Even In Today’s Partisan Environment Pen Names Are Nothing New



Tuesday at 10:30, the following comment was left in the Politicus comment section in the wake of my homage to Robin Williams under the heading “Robin Williams: A Tragic End With A Potentially Great Legacy.”

Here’s the comment: “Dennis S – why not give your full last name? Well, I can guess. For you to call Robin Williams legacy as ONLY potential, you must think mighty high of yourself. There is no question whatsoever that Robin Williams left a large and lasting legacy.” The comment was signed, Jean S. I have repositioned the name of the contributor for purposes of space.

For now, I’ll ignore the complete misread of my William’s reference and the irony of my critic signing off in exactly the same fashion that he or she so roundly criticized; Jean “S.” A website called “Baby name guesser” informs us that it is 1,316 times more common that “Jean” is a girl’s name. So, we’ll assume that the comment comes from a lady.

Actually, I think it’s a legitimate question. So, I’ll try to answer it to Jean’s satisfaction. In the business of writing sometimes controversial and even not so controversial commentaries, it’s very commonplace for the authors to use nom de plumes, or, to be less elitist, pen names. The name Jean, and any number of responders to the flood of submissions to PoliticusUSA could be fake as well. And why doesn’t Jean tell us what the “S” stands for? I have no idea how many of my colleagues gin up different names for public consumption, but I’m guessing it’s more than a few.

Not to bust anybody’s bubble, but early conservative radio commentator icon, the late Paul Harvey, was really Paul Harvey Aurandt. Lots of celebrities follow that path. They use their given first and/or middle names and conveniently leave their surnames to family gatherings. Far right columnist, Michelle Malkin retains her first name, but doesn’t want readers to know her last name may be a tiny bit ethnic for her right-wing sycophants. It’s Maglalang.

Diminutive tough guy talker, Michael Savage isn’t really savage at all as he rips into autism as a figment of the imagination. His real last name, Weiner, wouldn’t sound nearly as intellectually thuggish when equated with a sausage or hot dog. But, Savage? Yeah, there’s a red meat, right-wing name if I ever heard one. A made-up red meat name.

There are other circumstances, where, for quality of life issues, a particular type of individual decides to abandon the name on his or her birth certificate, and I’m not talking about marriage here. Eugene Esposito is one such case sample. And, unlike Michelle Malkin, it had nothing to do with ethnicity. This month’s Atlantic magazine has the accounting of how Esposito, once he got mixed up in the drug-running business, thought the perfectly natural thing to do was change Eugene Esposito to Jim Sargent. It’s called an alias, and it’s designed to allow persons involved in abnormal criminal behavior to live relatively normal lives.

I’ll let you buy the magazine for this and other worthy articles, but there are more Esposito/Sargents out there than you might think. This is pure speculation on my part, but the one criminal enterprise that often attracts pretty smart people is selling drugs. Depending on the quantity and your ability to outmaneuver law enforcement and the cartels, it can be a hugely lucrative undertaking; if you can avoid the undertaker. I don’t know the numbers; couldn’t even hazard a guess, but I’m here to tell you that some of our most upstanding citizens were staked to their fancy houses and successful businesses after years of moving drugs. They used their ill-gotten winnings to buy a reputable life. The guy occupying that board chair next to you or joining your fancy country club foursome could be but a decade or so away from moving kilos by the ton.

I once lived in a town where a stellar citizen died just months before the DEA was about to ruin his day. It never became public and his legacy lies undisturbed. And, in an odd way, some would be forgiving, insofar as he was involved in some wonderful charitable works. I’m not one of them. Anybody pushing drugs on our population is not to be admired unless they have been caught, paid the price and are truly sorry.

Getting back to the creative types, Earle Stanley Gardner used a bunch of pen names. For you Rand Paul lovers out there, Ayn Rand was really Alisa Zinov’yevna Rosenbaum. Almost as hard to swallow as her goofy philosophy. A couple of George’s didn’t want you to know who they really were. George Orwell was Eric Arthur Blair, and you just knew George Sand was hiding more than her gender in her author’s name. Her French parents kept filling out her birth certificate with Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin. Load up the cover with “Journal D’Un Voyageur Pendant La Guerre” and there wouldn’t be room for her birth name. So, George Sand, it is.

The great Herblock did something you would expect of a gifted creative mind and hand. The cartoonist chiseled off Herb from his first name, Herbert and joined it to his real last name, Block. He kept his middle name, Lawrence out of sight. The British writer with the seductive and mysterious name of John le Carre’ was really possessed of the more mundane moniker of David John Moore Cornwell. Bloody stuffy, I’d say!

His friends knew short story master, O. Henry as the slightly longer, William Sydney Porter, a name that would go well with his novels. Voltaire, who was centuries ahead of the one-name crowd, was really François-Marie Arouet. Arguably, our most-noted single-namer, Madonna, was born with the name, yes, Madonna. She just lobbed off the Louise Ciccone part. A tragic side note that you might not know. When she was only five, she lost her young mother, also Madonna, to breast cancer. I suspect adopting her late mom’s name as an entertainer was a lifelong homage to her memory.

So, Jean S. I thank you for your curiosity. I guess I haven’t answered your original question, but it’s probably a combination of all the above.

One Reply to “Even In Today’s Partisan Environment Pen Names Are Nothing New”

  1. One of America’s greatest and most quoted “social commentators”, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, is most commonly known by his pen name, Mark Twain.

    Even one of America’s founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, published under the pseudonym Poor Richard.

    And of course Richard Bachman is Steven King.

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