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Synonyms: pseud, online identity, user name, nickname, nick, handle, pen name, nom de plume, screenname
See also: Anonymous, Moniker, Reviewers with Pseuds, sockpuppet
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Many fans choose to participate in fandom under a pseudonym, rather than under their "Real Life" (Wallet Name) name. In many cases, fans who do this choose a persistent pseudonym. (In other words, each fan chooses a pseudonym and retains it, using it consistently for various fannish interactions, so that that person's identity within the community comes to be associated with that pseudonym.)

On social media sites like journaling services, Twitter or Facebook, many fans' pseudonyms are the same as their usernames or account names. Other fans are known in conversation by a different pseud, often one that either is a part of their legal name or appears to be a legal name (in many cases it is not). The fan's legal or given name might also be known to some or all of those they interact with, or be used in some places and not others. This results in layers of identity and some fans use these layers as a marker of social closeness or trust.

Fans may find themselves changing pseuds when making accounts on social media platforms if the name they have been identified with is already claimed in a new database; many fans had to add numbers or underscores, or otherwise alter their pseuds in the migration to livejournal and from there to Tumblr. Some fans may also change pseudonyms, e.g., when they move to a new fandom or begin to create a different kind of fanwork. They may or may not be open about the number of names they write, create videos, or engage in photoshop art under. In some long-running fandoms, for example Supernatural, many fans have changed journal names, reorganized their fanworks into separate journals from their "real life" journal, or both -- more than once. Fan creators thus bear multiple pseuds that most veteran fans know are connected while many fandom newcomers may not.

Pseudonyms can also be used as a form of performance art. This happens when fans create multiple, overlapping pseudonyms with their own custom fictional backstory and history and online personas that may tie into their fanfiction or their amateur videos. An example of this is Morgan Logan who maintains three separate pseudonyms for her Stargate Atlantis and Hawaii 5-0 fiction (esteefee), her Due South fan fiction (Arrow) and Agent Molo (an undercover agent infiltrating Starsky & Hutch fandom).[1]

Other fans adopt different pseudonyms to get around submission requirements to fan video shows or other fannish contests. The Clucking Belles, a two person fan vidding collective was created because they could not submit their own videos to conventions because they were already members of a larger vidding group, The Media Cannibals. They justified this by pointing out that as a two-person vidding team their work was distinctive from the videos created by the group. Other fans felt this was disingenuous given that the Media Cannibals stopped producing group videos a few years after The Clucking Belles were formed.

When fans maintain multiple account pseudonyms for purposes of deception, they are sockpuppeting. Not all sockpuppetry is malicious (much of it is self-promoting -- say, writing a favorable review for your own story), but maintaining two identities in a single conversation, especially if those identities appear to converse with each other, amounts to a public lie. Most fan communities disapprove of this behavior and the person may get mocked for having "multiple personality disorder" (to the annoyance of fans who really are multiple; for them, separate selves with their own accounts conversing with one another may be a matter of daily routine).

Fan pseudonyms (or "pseuds") range from ordinary names to fanciful titles.

A partial list of reasons why some fans might choose pseudonymity includes:

  • Because it is a standard precaution to protect identity and privacy
  • Because they wish to keep their private lives, activities, and tastes separate from their professional lives, employers, or potential employers
  • Because it's the custom among their Internet cohort
  • They are writing in a number of fandoms and use a different pen-name in each fandom (mirroring the use of pseuds in pro publishing, e.g. Barbara Vine/Ruth Rendell)
  • To separate different fannish identities, e.g. reviewing versus fiction writing, explicit/slash writing versus gen
  • It is seen as crass or a sign of poor quality for an editor/website to publish too many of their own works in a single fanzine or site. Thus, an editor might use pseudonyms to hide the fact that they'd written most of the contents of a fanzine or that one of their authors had been responsible for most of the contents of a fanzine.

Part of this list was created by coffeeandink as part of a longer post about her own pseudonymity, after she was outed during what some fans are calling "RaceFail '09".[2]

Some History

Pseudonyms were commonly used by science fiction and fantasy authors in the earliest days of professional/pulp magazines. This is commonly believed to be because these genres were not considered respectable literature, but it also had to do with economic realities. The late 1920s and early 1930s were the era of the Great Depression. With the drastically failed economy, authors might wish to conceal from their employers that they had an alternative source of income. A second job could be grounds for termination.[3]

While media fans today don't blink an eye at the use of pseuds, this wasn't always the case. Pseuds were rarer in early media fandom. Fans in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s generally used their real names. In the many APAs and letterzines of the time, fans' full names, addresses, and even telephone numbers appeared at the top of each submission. This began to change as slash began to be more prevalent in fanzines (see Slash Controversies#Illegality Of Slash).

