Onymous vs Anonymous: When is a Work Said To Be Anonymous?

Once a friend jokingly said Anon was the most accomplished author of all time because of the vastness of his quotes. It took me a minute to understand that he was referring to the short form of Anonymous. Do you know there’s a word as onymous? Anonymous vs onymous, which are you familiar with?

Social media is awash with quotes that do not have any attribution. To attribute intellectual property is to ascribe a work or remark to a particular author, artist, or person.

Onymous and anonymous, compared

A work, if confirmed to be the property of a named author, is said to be onymous. If the work, however, has no known author or if the authorship of the work is doubtful, such work is labeled anonymous.

In the United States, anonymous work is legally defined as “a work on the copies or phonorecords of which no natural person is identified as author”.

Anonymous, unlike onymous, is quite popular especially because of its usage in journalism. Say a bomb has gone off in a wartorn area, a reporter might ask for eyewitness narrations from people who live in the zone. It would be risky then to publish the name alongside his statements. Because this could put them in harm’s way. This is deliberate anonymity. And it affords the speaker the opportunity to speak freely.

Why anonymous?

Apart from this fear of persecution, there are other factors that could cause a work to be named anonymous. One of which is the passing of time. Although it is not so common in the digital age, the names of authors of very old works get lost through history. And the authorship becomes a thing of debate.

To dabble into controversial waters, there are doubts over the authenticity of some works. Some of which are even attributed to popular authors. Questions have been raised, for example, over some of the works that are attributed to renowned author, William Shakespeare. But let us not dwell on that. It is easier these days to track the true origin of a quote because digital footprints are a lot harder to erase.

Concerning anonymity, there’s also the issue of writing under a pseudonym as a means of hiding identity. Using a pseudonym can be considered a subset of anonymity. Interestingly, people, especially women were fond of hiding their feminine identity to get published because of gender bias. But pseudonyms aren’t always the same as anonymous. Tony Blair, for example, wrote his famous satires, 1984 and Animal Farm, under the pseudonym of George Orwell. One cannot now say those works are anonymous as they can be attributed to a natural person.


One must note that a poorly attributed work does not also necessarily render a work anonymous. It is therefore the duty of the person who seeks to use such work to find who came up with it. Be it a photograph, article, literature, find and credit the original author. This is where the internet plays an important role. 

Just in case you are wondering, this article you’re reading, is onymous. Scroll up and check the name.

Accept this quote as a gift from me to you: “Friends are God’s way of taking care of us” — Anon  

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