About Ayn Rand’s Life

Where and when was Ayn Rand born?

St. Petersburg, Russia, February 2, 1905.

How do you pronounce “Ayn”?

“Ayn” rhymes with “mine.”

Excerpted from a letter to a fan, 1937:

“Your letter inquiring about the origin of my name has been forwarded to me. . . . In answer to your question, I must say that ‘Ayn’ is both a real name and an invention. The original of it is a Finnish feminine name . . . . Its pronunciation, spelled phonetically, would be: ‘I-na.’ I do not know what its correct spelling should be in English, but I chose to make it ‘Ayn,’ eliminating the final ‘a.’ I pronounce it as the letter ‘I’ with an ‘n’ added to it.”

What is the origin of “Rand”?

From ARI’s monthly newsletter Impact, June 2000

“Ayn Rand, born Alisa Rosenbaum, based her professional first name on a Finnish one [see above]. The source of her last name, however, has been a mystery.

“Although its origin is still uncertain, recent biographical research by Drs. Allan Gotthelf and Michael Berliner has eliminated one possible source. An oft-repeated story claims that Ayn Rand took her last name from her Remington Rand typewriter while she was living in Chicago in 1926. This is false and we would like to put the error to rest.

“While still in Russia, c. 1925, and long before Remington Rand typewriters were produced, Alisa Rosenbaum had adopted the name ‘Rand.’ Letters written in 1926 from Ayn Rand’s family in Russia already refer to the name ‘Rand.’ These were sent from Russia before Ayn Rand had communicated from America. The Remington and Rand companies did not merge until 1927; ‘Rand’ did not appear on their (or any) typewriters until the early 1930s.

“One lead to the actual source of the name comes from Ayn Rand herself. In 1936 she told the New York Evening Post that ‘Rand is an abbreviation of my Russian surname.’ Originally, we thought that this was a red herring in order to protect her family from the Soviet authorities.

“In 1997 Dr. Berliner noted an interesting coincidence when looking at a copy of Miss Rand’s 1924 university diploma. On the diploma was the name Rosenbaum in the Cyrillic alphabet:


The last three letters clearly look like the Roman letters ‘ayn.’ Richard Ralston then noticed that by covering those letters–and dropping out the second and fourth letters–what remains bears a strong resemblance to the Roman letters ‘Rand.’


“Although far from certain, it appears that the quote in the New York Evening Post may not have been a decoy.”

Did Ayn Rand have any children?

Miss Rand and her husband, Frank O’Connor, chose not to have any children.

Of what did Ayn Rand die? Where is she buried?

Ayn Rand died on March 6, 1982, of heart failure. She was buried in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, N.Y., next to her husband Frank O’Connor (who died in 1979). See also: “To the Reader,” by Harry Binswanger, The Objectivist Forum, Vol. 3, No. 1.

What university did Ayn Rand attend and what subject did she study?

Ayn Rand entered the University of Petrograd to study philosophy and history, and graduated in 1924.

Did Ayn Rand have any siblings?

Yes, she had two sisters: Natasha and Nora.

For which film studios did Ayn Rand work?

She worked for quite a few film companies in Los Angeles and New York City intermittently (while working on her writing projects) between 1926 to 1951. Here is a partial list.

She worked for Cecil B. DeMille from 1926–27, as an extra, writer and reader; for RKO (1929–32) in the wardrobe department; for Universal (1932) as a writer; Paramount (1934) as a writer; for Hal Wallis at Paramount (1943–48) as a writer. She also worked for Warner Brothers (1943–1949) on the screenplay for The Fountainhead movie. In New York (1935–43) she was a reader for Paramount and MGM.

Ayn Rand’s Novels and Ideas

I have finished reading Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead, and I want to learn more about Objectivism; where should I begin?

Here are some suggestions. On our Suggested Reading page, you will find a list of recommended Objectivist works. In addition, you may also consider taking one of the university-level courses offered at ARI’s Objectivist Academic Center.

Does Objectivism support Libertarianism?

“For the record, I shall repeat what I have said many times before: I do not join or endorse any political group or movement. More specifically, I disapprove of, disagree with and have no connection with, the latest aberration of some conservatives, the so-called ‘hippies of the right,’ who attempt to snare the younger or more careless ones of my readers by claiming simultaneously to be followers of my philosophy and advocates of anarchism. Anyone offering such a combination confesses his inability to understand either. Anarchism is the most irrational, anti-intellectual notion ever spun by the concrete-bound, context-dropping, whim-worshiping fringe of the collectivist movement, where it properly belongs.”