One example of the rarity, and subsequent suspicion, is this 1987 by a fan who comments on another fan's name in a way that today seems almost gauche, and certainly unnecessary: "The second half of the zine, literally, is one long story by a new writer, Tishen Tirare (couldn't be a pen name, could it?) ..." [4]

By extension, fans who used pseuds to write reviews were highly controversial. See Reviewers Using Pseuds.

Some estimations of the number of fans using pseuds, something influenced by expectations in different fandoms, fanwork subject, as well as explicitness.

Fans in the 1970s and 1980s also almost always chose pseuds that were simply a different "standard" first and last name. Example: Jane Smith would pick the pseud, Mary Jones. This made it nearly impossible to know if a fan's name was a fannish creation or not as pseuds so closely resembled legal names. It also made it impossible to tell whether a fan was male or female, using an opposite-gender or unisex handle (Alex, Chris) to fit into a perceived demographic.

Fans who chose clearly obvious and playful pseuds were far and few between: two early examples are Dawn's Early Light, a fan who wrote meta in Not Tonight Spock! and H.O. Petard, a fan who wrote zine reviews in an often caustic tone.

It was when fandom began interacting online in the mid-1990s, that pseudonyms became more common - and more accepted. Pseudonyms also began to take on much more creative characteristics, something that has led to pseuds today being fanciful, meaningful, and personal statements by their creators. [5]

For example, in 1997, when an X-Files fan discovered that their fanfic posted to the public Usenet could be quoted or discussed by anyone in the world, even outside the newsgroup, they demanded that all copies of their fanfic be deleted.[6] Ignoring the virtual impossibility of such a request and the fact that fair use principles allows people to write or comment about fanfic or fanart, several fans suggested pseudonyms:

"We've been discussing this on the fictalk mailing list, and the consensus there seems to be that by posting with a pseudonym though an account that doesn't give your real name one can avoid any problems such as these. In fact, one of the Gossamer archivists provided suggestions for emailers that do well in protecting their customers' anonymity. So the archivists don't seem to have a problem at all, just so long as there is a pseudonym to use rather than there not be any name at all...Anyways, no one need hide their fanfic because of stuff like this. There is always a solution if we look deep enough. "[7]

While other fans expressed the opinion that the need for pseudonyms was not new to X-Files fandom,[8] others pointed out that X-Files fandom was actually one of the earliest online fanfiction communities and because of its size was often at the forefront of fandom issues.[9]

The Difference Between Pseud and Anonymous

From a 1993 letterzine: "Anonymity and pseudonyms ... They are not synonymous and really need separate consideration.... For a number of reasons, pseudonyms in fan-fiction are not uncommon. Most/many of us could identify most/many of them. Pseudonyms are rarely closely-guarded secrets. (Hi, Uncle Ima [10] — don't change, huh?) Their use has quite often been related to the particular job the writer has and/or to the potential hassle which some kinds of publicity can still invite in certain circumstances. Practical and personal reasons. But a pseudonymous author isn't the same, it seems to me, as an anonymous letter-writer — someone writing to fellow-fans and to frienz, knowing who the others are, but withholding an equal reciprocity in that respect." [11]

Specific Fandom-Influenced Pseuds

Some fandoms inspire fans to use names that echo the names of characters in that world.

Star Trek inspires the custom of "T'Name," putting a "T'" in front of a name, echoing the Vulcan name customs for females, while men use the S prefix. Some fans who are especially interested in Klingons take on names that reflect Klingon naming patterns. Bjo Trimble in On The Good Ship Enterprise gives some background on just how serious and life-affirming these chosen names could be:

Letter after letter came into the Star Trek offices telling how just seeing Mr. Spock handle something had given the writer a new lease on life. Quite literally, they had been about to commit suicide. Young people hungered after the ordered logic of Vulcan, and, in some cases, adopted their own version. Vulcan names appeared more and more often on letters, sometimes combined with "hippie" names or colorful occult titles, such as T'lalk of the Shadows. It was one more indication of the impact Star Trek had on people's lives.[12]

Considering the appeal of the IDIC philosophy with its iconic medallion, the Vulcan hand salute and "Peace and Long Life/Live Long and Prosper" greetings, the fact that Star Trek almost exactly coincided with the idealistic hippie movement, and especially the episode "The Way to Eden," in which Spock was shown to be more than sympathetic to future hippies who sought an idyllic natural world, the fusion of Vulcan and hippie nomenclature makes perfect sense.[13]

Dragonriders of Pern a fans sometimes take on names similar in style to those of characters in that world. See Adopting a Pern Name.

