Why Did Voltaire Change His Name?

Although his works are signed “Voltaire,” the writer’s real name is François-Marie Arouet.

Voltaire is often regarded as one of the greatest philosophers and writers of all time. Among the most important thinkers of the Enlightenment, he stands out the most. The author is better known by the pen name “Voltaire,” but his true name is François or François-Marie Arouet. When exactly did Voltaire begin using this pseudonym? And why did he do it?

Who exactly was Voltaire?

François-Marie Arouet was the birth name of Voltaire. He lived from 1694 to 1778, passing away at the ripe old age of 83. Along with Descartes, Rousseau, Spinoza, and Isaac Newton, he is often regarded as a leading figure in the intellectual and political thought of the Enlightenment.

Voltaire was born into a middle-class family; his father was a notary public. He started publishing at a young age and became politically active almost immediately afterward. He opposed religious extremism and advocated for a more enlightened form of monarchy throughout his life. He wrote many polemical tracts and spoke out frequently against what he saw as wrongdoing.

The Philosophical Letters (1734), often regarded as the manifesto of the Enlightenment; Zadig; or, The Book of Fate (1748), a philosophical narrative that would put him into exile for several years; and Candide (1759), a book that became renowned, were only a few of his many notable works. His works include L’Ingénu and the philosophical dictionary Dictionnaire philosophique, both of which were released in the 1760s.

However, it took a little longer in France to fully appreciate his work. As a forerunner in the 18th century, Voltaire was a controversial figure whose works were sometimes prohibited. Because of this, they were published secretly, printed in another country, and smuggled into France.

Why did Voltaire write under a pseudonym?

There were several reasons why François-Marie Arouet would have adopted the pen name “Voltaire.” To start, he had problems getting along with his father and other family members. Therefore, he decided to sign his future works under a different name to distance himself from his roots and history. Furthermore, Voltaire was frequently confused with Pierre-Charles Roy, a poet he despised because Roy was pronounced “Roué” at the time.

This drove his desire to set himself apart. After spending eleven months in the Bastille for publishing lyrics that criticized the power in place, Voltaire decided to write under a pseudonym. Among the things he is credited with saying was, “I changed my name from Arouet to Voltaire. I was so unhappy with the other that I want to see if this one will bring me happiness.

Where does the name Voltaire come from?

Several theories have surfaced as to why Voltaire was selected as the name of the author. François-Marie Arouet, Voltaire’s baptismal name, is widely believed to have been the inspiration for his pen name. His name was Arouet Le Jeune, yet he abbreviated it as “Arouet LJ.” It’s written as “AROVET LI” in Latin.

The author opted to create an anagram of his name based on its Latin form. After rearranging the letters in “AROVET LI,” he came up with the name “VOLTAIRE.” However, some historians propose alternative explanations for Voltaire’s name. One such explanation is that the author may have been alluding to the Tuscan city of Volterra, which was openly hostile to religious authorities.

By Bertie Atkinson

Bertie Atkinson is a history writer at Malevus. He writes about diverse subjects in history, from ancient civilizations to world wars. In his free time, he enjoys reading, watching Netflix, and playing chess.