us words such as Newspeak, unperson, and doublethink. But what was the author’s real name?
A Winston Smith
B John Hurt
C Eric Blair
D James Gurley
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York”, is the first line of a novel published under the name Victoria Lucas. Under her real name, she became a famous poet – which one?
A Carol Ann Duffy
B Sylvia Plath
C Elizabeth Bishop
D Adrienne Rich
George Eliot, author of Middlemarch, The Mill on the Floss, and numerous other classics, had an altogether more feminine name in real life. What was it?
A Christiana Pearson
B Maria Lewis
C Marian Evans
D Cara Bray
“‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimble in the wabe”. These nonsense lines, from Alice in Wonderland, are well-known. But what is the less-familiar real name of their author?
A Thomas Archer Hirst
B Thomas Shaw Brandreth
C William Fishburn Donkin
D Charles Lutwidge Dodgson
Mark Twain was the creator of two of the United States’ best-loved literary heroes, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, but his own real name has a rather grander ring to it. What is it?
A Guy Wetmore Carryl
B Samuel Langhorne Clemens
C Frederick Swartwout Cozzens
D Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber
Which well-regarded American novelist took the pen name Cleo Birdwell in order to write an incongruous fictional sports memoir?
A Philip Roth
B Don DeLillo
C Paul Auster
D John Updike
You will almost certainly have come across the works of David John Moore Cornwell, a prolific writer of spy stories. Under what pen name is he better known?
A John le Carré
B Len Deighton
C Frederick Forsyth
D Ian Fleming
The modestly-named Daniel Handler took on a pseudonym to become which acclaimed children’s author?
A Dr. Seuss
B Judy Blume
C L. Frank Baum
D Lemony Snicket
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Brontë, was initially published under the pseudonym Currer Bell. Likewise, a 1966 novel which retells the story of the first Mrs. Rochester from Jane Eyre was also published under a pen name. What was it?
A Jean Rhys
B Gertrude Stein
C Sylvia Plath
D Doris Lessing
Mary Westmacott was the pen name, used for the publication of six romantic novels, of which famous writer of detective stories?
A Ruth Rendell
B Colin Dexter
C Agatha Christie
D Arthur Conan Doyle
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