What’s In A Name? The Origins of “O. Henry”

Many people are aware that O. Henry wrote short stories with surprise endings, but no one knows for sure how he chose his pen name. Growing up in Greensboro, North Carolina, he was called Will Porter. As a young man, he went to Texas, where he worked at various jobs. After funds at a bank where he had worked turned up short, Porter was tried, found guilty of embezzlement despite his plea of innocence, and sentenced to the penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio. There, beginning in 1898, he served more than three years of a five-year sentence.

This collectible keepsake includes a pane of 20 stamps plus an envelope with an affixed O. Henry stamp and an official First Day of Issue Digital Color Postmark (click for more information).

In prison, he began writing stories under the name of “O. Henry.” Porter gave different answers when people asked where the name came from. One scholar has suggested that it stems from Porter’s fascination with codes, and may be composed of three pairs of letters from the words “Ohio State Penitentiary.”

Upon his release in 1901, O. Henry began to earn a regular income by writing for newspapers and magazines. By the time of his death just nine years later, he was the most widely read storyteller in America. At least partly as a result of the time he spent in prison, this phenomenally successful author was reluctant to be photographed or interviewed, and gave varying answers to questions about his life and how he chose his pseudonym.

If you were going to publish work under a pen name, what would it be?

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The Postal Service™ is proud of its role in portraying the American experience to a world audience through the issuance of postage stamps and postal stationery. Each year the Postal Service issues commemorative stamps reflecting subjects of national significance and appeal. More than 160 years of stamp development has yielded an incredible archive of imagery and commentary reflecting American culture and society. Even in this fast-changing world, stamps are still a versatile and convenient method of postage. And stamp collecting is a lifetime hobby that is fun and educational for all ages. Stamp collecting is easy to start without a big investment. It is also a great way to learn about the world and its many wonders, opening the door to an exciting universe of history, science, geography, the arts, technology, and sports. Our mission is to provide universal service that is prompt, reliable, efficient, affordable, and self-sustaining. Throughout its history the Postal Service has grown with the nation, binding it together by ensuring that everyone, everywhere, has the same ability to communicate regardless of technological change.