–Ayn Rand, “Brief Summary,” The Objectivist, September 1971

“Above all, do not join the wrong ideological groups or movements, in order to ‘do something.’ By ‘ideological’ (in this context), I mean groups or movements proclaiming some vaguely generalized, undefined (and, usually, contradictory) political goals. (E.g., the Conservative Party, which subordinates reason to faith, and substitutes theocracy for capitalism; or the ‘libertarian’ hippies, who subordinate reason to whims, and substitute anarchism for capitalism.)

To join such groups means to reverse the philosophical hierarchy and to sell out fundamental principles for the sake of some superficial political action which is bound to fail. It means that you help the defeat of your ideas and the victory of your enemies.”

–Ayn Rand, “What Can One Do?” Philosophy: Who Needs It

See also “Libertarianism: The Perversion of Liberty,” by Peter Schwartz, in the Ayn Rand collection titled The Voice of Reason.

Is Objectivism atheistic? What is the Objectivist attitude toward religion?

“They claim that they perceive a mode of being superior to your existence on this earth. The mystics of spirit call it ‘another dimension,’ which consists of denying dimensions. The mystics of muscle call it ‘the future,’ which consists of denying the present. To exist is to possess identity. What identity are they able to give to their superior realm? They keep telling you what it is not, but never tell you what it is. All their identifications consist of negating: God is that which no human mind can know, they say–and proceed to demand that you consider it knowledge–God is non-man, heaven is non-earth, soul is non-body, virtue is non-profit, A is non-A, perception is non-sensory, knowledge is non-reason. Their definitions are not acts of defining, but of wiping out.”

–Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

And from a 1964 interview in Playboy magazine:


“Has no religion, in your estimation, ever offered anything of constructive value to human life?”


“Qua religion, no–in the sense of blind belief, belief unsupported by, or contrary to, the facts of reality and the conclusions of reason. Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason. But you must remember that religion is an early form of philosophy, that the first attempts to explain the universe, to give a coherent frame of reference to man’s life and a code of moral values, were made by religion, before men graduated or developed enough to have philosophy.”

What was Ayn Rand’s view on charity?

“My views on charity are very simple. I do not consider it a major virtue and, above all, I do not consider it a moral duty. There is nothing wrong in helping other people, if and when they are worthy of the help and you can afford to help them. I regard charity as a marginal issue. What I am fighting is the idea that charity is a moral duty and a primary virtue.”

–From “Playboy‘s 1964 interview with Ayn Rand”
Does Objectivism hold that all individuals have something valuable to contribute? What about people who lack creativity or ability? Would they fit into a pure capitalist society?

“Intelligence is not an exclusive monopoly of genius; it is an attribute of all men, and the differences are only a matter of degree. If conditions of existence are destructive to genius, they are destructive to every man, each in proportion to his intelligence. If genius is penalized, so is the faculty of intelligence in every other man. There is only this difference: the average man does not possess the genius’s power of self-confident resistance, and will break much faster; he will give up his mind, in hopeless bewilderment, under the first touch of pressure.”

–Ayn Rand, “Requiem for Man,” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal

“Look past the range of the moment, you who cry that you fear to compete with men of superior intelligence, that their mind is a threat to your livelihood, that the strong leave no chance to the weak in a market of voluntary trade. What determines the material value of your work? Nothing but the productive effort of your mind–if you lived on a desert island. The less efficient the thinking of your brain, the less your physical labor would bring you–and you could spend your life on a single routine, collecting a precarious harvest or hunting with bow and arrows, unable to think any further. But when you live in a rational society, where men are free to trade, you receive an incalculable bonus: the material value of your work is determined not only by your effort, but by the effort of the best productive minds who exist in the world around you . . . .

“Every man is free to rise as far as he’s able or willing, but it’s only the degree to which he thinks that determines the degree to which he’ll rise. Physical labor as such can extend no further than the range of the moment. The man who does no more than physical labor, consumes the material value-equivalent of his own contribution to the process of production, and leaves no further value, neither for himself nor others. But the man who produces an idea in any field of rational endeavor–the man who discovers new knowledge–is the permanent benefactor of humanity. Material products can’t be shared, they belong to some ultimate consumer; it is only the value of an idea that can be shared with unlimited numbers of men, making all sharers richer at no one’s sacrifice or loss, raising the productive capacity of whatever labor they perform. It is the value of his own time that the strong of the intellect transfers to the weak, letting them work on the jobs he discovered, while devoting his time to further discoveries. This is mutual trade to mutual advantage; the interests of the mind are one, no matter what the degree of intelligence, among men who desire to work and don’t seek or expect the unearned.

