AskDefine | Define pseudonym

Dictionary Definition

pseudonym n : a fictitious name used when the person performs a particular social role [syn: anonym, nom de guerre]

User Contributed Dictionary

see Pseudonym



From pseudonyme < (pseudōnumos) "having a false name" < (pseudēs) "false" and (onuma) < (onoma) "name"


  • /ˈsjuːdəʊnɪm/ italbrac RP
  • /ˈsudoʊnɪm/ italbrac US


  1. A fictitious name, often used by writers and porn stars.
    The Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson wrote "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll.


  • c1911 — H. G. Wells, The Obliterated Man
    I doubt, indeed, whether I should not abandon the struggle altogether-- leave this sad world of ordinary life for which I am so ill fitted, abandon the name of Cummins for some professional pseudonym, complete my self-effacement, and--a thing of tricks and tatters, of posing and pretence--go upon the stage.
  • 1928 — H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature
    The best example of its literary use so far are the German novel The Golem, by Gustav Meyrink, and the drama The Dybbuk, by the jewish writer using the pseudonym "Ansky".


fictious name

Derived terms

Extensive Definition

A pseudonym is a fictitious name, also known as an alias, used as an alternative to a person's legal name. In most legal systems, a person can assume a different name for non-fraudulent purposes and use it as their legal name. In some cases, pseudonyms are adopted because it is part of a cultural or organizational tradition, as in the case of devotional names used by members of some religious orders and "cadre names" used by Communist party leaders such as Trotsky and Stalin.
Pseudonyms are also used to hide an individual's identity, as with writers' pen names, resistance fighters or terrorists' noms de guerre; and computer hackers' nicknames. Actors, musicians, and other performers sometimes use a stage name to mask their original ethnic background, particularly in the early to mid-1900s. Stage names are also used to create a name which better matches their stage persona, as in the case of hip hop artists such as Ol' Dirty Bastard (who was known under at least six aliases); Black metal performers such as Nocturno Culto; and hardcore punk singers such as "Rat" of Discharge. The term is derived from , pseudónymon – literally "given a name by error, lie name" from , pseúdos – the lie and , ónoma – the name); pseudo + -onym: false name. A pseudonym is distinct from an allonym, which is the name of another actual person, assumed by someone in authorship of a work of art; such as when ghostwriting a book or play, or in parody, or when using a "front" name such as by screenwriters blacklisted in Hollywood in the 1950s and 1960s.

Cultural or organizational traditions


In many monarchies, the prince starting his reign chooses his official name (regnal name) to be used hence, which may differ from his (birth) name till then; sometimes he selects one of his existing names, sometimes a completely different one. The choice of an existing name may simply be a matter of tradition or intend to honour a specific predecessor, and/or emphasize the hereditary legitimacy of succession, or may actually convey a programme or intention.


In the tradition of various Roman Catholic religious orders and congregations, members abandon their birthname to assume a new, often unrelated, devotional name, often referring to an admired saint. For women, e.g., in the Society of the Helpers of the Holy Souls, this reflects the mystical marriage as bride of Christ.
In Buddhism a Dharma name is given during the traditional refuge ceremony. Practitioners of Wicca and other forms of Neopagan witchcraft often adopt a craft name or magical name.

Cadre names

Within Communist parties and Trotskyist organisations, noms de guerre are usually known as "party names" or "cadre names". While the practice originated during the revolutionary years after WW I, to conceal the identity of leaders, by the 1950s and 1960s, the practice was more of a tradition than an identity-concealment strategy. Some famous Communist Party names include Lenin (Vladimir Il'ich Ulyanov); Stalin (Yosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili); and Pol Pot (Saloth Sar).

Political articles

From the late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries, it was established practice for political articles to be signed with pseudonyms. A well-known American was the pen name Publius, used by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, in writing The Federalist Papers.

Concealment of identity

Literary pen names

A pen name (or "nom de plume") is a pseudonym adopted by authors or their publishers to conceal their identity. One famous example of this is Samuel Clements writing under the pen name Mark Twain. A pen name may be used if a writer's real name is likely to be confused with the name of another writer or notable individual, or if their real name is deemed to be unsuitable. Authors who write in fiction and non-fiction, or in different genres, may use pen names to avoid confusing their readers, as in the case mathematician Charles Dodgson, who wrote fantasy novels under the pen name Lewis Carroll. Some female authors use male pen names, particularly in the 19th century, when writing was a male-dominated profession. A pseudonym may also be used to hide the identity of the author, as in the case of exposé books about espionage or crime, or explicit erotic fiction. Some prolific authors adopt a pseudonym to disguise the extent of their published output, e.g., Stephen King writing as Richard Bachman. Co-authors may choose to publish under a single pseudonym, e.g., Ellery Queen, P. J. Tracy, and Perri O'Shaughnessy.

Nom de guerre

"Noms de guerre" were frequently adopted by recruits in the French Foreign Legion as part of the break with their past lives and by members of the French resistance during World War II. These pseudonyms are often adopted by resistance fighters, terrorists and guerrillas to hide their identities and protect their families from reprisal. Some well-known noms de guerre include Carlos the Jackal for Ilich Ramírez Sánchez and Subcommandante Marcos for the leader of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN).

Brazilan martial arts

In capoeira, a Brazilian martial art, an apelido (pseudonym) is traditionally given to a capoeirista (Capoeira practitioner) at their first batizado, or promotion ceremony. Capoeiristas refer to each other almost exclusively by their Capoeira names, a tradition that dates prior to practicing Capoeira being legalized in Brazil. Since punishments for practicing Capoeira were often harsh, it was used as a means of remaining anonymous and protecting fellow practitioners from being caught, as well as any retribution their families might otherwise endure.

