As an aspiring writer, anonymity isn’t exactly high up my priority list. In fact, it’s not on my list at all; why would it be? I slave, sweat and pretty much bleed to get those words on the page and if they resemble anything even vaguely publishable then I want some credit for it. But for some, publishing their work anonymously – or perhaps even pseudonymously – isn’t just preferable, it’s essential. Here, I reveal some of the world’s most famous writers, artists, actors and musicians who have felt the need to conceal their identity and discuss whether, in the 21st Century, a ‘fake’ name is really necessary in the arts.
•Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell – real name: Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë
In the 19th Century, the authors of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Agnes Grey wrote under male or androgynous pen names in order to conceal their gender and thus avoid the prejudices that would often befall the female writer at that time.
• Mary Westmacott – Dame Agatha Christie
Many writers over the years have adopted a pseudonym to differentiate one aspect of work from another. In this case, Dame Agatha Christie chose the name Mary Westmacott under which to publish six romantic novels and another famous writer in the crime-fiction genre published three thrillers as Jack Harvey (Ian Rankin) during the nineties.
• Man Ray – Emmanuel Radnitzky
Born in 1890 and of Russian Jewish heritage, Emmanuel Radnitzky – painter, photographer and co-founder of the New York Dada Group – supposedly changed Radnitzky to Ray in order to avoid anti-Semitism.
• Robert Capa – Endre Friedmann
Initially, Robert Capa was a figment of Endre Friedmann’s imagination. A struggling photographer in Paris, Friedmann fooled prospective buyers into believing that Capa was a famous American photographer. For a while it worked, Friedmann sold his own images under this new guise for a much higher price than before and even after he was found out, the name stuck with him for the rest of his career.
• Michael Caine – Maurice Micklewhite
Hollywood’s all about glamour and Maurice Micklewhite doesn’t really cut the mustard. So who can blame Academy Award-winner, Sir Michael Caine, for changing his name to something a little more alluring? Not me, and certainly not Cary Grant (Archibald Leach) or Diana Dors (Diana Mary Fluck).
• David Tennant – David McDonald
This one’s a good one and certainly still relevant in today’s society. Equity will not allow a prospective member to join the arts and entertainment union if they have the same name as an artist already on their books. David Tennant fell prey to this rule, as did actor and comedian David Walliams (David Williams).
• Dizzee Rascal – Dylan Mills
In music, where pseudonyms are more commonly referred to as stage names, many artists choose to take on a less conventional moniker. Dizzee Rascal, Ludacris (Christopher Brian Bridges) and Jay Z (Shawn Carter) have all chosen particularly adventurous stage names, owing, perhaps, to the theatrical nature of the rap industry and their personal separation from it.
• Sting – Gordon Sumner
The mononym is not a new thing; Sting, Cher (Cherilyn Sarkisian) and Prince (Prince Rogers Nelson) have all built successful careers off the backs of their singular names and in an industry that is notoriously competitive, a snappy mononym can often get an artist noticed.
This list is not exhaustive; writers, artists, actors and musicians who have felt the need for a change of name over the years have a multitude of reasons for doing so, many of which deserve a much longer and in-depth analysis than I have attempted here. However, in terms of relevance to the 21st Century, and concerning only the points I have discussed in this article, I would have to say that there is still some validity in the pseudonym (in whatever form it takes) and though some earlier motives for the change may now seem outdated, they were (unfortunately) a necessary consequence of the time.