A pseudonym is a fictitious name used by an individual as an alternative to their legal name (whereas an allonym is the name of another actual person assumed by one person in authorship of a work of art; e.g., when ghostwriting a book or play, or in parody, or when using a front such as by screenwriters blacklisted in Hollywood in the '50s, '60s, and '70s).
In some cases, the pseudonym has become the legal name of the person using it.
Pseudonyms in print
When used by an author, a pseudonym is also called a pen name (or in French nom de plume.)
Authors use pseudonyms for a variety of reasons; for example, to experiment with a new genre without the risk of upsetting regular readers. One author may have several pseudonyms depending on the genre. This use of pseudonyms is especially common if the new genre is of a somewhat risqué nature; such was the case of Pauline Réage, the pseudonym under which an editorial secretary with a reputation of near-prudery published Histoire d'O (Story of O), an erotic novel of sadomasochism and sexual slavery.
Occasionally, a pseudonym avoids overexposure. Robert Heinlein often had two and sometimes three short stories in one issue of a magazine; the editor created several fictitious authors so that readers would not realize this.
In other cases, a pseudonym protects its user from persecution for publishing unpopular opinions.
Nom de guerre
Pseudonyms are adopted by resistance fighters, terrorists and guerrillas for various reasons: to make enquiries more difficult, to seek and create an aura of mystery, to protect their families from reprisal, etc. The expression nom de guerre ("name of war") is often used for such pseudonyms (though this expression is rarely, if ever, actually used in French). It is occasionally used as a stylish substitute for nom de plume.
Noms de guerre were frequently adopted by recruits in the French Foreign Legion as part of the break with their past lives. Pseudonyms used by some members of the French resistance were integrated into their last names after World War II; for instance, Jacques Delmas, alias Chaban, became Jacques Chaban-Delmas.
Some of the more famous noms de guerre include:
Pseudonyms in entertainment
When used by an actor, performer, or model, a pseudonym is a stage name or screen name.
Actors—and others in show business—rarely use a pseudonym to disguise themselves. The new name is intended to build a distinct, visible, and improved persona, in most cases. In some, it will help to separate the public persona from the private life, but with today's ubiquitous and intrusive media (paparazzi, q.v.), a change of name will be little help, and will become an item of gossip in itself.
John Wayne, building a reputation as a tough guy, felt that his given name, Marion Morrison, did not connote the image he sought to assume. Stan Laurel, born Arthur Stanley Jefferson, was apparently happy to be known as Stan Jefferson until he realised that it had thirteen letters.
In many cases, a screen name was constructed simply because a studio executive did not like the actor's real name. Today, the most common reason for a performer to adopt a pseudonym is that someone else has already achieved fame with that name. Performing arts guilds (SAG, WGA, AFTRA, etc.) enforce rules on the use of names formerly registered for credits, generally refusing to allow an exactly similar name to be used again.
Most hip hop artists prefer to use a pseudonym that represents some variation of their name, personality, or interests. Prime examples include Ol' Dirty Bastard (who is known under at least 6 aliases), Ludacris, LL Cool J, and Chingy. See List of hip hop musicians.
Others in public life have adopted pseudonyms for many reasons. In the late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries, it was established practice for political articles to be signed with pseudonyms, the most famous American example being the pen name Publius, used by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, in writing The Federalist Papers. Malcolm X, the civil rights campaigner, (born Malcolm Little), adopted the 'X' to represent his unknown African ancestral name. Many Jewish politicians re-adopted Hebrew family names on return to Israel, dropping westernized versions that may have been in the family for generations; Golda Meir, for example, was born Golda Mabovitz in Russia, and lived in USA before emigrating to Palestine; she adopted her Hebrew name on becoming a government minister in 1956.
Famous pseudonyms of people who were neither authors nor actors include:
Le Corbusier, the architect, was Charles Édouard Jeanneret.
Aphex Twin, prolific techno artist Richard D. James, who uses up to 11 other different names on various releases.
Alan Smithee is a name commonly used by directors who want to disown their own movie.
George Spelvin and Georgina Spelvin are names used in American theater when the actor playing the part is unkown at printing time, wishes to remain anonymous, or the part is double cast or played by an actor who plays more than one character in the cast.
Luther Blissett is a shared pseudonym often used for activist and artistic purposes, especially in the Italian art scene.
David Agnew is used on BBC programmes where a writer's name cannot be used for contractual reasons.
Nicolas Bourbaki was a famous pseudonym for a group of mathematicians.
Student was William Sealey Gosset, discoverer of Student's t-distribution in statistics.
Hambali is Riduan Isamuddin, the leader of Jemaah Islamiah, a terrorist group; he was born Encep Nurjaman
- Abu Mazen is Mahmoud Abbas, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority
- Abu Ammar was PLO leader Yasser Arafat's nom de guerre, although this name is no longer widely used
- Abu Ala is the name that Ahmed Qurei uses
On the internet, pseudonymous remailers utilising cryptography can be used to achieve persistent pseudonymity, so that two-way communication can be achieved, and reputations can be established without linking a physical identity to a pseudonym.
Users on Namespaces such as Wikipedia also often use a pseudonym instead of their birth names.