Forever Knight fans sometimes use pseudonyms that start with "Knight-".

Tolkien fans commonly use names constructed from elements of Tolkien's invented languages, particularly the Elven language Sindarin, or in imitation of the race that their interest focuses on.

Buckaroo Banzai fans naturally identify themselves with the (fictional) Blue Blaze Irregulars (BBIs), the worldwide network of civilians who support Buckaroo when needed. The (real life) official fan club was named accordingly. Fans choose their own BBI names, such as "Catnip", "Illinois Kate", "Silver Fox", "Downtown", "Faux Pas", and "Figment". These may echo the style of the characters' aliases in the film, but are most likely chosen for personal reasons. A chance to give yourself the nickname you always wanted!

Marion Zimmer Bradley often commented that one of the most-asked questions about Darkover was "what's my name in Darkovan?" She wrote about a variation of this custom in the editorial for Tales of the Free Amazons:

Some women have actually taken Amazon names, and live by them in the 'real world,' not only at meetings of the Friends of Darkover. I am very ambivalent toward people who change their names and reject their own roots or ethnic background... but Jaida n'ha Sandra or Sharrie n'ha Verana [two authors in this zine] is certainly no more annoying than Josie Anderdaughter or Helen Marychild or Rainbow Winddaughter or Treelight Blossom. What's in a name anyway? Acute Nomenclature is hardly a fatal disease, and it's not limited to feminism; the hippie movement produced some ghastlies...

Of course, Bradley herself fanned some of this interest herself; "What's My Name in Darkovan" is the very title of an article in Darkovan Language Review, a work that explained in great detail how one's name could be translated to a version that would fit in with her world. See Adopting a Darkovan Name.

While not fandom-specific, other fans create pseuds that imply some sort of personal, familial connection to a character, or an actor that plays that character. Examples of this are pseuds that suggest the fan is married, using "Mrs" and a character's, or actor's, last name. Or taking on a name that suggests another personal relationship, perhaps that of sister or cousin. Some examples may include a fan who calls her or himself "Mrs. Hutchinson," "Mrs. Nimoy," "Jason Skywalker," or "Jennifer Winchester."

Fan Comments


When I say things here, I feel as though I'm saying them to twenty or thirty people that I know. I have no idea what the attitude of the other couple of hundred people on the list are. I freely admit that I feel uneasy about publically posting the name I write under. I can't easily explain my reasons for doing so. In the end, I guess it's only fair to those on the list who dislike slash. There are a lot of people I like and respect who have good reasons of their own for disliking slash. To hide behind another name is to lie to them. If people like me (and I hope that some do), then I want to be liked for what I am, and not for what they think I am.

Sorry if that sounds a bit pretentious, but it's something I've had to think about a lot recently. [14]

On this subject, I don't want to stir up a hornet's nest, but there was a whole war fought over this subject in B7 fandom years back and it all stemmed from one person who thought it was okay to reveal fan writers' pseudonyms to someone who was a potentially hostile party. The majority of the fan writers involved were not amused. As someone who writes sometimes under a pseudonym myself, I prefer to have the option of revealing myself to whom I wish.

Of course, I tend to respond to any hint of blackmail with full disclosure. I learned that concept from Brendan O'Cullane years ago, who very wisely said "I refuse to be a party to my own discrimination." (I'm not implying anyone is trying to blackmail me, I'm just referring back to "ancient history.") [15]

I would get really steamed up if I found out that someone had been telling other people who my pen-names were - just because *they* know, doesn't mean I would want other people to know.

Legal hassles isn't the only reason people write under pen names. Perhaps they don't want to get a swelled head - or perhaps they don't wish to be embarrassed. Or they may write in a few different styles... Or maybe they just want to be able to comment on their own work with impunity. Or.... (bwa-ha-ha) they want to have a secret identity!

