Hello everyone,


As the person who created the NAR for Hannah O’Brien, I would like to thank everyone for their insights and comments on this pseudonym thread. There has been a trend lately for German literary authors to use a French pseudonym if their book is set in France or an Irish one if set in Ireland, etc., so it is important to determine how these pseudonyms should be established especially when there are conflicts with real people with the same name.


With users in mind, I had followed past practice of adding the birth year of the real identity to distinguish Hannan O’Brien from other Hannah O’Briens. While there are only three different Hannah O’Briens in OCLC, a Google search for “Hannah O’Brien” results in 97,200 hits. On Ancestry.com, one gets 9,938 matches.


Should the NAR for Hannah O’Brien, the false name of Hannelore Hippe, have a distinguishing qualifier (Pseudonym) or the birth year of Hippe (1951)?


Thank you for your time.



Rex Hatfield


Team Leader,

Cataloging and Metadata Services

& German Studies Librarian

Princeton University Library



From: Program for Cooperative Cataloging [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Gemberling, Ted P
Sent: Thursday, December 13, 2018 4:30 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [PCCLIST] Describing pseudonyms/real identities



You and others made good points. I suppose we need to remember we’re catalogers, not researchers for the most part. We have to catalog what comes across our desk. But I do think that if we are creating NACO authorities, we are sort of stepping into the realm of researchers a little.

I think part of the reason I like “real world facts” so much is I’m a historical collections cataloger doing things related to the history of medicine, so I often do have to figure out who and what is real. For example, I cataloged a 16th century collection of short works on fever several days ago. It has part of a work that has been called Medicina Plinii. Who was Plinii? The original cataloger had noted that it has been attributed to someone named Plinius Valerianus. I did some research and found that though Plinius Valerianus was apparently a real person (we have his grave), it’s unlikely he really wrote the work. It is apparently influenced by the medicinal use of plants and animals found in the Naturalis historia of Pliny, the Elder. I looked and found someone had created a German Expression record for Medicina Plinii as a title, so I went ahead and created an authority for the Work. I kept the note attributing it to Plinius Valerianus (do we know for sure he didn’t write it?), but it seemed more sensible to enter it under title. I did not create an authority for Plinius Valerianus, though I started one and then deleted it.


The article John linked to is worth reading on the matter of author identity. One example he talks about is a writer named James Frey who apparently fictionalized some of his experiences recovering from drug addiction. The article makes this interesting observation:  “Readers don’t care whether these things literally happened to James Frey, because they didn’t buy the book to find out about James Frey. They bought it to learn about addiction and recovery. James Frey’s job as a writer is only to convey that experience.” But the writer goes on to give examples where falsification of author identity, not just falsification of a story, was misleading or even malicious at times. It appears to be particularly common for white writers to write under non-European-ethnic (or at least non-WASP-ethnic) names.  “The key here is the power differential between the hoaxer and the fake persona. The hoaxer has cultural capital. He or she is already a writer, someone who understands how the publishing world works. The marginalized or exotic subjects they pretend to be have cultural capital, too, in the sense that people want to buy their books and read their stories. But they have fewer means with which to cash out that capital. So the hoaxer steps in.” He shows some of these hoaxes have been genuinely malicious.

Here’s another quote that sort of bears out some of what I said last evening: “If we pick up a novel about life in the barrio, or a book by a Tibetan monk, or an avant-garde literary magazine, we know what we expect to find. We are complicit in the attempt to get us to believe because we already want to believe. Writing is a weak medium. It has to rely on readers bringing a lot of preconceptions to the encounter, which is why it is so easily exploited.”

In other words, people have interest in reading things which are not necessarily tied to the attributes of the authors. As the other quote said, people weren’t interested in learning about Frey. (Unless they were scholars of that sort of literature.) They wanted to learn about addiction and recovery.


Here’s a last quote related to Stephen Hearn’s point, what do we do when we know an identity is a pseudonym? I highlighted part of it. He’s citing a writer on this subject named Miller.