“In proportion to the mental energy he spent, the man who creates a new invention receives but a small percentage of his value in terms of material payment, no matter what fortune he makes, no matter what millions he earns. But the man who works as a janitor in the factory producing that invention, receives an enormous payment in proportion to the mental effort that his job requires of him. And the same is true of all men between, on all levels of ambition and ability. The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains. Such is the nature of the ‘competition’ between the strong and the weak of the intellect. Such is the pattern of ‘exploitation’ for which you have damned the strong.”

–Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
What is the connection between an individual’s moral worth and his intelligence, in the Objectivist view?

“Man has a single basic choice: to think or not, and that is the gauge of his virtue. Moral perfection is an unbreached rationality–not the degree of your intelligence, but the full and relentless use of your mind, not the extent of your knowledge, but the acceptance of reason as an absolute.

“Learn to distinguish the difference between errors of knowledge and breaches of morality. An error of knowledge is not a moral flaw, provided you are willing to correct it; only a mystic would judge human beings by the standard of an impossible, automatic omniscience. But a breach of morality is the conscious choice of an action you know to be evil, or a willful evasion of knowledge, a suspension of sight and of thought. That which you do not know, is not a moral charge against you; but that which you refuse to know, is an account of infamy growing in your soul.”

–Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
I am interested in attending lectures on Objectivism. How can I find out if there are any in my area?

There are many ways to see lectures by Objectivist speakers, both in person and on the Web. ARI’s speakers frequently lecture under the auspices of Objectivist campus clubs, which can be found at universities and colleges throughout the United States and around the world. Such live lectures are open to the public and are listed on ARI’s Campus Events Calendar. Objectivist Conferences holds a summer conference each year, with many speakers and events to choose from, as well as other occasional conference events; information is available at the Objectivist Conferences Web site. Many online recordings featuring ARI speakers are also available, including video and audio on Ayn Rand’s books and ideas, and commentary on current events.

ARI also hosts regular free public lectures in Southern California as part of its ongoing ARI Lecture Series; upcoming events are listed on ARI’s Events page. Those who cannot attend may view recordings of past lectures in ARI’s Registered Users area (free registration required). Also available to registered users are free audio and video recordings of many of Ayn Rand’s lectures and public appearances.

I’m interested in studying Ayn Rand’s books and ideas in college. Are there any universities to which you recommend I apply? Are there any schools where I can study under Objectivist professors?

While there are many ways to learn about Ayn Rand’s books and ideas in college, the most important consideration in choosing a school is how well the school will prepare you for your future career. In some cases, you will be able to find well-ranked programs in your field where you can work with Objectivist scholars. (Visit anthemfoundation.org for more information about where to find Objectivist academics.) But in many cases, the best programs will not have Objectivists teaching at them. Moreover, the fact that an Objectivist currently teaches at a school is no guarantee he will be there a year from now. For these reasons, we do not recommend choosing a school on the basis of your desire to study Ayn Rand. (An extensive discussion of how to choose a college can be found at aynrand.org/education_academic_intellectual_careers.)

Instead, if you are interested in studying Objectivism and in having regular contact with other Objectivist students and teachers, consider applying to ARI’s Objectivist Academic Center. This distance-learning program offers an in-depth, systematic study of Ayn Rand’s philosophy. Courses are taught by ARI fellows and outside Objectivist professors, and can be taken as an adjunct to your regular course work. More information can be found at objectivistacademiccenter.org.

Once on campus, you may wish to join or start a campus club dedicated to exploring the work of Ayn Rand. Campus clubs are a great way to find like-minded students, make friends and learn more about Ayn Rand’s ideas. You can find more information at aynrand.org/education_campus_index.

Essay Contests

I’m a home-schooled student, can I still enter the contest?

Yes! Home-schooled students may enter our essay contests. Please enter the contest for your current grade level. Instead of writing your school name and address on your coversheet, just write “Home-schooled.” If you’re not sure which contest you’re eligible for, please write to the Education Department at essay@aynrand.org.

I’m a foreign student, can I still enter the contest?

Yes! Foreign students may enter our essay contests. We have no citizenship requirements. Please enter the contest for your current grade level. If you’re not sure which contest you’re eligible for, please write to the Education Department at essay@aynrand.org.

How can I verify that my essay was received?

If you send your essay by mail, you should paperclip a self-addressed, stamped postcard to your essay. When we receive your essay, we will drop your postcard in the mail. Alternatively, you can send your essay to us via registered mail or by using Priority Mail Delivery Confirmation. If you send your essay via e-mail or via our web form, posted here, we will reply to your message and notify you that we received your essay.