None of these are aided by telling people who the pen-names are. [16]


The pseud isn't because I'm ashamed of what I write; in most of my fandoms, I'm far better known by my real name (if I'm known at all -- I tend to lurk). But pretty much my entire immediate family is online, from my 8-year-old niece to my 72-year-old dad, and I'd rather they didn't find out what I did. If nothing else, I see no reason to give my dad a heart attack. [17]


As an active fanzine editor in media fandom from 1983 to 2007, about a third of my contributors used pseudonyms in the '80s. [18] Note: Garrett did not publish any sexually explicit material. </ref>


MS: Everybody [in slash fandom] used pseudonyms, too. KF: Oh, yeah. MS: At the time almost — I would guess ninety percent or more of people in fandom used pseudonyms, because so many of them were in professions that had morals clauses, or that backlash from where they lived or what have you, would mean possible loss of job if not criminal charges. [19]


(Many of) the people who had pseuds back [in the 1970s] were either in sensitive professions, in the south, or had family concerns. Most of us were not worried about the public at large finding out - we had the expectation that something as geeky as fandom would be totally off the radar of most people. [20]

I first got involved in fandom in the 60s. Everyone used their real names; there was no reason not to. The use of pseudonyms began because of slash. It was initials actually, the same method as in pr0n; "by Cathy T.", or "by F.S." (there's some stuff on fanlore about why slash wasn't just "weird", it was illegal to be bought or sold or sent through the mail) I saw very little mainstream attention to fanac that wasn't "Adult heterosexual women like to write/draw homosexual fantasies about Kirk and Spock," and then Harry Potter and LotR. Then the publicity around the Victoria Bitter scandal... Today if I were involved in any fandoms beyond just watching/listening to the show or reading the books, I wouldn't use my real name any more either. [21]

Further Reading/Meta


  1. ^ Talk:Esteefee.
  2. ^ RaceFail 09: Once More, With Misdirection, accessed March 7, 2009
  3. ^ S. Joshi in I Am Providence, his massive biography of H.P. Lovecraft, cites this and not her gender as the reason C.L. Moore used a pseudonym. It's likely that other women writers used handles for similar reasons.
  4. ^ from a review of Shades of Gray #2 in On the Double #5
  5. ^ Searching by author on Archive of Our Own will reveal the varied and creative pseuds of today.
  6. ^ "If you have archived my story "The Five," please delete all copies of both Book 1 and Book 2 as soon as possible. Apparently that's the only way I can be sure parts of the story won't be quoted in somebody's book or magazine, journal or newspaper article. I had hoped not to have to do this, but I don't see any option....I didn't write "The Five" to get famous for it in some magazine or research paper. I wrote it for people to read. Period." Achivists HELP, please! post to dated March 8, 1995.
  7. ^ Achivists HELP, please! post to dated March 8, 1995.
  8. ^ "This problem didn't originate with X Files fanfiction - we're the new kids on the block - look at Star Trek, Star Wars... they've been around a lot longer and are all on the electronic highway - and they've managed to survive all the same problems that we're dealing with." Achivists HELP, please! post to dated March 8, 1995.
  9. ^ "I really don't think we're quite the young'ns we seem. Trekkies have a long history behind them, but it's almost all in 'zines not the Net fanfic. One look at the archives for Trek fanfic will show that they could learn more from us andGossamer than we from them ;-) Star Wars is expanding greatly, but the nature of the material (movies, novels, and comic books as opposed to a weekly series) makes it develop differently than us. B5 would probably be a lot bigger and more like us if JMS weren't so pig-headed on this stuff. Forever Knight, Due South, Highlander, Dr Who, and Quantum Leap all have similar forums to XF, but many of them haven't developed to quite our size or are only now beginning to grow in similar size. Simply put, we really are the pioneers when it comes to Internet fanfic, and I'm not sure there's any old folks we can turn to for advice." Achivists HELP, please! post to dated March 8, 1995.
  10. ^ a shout-out that winks at the fact "everyone" in this fandom knows the name connection.
  11. ^ from an 1993 issue of Frienz
  12. ^ Bjo Trimble, On The Good Ship Enterprise. Donning, 1983.
  13. ^ "It is my sincere wish that you do not give up your search for Eden. I have no doubt but that you will find it, or make it, yourselves."
  14. ^ from Judith Proctor on Lysator (7 Sep 1994)
  15. ^ from Ann Wortham on Lysator (7 Sep 1994)
  16. ^ from Kathryn Andersen on Lysator (7 Sep 1994)
  17. ^ from the introduction to Arduinna's fic page (archived).
  18. ^ Susan M. Garrett from a Fan History Wiki talk page
  19. ^ regarding slash fandom, from the 2012 Media Fandom Oral History Project Interview with Kandy Fong and Marnie S
  20. ^ CatalenaMara February 1, 2014, private correspondence with Morgan Dawn, quoted with permission.
  21. ^ comment from an anonymous fan at fail-fanomanon