“Charles Dickens guessed that George Eliot was a woman, but no one else seems to have. Our cheater detectors don’t work very well on written documents. After you know, of course, the deception can seem blatant. But, as Miller says, you can’t unring the bell: you can’t ever read the text again in its pre-exposed state. “Famous All Over Town” no longer seems especially Chicano. It seems, in fact, like what it is: a fictional re-creation of life in East L.A. by a sympathetic writer with a mainstream education. But Daniel James surely knew that such a book would not have received an excited review in the Times.”

Just some more things to think about.


Ted Gemberling



From: Program for Cooperative Cataloging <[log in to unmask]> On Behalf Of Luiza Wainer
Sent: Thursday, December 13, 2018 10:29 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [PCCLIST] Describing pseudonyms/real identities


I’m a believer in “real world facts” about *real* people.


I think there’s a fallacy here in believing that 1) we always know if an identity pseudonymous or not, and 2) that the information we gather about identities is always true.



From: Program for Cooperative Cataloging [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Gemberling, Ted P
Sent: Wednesday, December 12, 2018 6:42 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [PCCLIST] Describing pseudonyms/real identities


Let me add a little to what I said. Of course catalogs should have information about the fictional work like what historical period it covers, whether it’s a romantic story, and so on. Patrons will want to know if something belongs to a particular genre and what kind of things it touches. But they don’t need to know the author was born in a certain year or lives in Ireland.




From: Program for Cooperative Cataloging <[log in to unmask]> On Behalf Of Gemberling, Ted P
Sent: Wednesday, December 12, 2018 5:38 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [PCCLIST] Describing pseudonyms/real identities


I also think that Stephen’s points are good. But I want to add one more point: part of the reason we shouldn’t add biographical details for pseudonyms, except maybe in 670’s, is that catalogs have no need to contain the richness of fictional writers’ visions. If I want to know that Hannah O’Brien lives in Ireland, presumably it’s because I’m already interested in her books. They will tell me; the catalog doesn’t need to do that. The catalog is not a work of fiction. When a writer decides to write under a pseudonym, she is sort of saying, “I have this other fictional vision I’d like to share with readers.” If they are interested, they will enter into that vision. The NAF doesn’t need to tell them about it. Presumably if the author chose a pseudonym, she probably thought it would be a memorable name, not easily confused with others, so qualifiers don’t seem that generally necessary, though I can agree with Luiza that (Pseudonym) might be useful in some cases.

I’m a believer in “real world facts” about *real* people. The 3XX fields are useful for distinguishing real people, but I don’t think they should be useful for pseudonymous identities for the most part.


Just my two cents.


Ted Gemberling

UAB Lister Hill Library


From: Program for Cooperative Cataloging <[log in to unmask]> On Behalf Of Walker, Christopher
Sent: Wednesday, December 12, 2018 12:07 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [PCCLIST] Describing pseudonyms/real identities


I endorse Stephen Hearn’s point about potential pitfalls in completing ‘biographical’ details for a pseudonym.

But good luck preaching restraint. We have colleagues who simply cannot leave a MARC tag empty, no matter how much noise filling it in may generate in searches, or how dubious, slight, or ephemeral the ascribed characteristics may be.  


Christopher H. Walker
Serials Cataloging Librarian

Penn State's representative to the CONSER Operations Committee

005 Paterno Library
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, PA 16802-1812
(814) 865-4212
[log in to unmask]



From: Program for Cooperative Cataloging <[log in to unmask]> on behalf of Stephen Hearn <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Wednesday, December 12, 2018 12:17:57 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [PCCLIST] Describing pseudonyms/real identities


I agree that the pseudonym represents a separate entity, but not that the pseudonym is best described in terms identical to a real person. Pseudonyms, like fictitious characterss, look like persons but essentially are creations. The terms that would describe a work, like creation date and creation place and genre, and likewise relationships to a personal or corporate creator, are often of more practical use for a study of the pseudonymous author than the terms that would describe the pseudonym or fictitious character as a person.


Consider the question of gender. If a male writer adopts a female pseudonym and constructs a female identity description to go with it, would scholars working in women's studies happily accept the pseudonym's works a belonging to the canon of women's writings? I would guess not; yet regarding pseudonyms simply in the terms of the author's representation would tend to put them there.


