Pen names

The writer we know as Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, of course.  So how did he get his pen name

He tried several other possibilities, including "A Son of Adam", "Peter Pencilcase's Son", "Rambler", "Grumbler", "John Snooks", "W. Epaminondas Adrastus Perkins" & "W. Epaminondas Adrastus Blab" before choosing Mark Twain.

Broken embraces
El Deseo presenta ; productor, Agustín Almodóvar ; guión y dirección, Pedro Almodóvar.
Culver City, Calif. : Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, [2010]
A luminous Penlope Cruz stars as an actress who sacrifices everything for true love in Academy Award -winning filmmaker (2003, Best Writing, Original Screenplay, Talk to Her) Pedro Almodvar's acclaimed tale of sex, secrets and cinema. When her father becomes gravely ill, beautiful Lena (Cruz) consents to a relationship with her boss Ernesto (Jos Luis Gmez), a very wealthy, much-older man who pays for her father's hospitalization and provides her a lavish lifestyle. But Lena's dream is to act and soon she falls for the director of her first film - a project bankrolled by her husband to keep her near. Upon his discovery of the affair, Ernesto stops at nothing to ruin Lena's happiness.
Musical AKAs : assumed names and sobriquets of composers, songwriters, librettists, lyricists, hymnists, and writers on music
Jeanette Marie Drone.
Lanham, Md. : Scarecrow Press, 2007.
This catalog lists about 15,500 assumed names of 9,800 composers, lyricists, librettists, and writers on music. Drawing from many music and other reference texts, websites, and online copyright sources, Drone lists these sources, followed by the bulk of the book: an alphabetical listing of original names of individuals and their aliases, source consulted, dates, occupation, and notes. This is followed by a list organized by pseudonym. Legal name changes, pen names, nicknames, and initials are included, but individuals who were only performers are not. Drone is a freelance educator and author of music reference books. Annotation #169;2007 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
Dictionary of pseudonyms : 11,000 assumed names and their origins
Adrian Room.
Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland & Co., c2004.
This resource reveals the true identities of some 11,000 writers, actors, politicians, criminals, and a world of other people who, permanently or temporarily, wholly or partly, took a new name. Entries range from Piers Anthony to Malcolm X and all points between. Arranged by pseudonym, the entries provide the true name, vital dates, country of origin or settlement, and profession of the name-changers and, in some cases, the story behind the person's name change. A new appendix presents the terms relating to pseudonymous and changed names. Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

The name Clemens finally settled on came most likely from the cry of Mississippi steamboat leadsmen.  "Mark twain" meant that the boat was in two fathoms (12 feet) of water-- the minimum draft for safety.  It signified that the boat was either entering dangerously shallow water after having been out in deeper water or that it was entering safer, deeper water after having been in dangerously shallow water that was less than 2 fathoms deep. 

Twain's life was bookended by the arrival of Halley's comet.  He was born when it came through in 1835 and expected to die when it came back in 1910: "I came in with Halley's Comet in 1835. It is coming again next year, and I expect to go out with it. It will be the greatest disappointment of my life if I don't go out with Halley's Comet.

The Almighty has said, no doubt: 'Now here are these two unaccountable freaks; they came in together, they must go out together.'"  Remarkably, Twain did indeed die when the comet came back, on April 21, 1910.

Some Twain biographers believe that it was used by Twain when ordering drinks in bars, as a way of asking the bartender for a second drink on his tab, but there is no good evidence to prove or disprove this theory. 

Twain has his own account of how he took on the name; he says it was originally a rather self-deprecating name.  He explains that when he was a reporter in Nevada he wrote articles critical of some of the legislators in Carson City.  In response they bitterly criticized him, using what Twain called "elaborate and uncomplimentary phrases, for lack of a briefer way.  To save their time, I presently began to sign the letters [which were printed as articles in the newspaper he worked for], using the Mississippi leadsman's call, 'Mark Twain' (two fathoms-- twelve feet) for this purpose."

Article by: St. Louis Public Library staff