J.K. Rowling, author of the famed "Harry Potter" fiction series, confirmed Sunday she had published a crime novel titled "The Cuckoo's Calling" in April, using the pen name "Robert Galbraith" which loosely translates to "famous stranger" (Robert being derived from old Germanic for "fame" and "Galbraith" being a Scottish clan named after the Gaelic word for "British foreigner").
Last week, The Sunday Times of London began investigating whether Rowling had actually written "The Cuckoo's Calling" when a mysterious Twitter user suggested she had to a Times columnist who had been raving about the book.
Rowling explained in statement released by her publicist, "It has been wonderful to publish without hype or expectation, and pure pleasure to get feedback from publishers and readers under a different name," and said doing so was a "liberating experience."
The "Harry Potter" author stands on well trodden ground in opting for a pen name to publish books. Here are some other famous anonymous authors and the stories behind their noms de plume:
The Brontë Sisters/ Currer, Ellis and Action Bell
Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë used the names Currer, Ellis and Action Bell, respectively, to publish a book of poetry together in 1846. They continued to use the names when they went on to separately publish their own novels, including "Jane Eyre" by "Currer Bell," "Wuthering Heights" by "Ellis Bell" and "Agnes Grey" by "Action Bell." In 1850, Charlotte cleared up the mystery behind the names. She wrote that the sisters had used them because there were "averse to personal publicity" and that they had taken the names, "Christian" and "positively masculine," because their "mode of writing and thinking was not what is called 'feminine.' "
Mary Ann Evans/ George Eliot
Like the Brontë sisters, Mary Ann Evans took on a male pseudonym to publish her early works. "George" she chose after the name of her romantic partner, George Lewes, and "Eliot" because she said it was "a good mouth-filling word." The success of her novel "Adam Bede" forced her to come forward and the revelation of her affair with Lewes – who was married to another woman – caused great controversy.
Charles Dickens/ Boz
Charles Dickens used the name "Boz" to publish his early short stories, or "sketches," as he called them. He later explained that the name came from his pet name for his brother, who he called "Moses" after a character in the "The Vicar of Wakefield." "Moses" when pronounced nasally, came out "Boses" which Dickens further shortened to "Boz."
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson/ Lewis Carroll
True to his methodical form, the "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" author translated his name, Charles Lutwidge to Latin (Carolus Ludovicus), flipped his first and last names, and translated it loosely back to English, to come up with Lewis Carroll. His publisher ultimately chose the name among a list of other names Dodgson offered him.
Samuel Clemens/ Mark Twain
Clemens played around with a number of pseudonyms, but the name that made him famous came from a familiar phrase on the Mississippi riverboats Clemens grew up working on. "Twain" is archaic way of saying "two" and "mark" a term to declare maritime depth, measured in fathoms, thus "mark twain" was often shouted to mean "the depth is two fathoms." In "Life of the Mississippi" Clemens actually credited another boat captain who would sign his dispatches to the local paper with "Mark Twain" for the idea.
Steven King/ Richard Bachman
Early in his career, King also published work under the name "Richard Bachman," because at the time he thought publishing more than one book a year wasn't really accepted in the publishing world. He didn't put much thought into it, King has said. When the publishing company called him asking for a name, he took "Richard" from a Richard Starks novel (coincidentally also a pseudonym) sitting on his desk and "Bachman" from a song by Bachman Turner Overdrive playing on his record player.
Eric Blair/ George Orwell
Though George Orwell, née Eric Blair, signed his early works and reviews with his birth name or initials, he asked his publisher if "Down and Out in Paris and London" could be published under a pseudonym, "as I am not proud of it," he wrote. Scholars take this to mean that he both feared his book might be failure, and that he didn't want to harm his family's reputation with his "down and out" antics described in the book. The publisher suggested simply "X," but Blair wanted something better that he could use again "if this book doesn't flop as I anticipate." He suggested "George Orwell" among a few others. Orwell indeed continued to use the name for his future novels, but a few days before his death, requested to be buried under his birth name of Eric Blair.
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Corrected on 7/15/2013: A previous version of this article misspelled Lewis Carroll’s last name.