Friday, September 27, 2013

What’s your Pen Name?

How would it be to write a story without spilling the beans on your real identity? Or publishing an article under a different name that isn’t actually yours but cool nonetheless? Our parents named us in childhood. During that first time admission in school, we got registered under a formal name that later got a huge recognition on our report cards, certificates and finally on our most sought after degrees. We continued it on pan-cards, aadhaar cards, passports, ration cards and voter-ids. The same name we carry always around our necks with a black tag. The only thing left to do on Earth is to get a permanent black tattoo of our names across our foreheads. 

But there are some authors or many authors for that matter, who have gone on to not reveal their real identity in the world. They adopted a name under which they wrote secretly and got published. They went for a pen name, a literary double of themselves. They kept their real name hidden from the readers. They created their own literary world where they communicated through their writings under their adopted pen names, which was only known to few people around them including their publishers. The readers read their books, articles and columns without knowing the real names of the writers whose works they were reading. 

We do such similar things on social networking websites. Keeping real names aside, sometimes we register ourselves under different names that are cooler and looks better on Facebook, Gmail and Twitter. When Google talk was integrated into Gmail, initially my friends and I used to chat under different names. When girls chatted with random men (complete strangers), they didn’t reveal their real identity, but chatted under a different funny or exciting name. 

The main reason given by authors for choosing to write under a pseudonym is to hide their real identity. Take an example of J.K.Rowling. Her real name is Joanne Rowling. The alphabet ‘K’ doesn’t stand for anything in her pen name. But she chose a complete different name for her latest novel- The Cuckoo’s Calling. Heard of this novel before? She chose to release this novel under her second pen name of Robert Galbraith! When the book released and got a modest response from the readers, was the truth blown off to the world. The famous author of the magical world of Harry Potter, has written this latest novel which tells the story of a war veteran turned private investigator as he looks into the suicide of a troubled supermodel. The author changed her name because she wanted a chance to publish a different genre without any hype or expectation. The Casual Vacancy, that was released before, under her famous first pen name of J.K. Rowling, had got a poor response. Maybe the readers couldn’t accept their favourite Harry Potter writer writing anything else except magic. So she chose to change her pen name to try writing under a different genre. 

Call it a publicity stunt or marketing geniuses, there have been many authors writing under an alias in the past. The comic books in The Adventures of Tintin series were written under the pen name of Herge, by Georges Prosper Remi, a Belgium cartoonist.  The famous short stories written by O. Henry was a literary alias adopted by William Sydney Porter, because initially he didn’t think that his writings would amount to anything. Stephen King published four novels under his pen name of Richard Bachman, because his publishers feared that the readers wouldn’t buy more than a single novel in a year from the same author. Clive Staples Lewis, author of The Chronicles of Narnia is popularly known by his pen name of C.S. Lewis. When Agatha Christie, an English crime writer and author of several detective novels decided to venture into romance, she chose to pen down her stories under an alias- Mary Westmacott. The scenario was completely different for female authors. It was felt that a novel written by a female would not be taken seriously or wouldn’t be encouraged. So some female writers wrote under masculine pen names.   

Why use pen names at all? It could be for concealing your identity or to remain anonymous. A writer of some romantic novels, who wants to try out writing some horror stories, might choose to write under a pen name. When we know that our favourite writer of romance is going to publish soon some next novel, we eventually get our hopes up that it would be something romantic again. 50% chances are that the readers may feel let down when they discover that it is so not like that! Releasing a new novel under a different genre becomes sometimes risky. So when enthusiastic writers want to try their writing skills in multiple genres, they vouch for a pen name. Some adopt pen names to conceal their genders. Some others use a new pen name to recover from the loss of the poor response that they got for their previous works. This will mean an opportunity to build your reputation in the literary world from scratch. 

For me, it’s exciting and at the same time adventurous. Today itself in the morning when I opened Infy Bubble, I read Arunprasad Ramasubramanian’s quiz question about the pen name of Madabhushi Rangadorai, who contributes his writings in The Hindu. My mind train started running on a parallel track. If I want to write in future something bolder or out-of-the-box, I would like to have my own pen name too. Plus I imagine sometimes, my name on the front cover of a novel or below the title of my column in a newspaper or a magazine-Snehal Anil Tripathi……it’s too long and not at all crisp! Ok fine. It’s what my parents named me and I should respect it. But adopting a pen name doesn’t mean I am insulting my ancestors! Plus I understand the meaning of my name and history behind it, but will the readers be bothered about it? No! If the title of a book or a column is not eye-catchy or to-the-point, the reader may keep down the book on the shelf and may move on to some different authors. I don’t want my writings to look smaller under my too long name. In order to attract the reader’s attention in the fiercely competitive literary world, I’ll adopt a name that is small and reflects me the way I write. 

My first preference would be ‘Sony’, because that’s my nick-name at home. But that doesn’t make any sense and I definitely don’t want people to go thinking about Sony Entertainment Television. Uncalled publicity for the channel! The second preference would be ‘The Talking Girl’. I think this one looks more realistic here. I have also thought about ‘The Girl in the Green Scarf’ but that title is already sold out to the movie Confessions of a Shopaholic. And I don’t have a green scarf. I have a red one though and it is a Kashmiri shawl. 

So what’s your pen name going to be? Which literary double would you adopt? Sit back, relax and think! Or have you already written something under a pseudonym before? Reveal your secret now!

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