Patrick Henry A Pseudonym

That’s how the author is identified on the cover of this book, from the Lousy Book Covers site:

A remarkable choice of pseudonym — the American Founding Father Patrick Henry, of “Give me Liberty, or give me Death!’ fame.

(Found on the LBC site and posted on Facebook by John Lawler, who was following up on my Archibald Zwick posting.)

The description of the book (in the 2013 Kindle edition) on the Amazon site:

An ordinary young woman in high school once went about her normal life. One day a random blue lightning strike changed everything.

That young woman became the dreamer. For all the days thereafter, she awoke to see and live in the world after the Fire.

Now, when she sleeps in her world, she wakes up in another. That other world is a world of magic, adventure and great danger.

Before long, she will find herself involved in an epic quest to defeat a terrible demon and restore freedom to that other world. She still wonders, “How it will end and why is this happening?”

The reader reviews of the book are savage about the writing; one suggested there was good reason to publish it under a pseudonym.

Earlier postings on this blog (in 2011) about pseudonyms: here on my pseudonyms, here on Samuel Steward’s. Meanwhile, also from 2011, there’s Carmela Ciuraru’s fascinating book on the subject: Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms. The Publisher’s Weekly description, from the Amazon site for the book:

Ciuraru (Solitude Poems) includes 18 writers—from George Sand to George Orwell—in her lively literati masquerade party, recounting events that led to their pen names along with intriguing peeks behind their masks. In 1899, William Sydney Porter began writing as O. Henry: “Because he used an intermediary in New Orleans to submit his stories to editors, no one knew they were by a convicted felon.” Eric Blair became George Orwell with his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London, telling his publisher, “I am not proud of it.” An outstanding chapter details how Alice Sheldon spotted “Tiptree” on a marmalade jar and then fooled the science fiction community for years as James Tiptree Jr. When the ruse was revealed, “She was crushed to find that some of the male writers she’d considered friends… turned their backs on her.” Patricia Highsmith used another name on her lesbian novel and wrote for comic books, but since she gave her credits to The Who’s Who of American Comic Books, it’s quite a stretch to call that a “secret life.” Otherwise, this survey of authors who sought anonymity and privacy is well researched. Amid informative, illuminating profiles, Ciuraru successfully ferrets out curious literary charades.

(Praise on the site from Joyce Carol Oates, Elif Batuman, Philip Lopate, John Banville, and Honor Moore.)

So much for pseudonyms. But there are plenty of pen names that aren’t really pseudonyms, but variants of the name(s) the author uses in daily life. Teddy Wayne wrote an entertaining Essay piece on pen names in the NYT Book Review back on March 3rd, beginning:

Though I endured some grade-school ribbing for my slightly unusual first name, professionally, it’s been a boon. Readers are much more likely to remember a byline with Teddy, my somewhat gravitas-deficient nickname since birth, than one with my more common legal name, Derek. According to the Social Security database, in 1979, the year I was born, Teddy was the 485th-most-popular male name; Derek was ranked 72. These days, I’m not even in the top thousand.

As someone with a split nominal identity, I deliberated briefly over which to use as a pen name. And, I confess, I’ve paid lifelong attention to what people choose to call themselves, both in daily life and on the page, mulling over the possibilities and repercussions. Is it, for example, an advantage for writers, many of whom pride themselves on iconoclasm, to have a name that stands out from the pack? What names sound more “writerly” on a book cover? And what, please explain, is with the current Jonathan craze (Safran Foer, Lethem, Ames, Franzen), when earlier generations did just fine with John (Cheever, Irving, Updike, the Evangelist)?

In general, American names have been getting more varied over time:

In the 1950s, the 50 most popular names were given to 63 percent of all boys and 52 percent of all girls, said Cleveland Evans, a former president of the American Names Society. By 2004, the top 50 applied to only 35 percent of boys and 24 percent of girls.

(It’s the American Name [not Names] Society; Wayne gets the name wrong twice in this piece.)

Wayne mentions women who write under male or gender-neutral names — including Curtis Sittenfield, by birth Elizabeth Curtis Sittenfield.

Some rules of thumb:

For those hoping to be the next fiction sensation, the rule of thumb seems to be more rather than less. One surefire path is the tripartite name, provided there is some musicality to the pronunciation — the sweet spot may be six syllables. David Foster Wallace, for instance, contains three disyllabic trochees. (In person he went by the more prosaic Dave.) Jonathan Safran Foer wends its way from three syllables to two to one. Foer experimented with variations in college papers (J. S. Foer, J. Safran Foer, even J. S. F. — “each a bit more pretentious than the previous,” he said). He ultimately went with his full name because “it sounded best to me,” he said. “There’s probably a deeper psychological explanation, but I wouldn’t buy it.”

It’s best to avoid informal diminutives like Tom, Dick and Harry in favor of the more dignified Thomas, Richard and Harold. Jennifer Egan has gone by Jenny since she was a child, but, she told me, “I never considered using Jenny when publishing because it seems too casual to stand up to print.” A pen name has other pluses: “I’ve found I enjoy the gap between my name on paper and in person; it helps define the two spheres of my life,” Egan said.

Then the Jonathan thing:

As for the current Jonathan vogue, demographics explain much. The Anglophonic John was the most popular name for boys born in 1922 and a top-10 stalwart until 1987.

… Nowadays, John is ranked 27. Jonathan — which has Hebraic origins and etymologically differs from the Latinate John — mired at 541 in 1932, has consistently gained in popularity, registering at 31 in 2011. Perhaps modern Jewish writers or those with a Jewish-sounding first name feel less pressure to whitewash their ethnicity with the all-American John. The softer Jonathan also comes off as sensitive in comparison with its brusque counterpart, another sought-after attribute in the current literary landscape. It’s hard to imagine a restroom or a prostitute’s customer being referred to as a “Jonathan.”

In conclusion:

Personally, I considered my own Foer-esque variations to avoid the Jenny-like informality of Teddy: Derek Edward Wayne, D. E. Wayne, even D. T. Wayne (which risked confusion with the author D. T. Max, biographer of D. F. W.). But I’ve always been Teddy; writing under another name would make me feel like an impostor.

I’ve always been Arnold M. Zwicky (earlier, Arnold M. Zwicky, Jr.) in print, for both my academic writing and my poetry, though I’ve used Ebbing Craft as a joke name and Alex Adams for some of my sex writing on the net. (A server at one restaurant I frequent — a native speaker of Spanish — has taken to calling me Arnoldo as a joke. Well, it’s significantly easier for him to say than Arnold. I like the sound of it — and of the Italian variant Arnaldo — but I doubt that I’ll take up either of them as a pen name.)


2 Responses to “Patrick Henry A Pseudonym”

  1. Konigsburg, Rowling, and pen names | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] (On pseudonyms and pen names, see this posting.) […]

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    […] (On pseudonyms, see this posting.) […]

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