Computer users

For a person using a computer, a pseudonym can take the form of a handle, a user name, login name, avatar or, sometimes, screen name, nick or nickname. 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.
In online gaming clans, especially first person shooter games, in the demoscene, or in a distributed computing project using Internet-connected computers, users or players often create a "clan name" when joining. Often they add the "clan tag" to their existing nick, but some create a new name altogether. In Hacker culture, individuals will often use a handle or nym (short for pseudonym) as their public identity in RL or Real Life while keeping their actual identity secret.

Stage names

Film, theatre, and related activities

When used by an actor, performer or model, a pseudonym is a stage name or screen name. Actors who are members of a marginalized ethnic or religious group have often adopted stage names, typically changing their surname or entire name to mask their original background — as has been done in other fields as well. This phenomenon was common in the United States in the first half of the twentieth century. Screen names are also used to create a more marketable name, as in the case of Creighton Tull Chaney, who adopted the pseudonym Lon Chaney, Jr., a reference to his famous father Lon Chaney, Sr..
Pseudonyms are also used to comply with the rules of performing arts guilds (SAG, WGA, AFTRA, etc.), which do not allow performers to use an existing name, in order to avoid confusion. For example, these rules required film and television actor Michael Fox to add a middle initial and become Michael J. Fox, to avoid being confused with another actor named Michael Fox.
While most stage names are not used to conceal a person's identity, the exception is the pseudonym Alan Smithee, which is used by directors in the DGA to remove their name from a film they feel was edited or modified beyond their artistic satisfaction. In theatre, the pseudonym George or Georgina Spelvin, David Agnew and Walter Plinge are used to hide the identity of a performer. Professional names are also common for DJs in radio broadcasting.


Musicians and singers use pseudonyms to allow artists to collaborate with artists on other labels while avoiding the need to gain permission from their own labels. Rock singer-guitarist George Harrison, for example, played guitar on Cream's song "Badge" using a pseudonym. In classical music, some record companies issued recordings under pseudonyms in the 1950s and 1960s to avoid paying royalties. A number of popular budget LPs of piano music were released under the pseudonym Paul Procopolis. Pseudonyms are also used as stage names in Metal bands, like Pig Benis in Mushroomhead, and "133" in Slipknot. Some of these names have meanings to them as well, like that of Brian Hugh Warner, more commonly known as Marilyn Manson. Marilyn coming from Marilyn Monroe, and Manson from convicted serial killer Charles Manson.
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 was known under at least six aliases), Diddy (formerly known as P. Diddy, and Puff Daddy), Ludacris, LL Cool J, Sam "Original Gangster" Biglari, and Chingy. Black metal artists also adopt pseudonyms, usually symbolizing satanic values, such as Nocturno Culto, Gaahl, Abbath, and Silenoz. In punk and hardcore punk, singers and band members often replace their real names with more "tough"-sounding stage names, such as Sid Vicious of the late 1970s band Sex Pistols and "Rat" of the early 1980s band The Varukers and the 2000s re-formation of Discharge.

Other types

Pseudonyms are also adopted for other reasons. In some cases, people choose a new name for political reasons. Some Jewish politicians adopted Hebrew family names upon making aliyah to Israel, dropping westernized surnames that may have been in the family for generations. David Ben Gurion, for example, was born David Grün in Poland. He adopted his Hebrew name in 1910, when he published his first article in a Zionist journal in Jerusalem. In the 1960s, black civil rights campaigner Malcolm X, (né Malcom Little), adopted the 'X' to represent his unknown African ancestral name which was lost when his ancestors were brought to North America as slaves.
Famous pseudonyms of people who were neither authors nor actors include the architect Le Corbusier (né Charles Édouard Jeanneret); and the statistician Student (ne William Sealey Gosset), discoverer of Student's t-distribution in statistics.
When used by a radio operator, a pseudonym is a "handle," especially in Citizens' band radio.
pseudonym in Bulgarian: Псевдоним
pseudonym in Catalan: Pseudònim
pseudonym in Chuvash: Хушма ят
pseudonym in Czech: Pseudonym
pseudonym in Danish: Pseudonym
pseudonym in German: Pseudonym
pseudonym in Estonian: Pseudonüüm
pseudonym in Spanish: Alias
pseudonym in Esperanto: Pseŭdonimo
pseudonym in Persian: نام مستعار
pseudonym in French: Pseudonyme
pseudonym in Galician: Pseudónimo
pseudonym in Croatian: Pseudonim
pseudonym in Ido: Pseudonimo
pseudonym in Indonesian: Nama samaran
pseudonym in Icelandic: Dulnefni
pseudonym in Italian: Pseudonimo
pseudonym in Hebrew: שם עט
pseudonym in Luxembourgish: Pseudonym
pseudonym in Dutch: Pseudoniem
pseudonym in Japanese: 偽名
pseudonym in Neapolitan: Elenco 'e contranomme
pseudonym in Norwegian: Pseudonym
pseudonym in Norwegian Nynorsk: Pseudonym
pseudonym in Polish: Pseudonim
pseudonym in Portuguese: Pseudónimo
pseudonym in Romanian: Pseudonim
pseudonym in Russian: Псевдоним
pseudonym in Simple English: Pseudonym
pseudonym in Slovak: Pseudonym
pseudonym in Serbo-Croatian: Pseudonim
pseudonym in Finnish: Salanimi
pseudonym in Swedish: Pseudonym
pseudonym in Tagalog: Alyas
pseudonym in Tatar: Täxällüs
pseudonym in Thai: นามแฝง
pseudonym in Ukrainian: Псевдонім
pseudonym in Walloon: Fås no
pseudonym in Chinese: 化名
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