January 7, 2010

The many names of Poe

A young boy born in Boston to two actors became an orphan when his mother died of tuberculosis. The boy's family, which included an older brother and a younger sister, were in Richmond at the time (his father abandoned the family). The young boy, named Edgar Poe, was taken in by John and Frances Allan of Richmond. They never formally adopted him and, in later years, John Allan would show severe animosity to the boy he perceived as ungrateful. Despite Allan's massive wealth, Poe was granted no inheritance after his death.

But, on January 7, 1812, there was no sign of that future antagonistic relationship. That day, according to family tradition, the young Poe was christened in the Episcopalian church by the Reverend John Buchanan. They christened him with the name "Edgar Allan Poe."

Years later, John Allan's mercantile business would set up a branch office overseas and the young Edgar went along. In Stoke Newington, he was enrolled in a boarding school with the name "Edgar Allan."

Yet, when Edgar was old enough, he broke away from the Allan family and enlisted as a common soldier as "Edgar A. Perry." His first book, published in 1827, was granted the byline "a Bostonian." He later earned the nickname "The Tomahawk Man" for his voracious critical reviews. His most famous poem, "The Raven," was published in 1845 under the pseudonym "Quarles." His wife and aunt often called him "Eddy."

Much of Poe's published work and correspondence used the name "Edgar A. Poe" or "E. A. Poe." Friends often addressed him that way too (or just as "Poe"). In his lifetime, it seems "Edgar Allan Poe" was rarely used; it was never his legal name. Today, however, the three-part name "Edgar Allan Poe" has become the standard method of reference.


  1. Why? I mean, why do we call him by this three-part name? It seems we do this with a lot of dead writers, so maybe I've answered my own question. Did Longellow sign his works in full?


  2. Longfellow more often signed "Henry W. Longfellow" from what I've seen (and I've seen a lot). Poe did use "Edgar Allan Poe" on occasion, but I think what cemented it as the "official" named was what happened after he died, when Rufus Griswold (mentioned in the C. F. Hoffman post) used it in Poe's obituary, plus the ensuing controversy caused by that obit and other writings by Griswold.

  3. I tend to call him "Edgar Poe" in private. Around others, though, it doesn't seem like people recognize him without the "Allan" so I do it that way (it also avoids having to give a complicated answer to the inevitable question).

  4. Maybe Edgar Poe was taken at the Writers Guild (yes- that's a joke).

  5. can i cite your blog for a paper?

    1. I don't think you need permission, just make sure to cite properly.