What is an "open-name"?

I looked up the mystery writer Delano Ames on Wikipedia and found this about his wife:

I’ve never seen the term “open-name” before. It might mean pseudonym but that’s not really a good description. The wife’s maiden name was apparently Jennifer Greig Smith but she was always called Maysie. Her biography calls her Maysie Coucher Greig. Greig was married several times before and after Ames and used various other names including Jennifer Ames for her 220 novels.

So, any etymology for “open-name”?

Probably a typo for “pen name”.

That’s depressingly probable.

I could be remembering, but I thought I heard it described as a pen name, that many people use.


Oooohhhhh, I get it…

pen name (writing under that name when nobody knows your true identity)

Open name (writing under that name when your true identity is openly known)

That’s what I was thinking. Like how all Nancy Drew books are written by “Carolyn Keene”, who is actually many different authors over the years.

Sounds interesting, but I’ve never heard the term “open name” to refer to a differentiation. Mostly because it’s impossible to differentiate. Most people using pen names are eventually discovered, sometimes from the very beginning.

Something like Nancy Drew is usually referred to as a “house name” – one belonging to the publisher.

That’s what I thought it meant at first, but I didn’t find any evidence of this.

Likewise, I can’t find any indication online of this meaning, either with or without the hyphen.

I lean toward it being a simple typo for “pen-name.”

Though I “get the pun”, I really suspect that this is the correct answer too. I have Sees-Puns-Everywhere disease anyway.

Ninety-nine percent probability is that it’s a mistyping of pen name.

The one percent probability is a speculation that it might be an unowned version of a house name; a pen name used by different authors but one which isn’t owned by a single entity like a publisher. Let’s say, for example, that all of the articles in Wikipedia were attributed to Wendall Wiki. Anyone would be able to contribute writing under the Wendall Wiki name. It would therefore be different than a house name like Carolyn Keene or Tabor Evans or Dick Stivers where a publisher has control over who gets to use the name.

However there are several problems with this theory. First, I can find no evidence that such a term exists. Second, I can’t think of any examples of the concept I described in actual use. Third, even if such a concept and term did exist, they wouldn’t apply to Maysie Greig.

So Wendall Wiki just edited the article in question and changed it to pen name.

I’ve found another example of “open name” in regards to authorship which seems to back up the idea that it’s the name you’re known by whether it’s your legal name or not.


It’s certainly a typo for pen-name, but I like the phrase for something like ‘Richard Bachman’, after his initial outing - a pen-name used even though the author’s actual identity is known.

Aren’t most pen names open in the sense that the author’s real name is known? The exceptions like Richard Bachman, James Tiptree Jr, B. Traven, A.J. Quinnell, Cordwainer Smith, or Trevanian are the rare cases.

You could probably walk into any bookstore and find dozens, maybe hundreds, of books by authors who use pen names. How would you know?

The spectrum of anonymity is vast. There are authors still unidentified even by historians. Some authors used so many names for so many fields that only historians are aware of them, although you might find them out from an encyclopedia or database. Major names in every field wrote under pseudonyms for years because publishers were convinced that a limit existed of how many books by a particular name could be sold in a given year. That’s pretty much a thing of the past, but it got replaced more recently by publishers demanding that authors use a new name when their sales started slipping, especially for paperback novels.

Today authors are far more open about their work, true, and will usually put their various names on their webpages. But unless you do the work you could walk into a bookstore and never realize that the Jane Tolkien who writes fantasy is also the Dolley Cartland who writes romance and the Dagobert Christie who writes mysteries. Or any of the hundred other variations.

My WAG is that maybe a quarter of all fiction authors in a bookstore are pseudonyms. I couldn’t prove it but I think they’re far more prevalent than you think.

On my keyboard, the O is right next to the P. And since open is a word, spellcheck isn’t going to highlight it.

Obviously a typo. Don’t overthink it.

I’m not saying anyone can spot a pseudonym just by looking at it on a book cover (unless it’s something obviously phony like Uncle John or Dr. A). But the majority of pseudonyms aren’t intended to truly conceal the author’s identity. There was never any secret about who Anthony Burgess or C.S. Forester or John le Carre or Ed McBain or Mark Twain really were.

But the examples I gave in my previous post were different; they were all cases where the author really did make an effort to conceal their identity.

It’s Wikipedia. Someone’s already corrected “open-name” to “pen-name”.

I ask you, when in their careers did it become known that these names were not their real names? Clemons was fairly open about his Twain persona but I’m fairly sure that the others were not. I know, e.g. that it was a huge surprise when people first learned that Ed McBain the paperback mystery writer was really Evan Hunter the mainstream novelist. And even today most people would have no idea that he was born Salvatore Lombino and wrote genre stories using that name and others. He also published novels as Hunt Collins, Curt Cannon, Ezra Hannon, and Richard Marsten. None of those names were exposed until much later. Controversy still exists about the dozens of porn novels under the name of Dean Hudson but people who worked for the company swear that it was him.

David Cornwell was working for the Foreign Office when he published his first books. He couldn’t hint at that and it was years before anyone knew who he was.

To be honest, if I had ever heard that Anthony Burgess was John Wilson I had forgotten. I know that when I read him in college in 1968 there was no mention of his being a pen name. He used one for the same reason as Cornwell, he was in the Colonial Office. He also published two books as by Joseph Kell. I didn’t know that. Did you?

I’m not as familiar with Cecil Louis Troughton Smith’s publishing career as C. S. Forrester. Would readers be likely to think Forrester was a pen name if introduced to his son, who goes by the name of John Forrester?

I agree that most authors’ real names are eventually revealed. I still say that a large percentage are not known until after death or after the main part of their careers when the historians are turned loose. Someone as prolific as Hunter could still have quickie paperbacks out there nobody has traced to him.