Pen Names: a Fashion in American History

An interesting fashion in American history of humor is the use of pen names (nom de plume, if you want to get frenchy about it) during the late 1800's. Many of the names are, well, unique.

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)

The most famous example? Probably Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain. Samuel worked on riverboats as a young man and took a riverboat term as his writing handle. The fluctuating depth of water was always a concern to the rivermen. They checked the depth by tossing lead-weighted lines overboard, and would then inform the captain or pilot of the depth by shouting specifics up to the wheelhouse. One of those descriptive terms was ‘Mark Twain’, meaning ‘two fathoms’, which was considered a safe depth.

Here are more examples of pen names:

Real NamePen Name
Charles Heber ClarkMax Adeler (sometimes Adler)
Charles B. LewisM. Quad
Henry Wheeler ShawJosh Billings
Melville LandonEli Perkins
A. Miner GriswoldThe Fat Contributor
Edgar Wilson NyeBill Nye
Charles Farrar BrownArtemus Ward
Benjamin Penhallow ShillaberMrs. Ruth Partington
George Alfred TownsendGath
George William BagbyMozis Addams
James Montgomery BaileyThe Dansbury Newsman
Seba SmithMajor Jack Downing
David Ross LockePetroleum V. Nasby
Robert H. NewellOrpheus C. Kerr
Robert J. BurdetteThe Hawkeye Man
Major Charles H. SmithBill Arp
George William CurtisHowadjii
Donald Grandt MitchellIk Marvel
William H. ThackerayJames Yellowplush
Charles H. WebbJohn Paul
Capt. George H. DerbyJohn Phoenix
Samuel W. SmallOld Si
William A. CroffutPeleg Wales
Sidney SmithPeter Plymley
Charles G. HalpinMiles O'Reilly
H. C. GoodrichPeter Parley
Col. JudsonNed Buntline
M. M. PomeroyBrick Pomeroy
Marietta HolleyJosiah Allen's Wife
Mortimer M. ThompsonDoesticks
Stanley HuntleySpoopendyke
Joel Chandler HarrisUncle Remus
James Russell LowellHosea Bigelow
Sara Payson WillisFanny Fern
Robert W. CriswellGrand Father Lickshingle

Interesting, hmm?

It's great to be American. Always has been. Enjoy!

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