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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?

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