The news is old, but I am new to it. Robert Galbraith, the author of ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling’ and now, ‘The Silkworm’ is none other than J.K. Rowling, who is none other than Joanne Rowling. Now, it seems Ms. Rowling has created quite the stir by choosing a male name for her debut in the genre of crime. Is it because crime is thought of as a male genre and women are considered safer with Young Adult or Romance and Ms. Rowling went with the stereotype? Now, the point of discussion today is not at all that, and what Ms. Rowling should or shouldn’t have done.
What I choose to explore is why at all use pseudonyms? Is it just a fad? Or there are some real, crucial reasons behind it?
Ms. Rowling chose to use this pseudonym at a crucial time, when the Harry Potter series was done with. Did she want a new identity as she approached a new genre? For her, the reason probably is she doesn’t want the fame associated with J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter series, to affect her writing. Maybe, she wants to see how audience likes her writing when they don’t really know if it’s her. Does she, without the Harry Potter-tag have an ability to garner readership? As a writer, this is a valid proposition, and worth exploring. She has said herself, “I certainly wanted to take my writing persona as far away as possible from me, so a male pseudonym seemed a good idea. I am proud to say, though, that when I “unmasked” myself to my editor David Shelley, who had read and enjoyed The Cuckoo’s Calling without realizing I wrote it, one of the first things he said was, “I never would have thought a woman wrote that.” Apparently I had successfully channeled my inner bloke!”
However, to conceal one’s real name under a pseudonym has historically been associated with hiding one’s gender. Female authors have even been asked by their publishers to go for male pseudonyms. Even J.K. Rowling has been asked previously to do so, that’s why she dropped her name Joanne, and became J.K. George Eliot has done it previously, so have the Bronte sisters. They have been deterrents too, who broke this prejudice. For example, Jane Austen wrote under anonymity, but she boldly signed off as ‘A Lady’.
Another reason might be an author has failed to make a name using his or her own, and a pseudonym might be an attempt to a second chance.
There is an interesting story behind Pablo Neruda’s adoption of a pseudonym. His real name is Ricardo Eliecer Neftali Basoalto. When young, he had an interest in literature, but his father was not in favor of it. So, he chose the name to honor Czech poet Jan Neruda. Often writers do not want to mix their public and private life, and so seek a pen-name.
Of course authors could also change their names if they did not like what theirs were, or say, if any other name suited their creative side. On my journey from home to Kolkata this time, I was tossing around some names in my head which I might use if I decided to use a pseudonym (I must confess, I did not like my name until high school) and have settled on one so far: Anne Ambrosia. I like the word ambrosia, and Anne simply chimes with it. What do you think?