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A pseudonym is a name the author uses to sign his works that is different from his legal name. There are generally three main reasons why an artist may choose to do this. The first is that the material contained in the works may be controversial and potentially get the artist in trouble; the second is that it may help the works sell; and the third is that it may be aesthetically significant for the works themselves.

Understanding pseudonyms

Would you like to gain a better understanding of the meaning of the literary term pseudonym?

Literally, the term pseudonym means "false name". A more common term for pseudonym that you may be familiar with is pen name

A pseudonym is a made-up name that an artist adopts when signing his work. He may have different reasons for making use of a pseudonym. But the point is that for whatever reason, the artist is not signing his work under his given name. 

Usage and guidelines

Here are some illustrations of how the term pseudonym can be used in sentences. 

"The fact that the government would have put him in prison for his work compelled the author to adopt a pseudonym for his own protection." 

"When an acquaintance started complimenting the book, to him, the author grinned: thanks to the pseudonym, no one knew the work was by him." 

"Due to the fact that the woman had signed her book with a male pseudonym, it would have never occurred to anyone to think that she had written it."

Are you still unclear about the meaning of pseudonym? Here are a couple basic rules, then. 

1. Broadly speaking, a pseudonym is just any name used by an artist to sign his works that his different from his given or legal name. Sometimes, you may not even know the artist is using a pseudonym; you may just assume that the name they're using is their legal one. 

2. Sometimes, an author may sign some works with his legal name, and then other works with a pseudonym. If he uses a pseudonym in this way, he will usually have a very specific reason as to why he does not want those specific works identified with his legal name. Such is the case of Samuel Clemens pen name Mark Twain.  He did write under both names.

Examples of writers using pseudonyms

It is worth discussing some of the main reasons that people have historically used pseudonyms. One of the main reasons is: Female authors have historically adopted pseudonyms in order to be taken more seriously by publishers and the public. This is because in the past, there has been significant cultural bias against female artists. In fact, even J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, has done something like this: although she did not adopt a pseudonym, she did abbreviate her name so that it is not immediately obvious that it belongs to a woman. 

Another reason for using a pseudonym is that a given work may have gotten an artist into trouble if it had been associated with his name. This could be political trouble in terms of conflict with governmental authorities; or, the pseudonym may just be meant to protect the author from social or personal scandal due to the contents of the work. 

Or, for aesthetic reasons, the author may just believe that the work would be more effective if it were not associated with his own name. J.K. Rowling is a good example here as well: she wrote a novel under the pseudonym Kenneth Galbraith, presumably because she just wanted to see what would happen if people weren't biased by the fact that it was written by the author of Harry Potter.

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