We need something more nuanced than the attributes and relationships proper to a person to adequately describe pseudonymous identities. Pending the development of that, I favor using  as few attributes when describing these identities in the records that establish them as possible.




On Wed, Dec 12, 2018 at 10:33 AM Luiza Wainer <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Dear PCCers,


Sorry to keep beating a dead horse, but there is still some internal disagreement in my institution about describing pseudonyms, so I wanted to open up for discussion once more the issue on using biographical information for the "real" identity to describing a pseudonym in an authority record.

The pseudonym and the "real" identity are two separate identities that are linked to the same entity, each of them with their own set of identifying attributes. This image from Wikimedia Commons by Audun Jøsang [CC BY 3.0] exemplifies this perfectly.


Authors may or may not decide that their pseudonym has a completely different backstory (or set of attributes) than their own.


This is clear in the case of Jim Dodge and Gordon Langley Ives: Jim Dodge (the “real” identity) was born in 1945 in California; Gordon Langley Ives (the pseudonym) was born in 1936 in England. They are both identities of the same entity (Jim Dodge the person).


Same goes for Hannelore Hippe (“real” identity) who lives in Cologne; and Hannah O’Brien (no2018166157, pseudonym) who lives in Ireland.


Some of my colleagues believe that we should carry over these attributes from the “real” identity to the description of the pseudonym (like death/birth dates, professions, associated locations, etc), since that is how we’ve historically done things (see: Mark Twain  and Samuel Clemens).


I argue that these attributes of the real identity should not be used to describe the pseudonym, even if the pseudonym doesn’t have its own, separate backstory. If an attribute is needed to disambiguate the name of the pseudonym, $c (Pseudonym) can be used instead of the dates of the real identity. Since these are two separate identities, using attributes of one to describe the other is inaccurate at best and harmful at worst.


Curious to see what you all think.





Luiza Wainer

Metadata Librarian

Princeton University Library

[log in to unmask] | (609) 258-2789

(Pronouns: they/them/theirs)




From: Luiza Wainer
Sent: Thursday, August 23, 2018 10:01 AM
To: Program for Cooperative Cataloging
Subject: Describing pseudonyms/real identities

Dear collective wisdom,


I was wondering on best practices for creating authority records for pseudonyms beyond what is covered on the LC/PCC FAQs on individuals with more than one identity.


If an individual only uses a pseudonym, we're instructed in RDA (exception), RDA and the aforementioned FAQs to input the person's real name, if known, as a 400. This seems a bit unethical to me. If this person does not want their real name associated with their works (hence the use of pseudonym), why are we making this explicit? In many cases with pseudonyms, a person has their real identity outed without their consent, and I question our complicity in this by publicly sharing this information in the NAF (see, for instance, the outing of J.K. Rowling as the real identity behind Robert Galbraith [1])


I also question using biographical information for the real identity when describing a pseudonym. Author's might decide that their pseudonym has a different gender, nationality, birth date, etc. then themselves for a myriad of reasons (like the endless list of women writers that decide to use male pseudonyms because, as Charlotte Bronte puts it, "we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice" [2]). Records like no2018033569 (Cunha, Eduardo, ǂd 1975-), n  79045512 (Eliot, George, ǂd 1819-1880), n  78081235 (Sand, George, ǂd 1804-1876) - just to name a few off the top of my head - all carry biographical information of the real identity, which does not describe the pseudonym.


It seems to me that the same best practices suggested for recording information about gender [3] should be applied for pseudonyms: "Do not dig for given names or genders assigned at birth". Which is to say, describe the identity associated with the pseudonym, and do not dig for information regarding the real identity. 




Luiza Wainer

Metadata Librarian

Princeton University Library

[log in to unmask] | (609) 258-2789

(Pronouns: they/them/theirs)






Stephen Hearn, Metadata Strategist

Data Management & Access, University Libraries

University of Minnesota

170A Wilson Library (office)

160 Wilson Library (mail)

309 19th Avenue South

Minneapolis, MN 55455

Ph: 612-625-2328

Fx: 612-625-3428

ORCID:  0000-0002-3590-1242