With the epic revelation of J K Rowling’s pseudonym, Robert Galbraith, ‘The Cukoo’s Calling’ has been on everyone’s lips. But aside from the book coming under scrutiny, Rowling’s rather specific case has called into question,  in 2013, do pseudonyms really have a place in our society?

The pseydonym, though most commonly used to refer to an alternative name under which a writer pens, is actually a much broader label, used to refer to even more common-place names such as screen names, stage names and even names which important figure-heads (such as the Pope) take when they begin to fulfil their position. So on closer examination, pseudonyms are more engrained in society than we think…

Jessie J is Jessie J when she’s on stage, but plain Jessie Cornish when she’s on the sofa

The phrase pseudonym often conjures up images of a female writer wanting to protect herself from the social implications of being a female writer in the 19th century- such as Mary Anne Evans using the male pseudonym George Eliot. But whilst we live in a very different age – one where generally, female writing is viewed as highly as its male counterpart – pseudonyms still live on, and not just in a literary form.

Take a popular culture reference, for example. P!nk, I presume, does not sign notes to her partner exclamation mark and all. Artists can adopt names other than their own to protect themselves from intrusion into their own private lives: having a separate persona is a way of building an impermeable wall between their private and professional lives. Jessie J is Jessie J when she’s on stage, but plain Jessie Cornish when she’s on the sofa, and the desire to have that privacy is still a very modern concern.

Jessie J is Jessie J when she’s on stage, but plain Jessie Cornish when she’s on the sofa.

But it is not only their private life they keep separate, it is their professional one too. If we go back to examine J K Rowling’s pseudonym, it is easy to see why she might have wanted to use one. Rowling is haunted by her previous successes, with anything she writes inevitably being compared to the Harry Potter series. Though not fearing being judged for being a woman necessarily, judgement in one capacity or another is still something writers fear today.

 Judgement in one capacity or another is still something writers fear today

Arguably, far from becoming less relevant, pseudonyms could easily be seen as something still thriving in our digital age. Our identity is no longer something we can keep a closely guarded secret merely by shredding our bank statements. Instead, for most, our names are constantly displayed in various capacities on countless online platforms. Screen-names in chat rooms protect people’s real identities, particularly when the information given out is of a sensitive nature.

An unfortunate, but inevitable, off-shoot of this is that pseudonyms are not only used for honest protection, but for deliberate attack. The cyber bully often uses anonymity as a tool – but whilst we can counter the bullying, if we try to silence the population by checking names, we will silence so many other honest voices.

Pseudonyms are not only used for honest protection, but for deliberate attack.

Pseudonyms will always find their place in society; they are a natural reaction to many ideals and labels given to both writers and people more generally in the world we live in. The desire to protect the self is natural and in no place more prominent than the arts – a place where it is often ‘the self’ which is said to be poured onto the page. Who wouldn’t want a small cushion to protect themselves from that?

Zoe Ashton

Follow Impact Arts on Twitter and Facebook.

Image: Pitor Drabik via Flikr

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