How can I submit my essay via e-mail?

If you wish to submit your essay via our web form, please follow the guidelines posted here.

I included a self-addressed, stamped postcard with my essay, but I haven’t received it back in the mail yet. What should I do?

Please note that it could take up to three weeks to receive your postcard from the date you sent your essay. If you are concerned that your essay was lost by the post office, please write to essay@aynrand.org.

Can I send my essay in before the deadline?


Can I send my essay in after the deadline?

We cannot accept essays postmarked after the deadline. If you have a valid reason why your essay could not be postmarked by the appropriate deadline, please write to essay@aynrand.org.

I entered one of your contests in a previous year; can I enter again this year?

Yes, as long as you were not previously a first-place winner. In fact, some students have won prizes two years in a row!

I am not in the 8th, 9th or 10th grade; may I still enter the Anthem contest?

Unfortunately, we cannot accept entries from students who are not in the 8th, 9th or 10th grade.

I am not in the 11th or 12th grade; may I still enter The Fountainhead contest?

Unfortunately, we cannot accept entries from students who are not in the 11th or 12th grade.

If I win, do I have to apply the prize money toward college?

No. All awards are cash prizes. We place no restrictions on how the prize money is spent. Prize winners simply receive a check from us in the amount of their award.

Do I need to include a bibliography or do I need to reference page numbers?

You do not need to reference page numbers for quotes from the essay topics. However, if you use any quotes from Anthem or The Fountainhead, you should cite the page numbers and place quotation marks around the quoted material. You do not need to include a bibliography unless you quote from a source besides the novel you are writing on. (Please note that you do not need to reference any additional material other than the assigned novel to write your essay. See the next question.)

Should I cite other sources besides Anthem or The Fountainhead?

You do not need any additional source material other than the novel you are writing on. However, you may quote and reference other sources if you like. If you do, please cite your sources and include a bibliography with your essay.

Can I have a friend/teacher/parent proofread my essay? Is that plagiarism?

Yes, you may have your essay proofread. It is not plagiarism to have someone check your essay for spelling and grammatical or structural errors. However, it is plagiarism to have someone else write your essay for you, or if you use someone else’s words as if they were your own (see above regarding citing outside sources).

What exactly is plagiarism?

Plagiarism is using someone else’s words as if they were your own. It is not plagiarism as long as you cite your sources.

How do I know if I’ve won a prize in one of the contests?

We will contact all the high school contest entrants by July 27. We will contact Atlas Shrugged entrants by November 22.

Where can I see who the winners, finalists, and semifinalists are?

The list of winners, finalists, and semi-finalists.

Can I write more than one essay for a contest?

No. You may enter one paper for each contest each year.

I am eligible to enter more than one contest. Can I submit essays to more than one of your contests?

Yes! You are welcome to enter multiple contests.

Can I write on more than one topic?

No. The contest guidelines ask that you select ONE of three topics. Please select only one topic.

Can I write on a topic other than the three listed in the contest rules?

No. Essays not written on one of the three topics will be disqualified.

Where can I find Anthem or The Fountainhead?

All of Ayn Rand’s novels can be purchased online from the Ayn Rand Bookstore. They should also be available in your local bookstore or library.

Where can I learn more about Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism?

Additional information about Ayn Rand and her philosophy is available at the Ayn Rand Institute. There you will find biographical information on Ayn Rand and additional information about her philosophy, Objectivism.

Is it necessary for me to know about Objectivism to write my essay?

No. Judges look for essays that show a clear understanding of the novel, so no additional knowledge about Ayn Rand’s philosophy is required.

I disagree with Ayn Rand’s philosophy; how will this affect my chances of winning?

This will have no effect on your chances of winning. Judges look for writing that demonstrates an understanding of the novel, not whether the student agrees with it.

Are graduate students eligible for the Atlas Shrugged contest?

Yes, graduate students are welcome to participate in the contest.

Are community college students eligible for the Atlas Shrugged contest?

Yes, community college students are welcome to participate in the contest.

Do I have to have a declared major to enter the Atlas Shrugged contest?


Is there an age limit for the Atlas Shrugged contest?


Are trade/certificate schools accepted?


Can someone who is in the military, but who is enrolled school, enter the essay contests?


I have additional questions not answered in this FAQ; what should I do?

Please send your comments or questions about the essay contests to essay@aynrand.org. In most cases, we should be able to respond within two to five business days.